In the hours that followed the Sydney siege this week, Rachael Jacobs spotted a Muslim woman on the train who was quietly removing her veil or hijab. On her facebook page she wrote, “I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u’. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute – then walked off alone.”
This inspired a subsequent tweet from a twitter user (“Sir Tessa”) who volunteered to accompany Muslims who take the bus and “don’t feel safe alone”. The hashtag #illridewithyou has since gone viral.
“Put it back on. I’ll walk with you.”
If you’ve always wondered about the incarnation, those two short sentences are a lovely sketch of the mystery. In that simple encounter between two women at the train station, we see the mystery of the incarnation unfolding yet again before us.
The mystery itself took place a long time ago in that radical decision by God to become “like us in all things but sin,” a decision that led the angel Gabriel to run after Mary to announce to her:
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
From that first encounter to this meeting of two women at the train station, we learn that the incarnation is not some remote event we pull from our memories come Christmastime. It continues to play itself out in our history, taking flesh in our own flesh, in our very humanity, in moments of light and warmth, but especially in those places inside our souls that are shrouded by sorrow, anxiety, and fear.
It continues take place in dark alleys we avoid, where we are stalked by our own grief over what we have lost. The mystery enters our lives not only during moments of sacramental clarity, but also in times of anxiety when we are exasperated with life’s ambivalence and inconstancy. We stumble upon this mystery when we are most alone, when we fear for own safety and for the wholeness of those we love, when all that is broken is about to break upon us.
Here in this train that can be full of suspicion and furtive glances, something happens to us. In our impulse to be invisible, we silently take down our hijab. We strip ourselves of our identity or of anything that would mark us with those who would betray us by their bigotry and inhumanity. In this train we share with others, we find ourselves wanting to deny who we are. Out of fear or sorrow or anxiety, we are suddenly unsure of ourselves, and we want to disappear and fade into the woodwork, until someone runs after us to tell us:
“Put it back on. Do not be afraid of who you are. Do not fear those who do not know you or who refuse to see who you are. You are not alone. I see you. I see who you are. I see me in you. I will ride with you. I am with you.”
In that offer of solidarity, we see what it is that will save us from our sins. We are saved not by setting ourselves apart from one another. We are saved not by this artifice of ranks we have earned to set us one above the other. We are redeemed by seeing who we are and by seeing ourselves in each other. We are redeemed by our being incarnated in the lives of others. We are redeemed by what we share when we decide to walk with each other.
Surely there continue to be dark alleys in our souls and in our history that are shadowed by sorrow and anxiety and fear. But there are spaces as well that are made luminous by our acts of solidarity, compassion, and communion with each other.
In these little acts of solidarity, the joy of the incarnation no longer eludes us. After all, we know in faith that there is a child whose eyes are our eyes, a child who sees us, who sees himself in us. The mystery of the incarnation is a child who runs after us to tell us that we do not have to be someone else for God to be drawn to us, for God to redeem us and love us. The mystery of our redemption is this child, whose limbs are God’s limbs, whose heart is God’s heart, this child who runs after us to hold on to us.
And so we know that we are never left alone. With or without our hijab, we never walk off alone.
[by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ]
About Jett Villarin, SJ
Fr. Jett is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who is the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.