The Encounter

I lie still, my back pressed into the blankets on the summer sheets, arms clasped across my chest, eyes closed. I cross my feet. Sinking, sinking, not drowning. Gravity compels the air to form to my body, enclosing me, swaddling me. As my body floats, the bed disappears.

She’s called me, “deceived, leftist, Marxist.”

The once empty screen is now filled with her precise, direct language.

Our exchange started with trading videos of our various favorite theological and political pundits. It started without words. It started without humanity. Neither of us came to a table to sit or chat via video. We didn’t see one another’s face.

A blank, white backdrop held our exchanges without nuance. Hidden in the whiteness lurked a seething rage for whatever we both would put words to between us.

Now the long boil is over; the water has reached a fever pitch. If I’m honest, I knew it would come to this. Whiteness doesn’t always mean innocence, and the empty screen we’d pitched fits on told the truth.

Fists at my sides, I prepare to throw a counter punch. My mouth is dry, forehead sweaty, palms cold. Prickly arm hairs stand to attention. Shifting from right to left, I check in with my core. It’s strong, focused. I’ve been waiting for this moment. Believe me. 

Moments of “despair and revenge” fantasies return to me. My enemy has blatantly confronted and attacked me. Finally justified to respond, I need minimal preparation time. In fact, I need none.

The air tightens; gravity holds me still.

I conserve fury for the challenge. Hot coals burn my lips, and I imagine returning sentences, writing published essays, presenting evidence to her family and friends to indict her on all charges. She is guilty, and she will pay. I will match her violence with the violence dwelling inside of me—pain wreaking havoc. Her shame or mine will kill me. I won’t let it be hers. 

Shame pain. I know it well. 

My shame pain is lethal. It’s as if it has lived inside of me since before I could speak.

The loneliness, rage, anger, and despair. The primal need to survive. Perhaps as a baby I knew the shame of not fitting. I don’t know, exactly. How could I? But, in this moment of either her or me, I know that I am going to fight like hell to kill the engrained memory of un-belonging and to gratify vacant spaces inside of me that I want to fill. 

Shadows return. Ancient pictures without faces.

I’d rather submit to the wells of shame inside of me. Someone will pay, and it’s far easier to lash out and attack the image of God in myself. If I destroy what God has redeemed, then all that’s left for someone else is undistinguishable, rotted flesh. 

I won’t have to see her beautiful, wondrous face reflecting God’s image. I won’t have to consider how we both together more fully reflect the Imago Dei. I won’t see her pain or know her particularity. Seeing her particularity, I’ll be faced with my own pains—those that resonate and those that don’t. No, I don’t want that. I won’t see me. I won’t see her. I cannot.

Gravity’s air holds me fast. My clasped hands grip each other. I come back to myself, shuttering my eyes open. Beats inside of me aren’t random. A comforting, painful, and regular thump emerges. I am both complex and hold complexity. Black and white thinking is not helpful.

Wisdom requires presence, and the heaviness of my body isn’t of burden, but of deep, deep knowing. This is how I practice presence with others and how I hope to practice with clients. But how do I allow that deep presence to comfort my own body, to bring understanding, and to care for my own shame-pain?

Father Gregory Boyle explains that Jesus brought himself fully in encounter, “standing in the right place, with those relegated to the margins.” Jesus embodied kinship with creation, setting precedence for me to follow as partner, mother, leader, and practitioner. I am connected to the human across the interwebs, whether I see her physical face or not. Our interconnectedness is beautiful. The encounter supports the idea that give-take, learn and teach, pain and joy can be interwoven to form community with whomever is before me. 

The power of relationship is often lost in a culture of technology and individual rights; however, the unique understanding of God’s grace as entry, with Jesus fully embodied in the presence of all creation, is a pathway to stand outside the center that white supremacy hails as saving. 

The commitment to encounter is a commitment to life. 

Mother of four and wife of one awesome Mexican, Danielle Castillejo is a 2nd year student at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, studying to get her MA in Counseling and Psychology. She works and volunteers part time in an organization in Seattle that advocates for the agency and freedom of commercial sex workers. A survivor of abuse herself she continues to fight for sanity and love every day.