Advent as a Borderland

"This issue of the Outlook centers Latinx voices to help us attend to alternative perspectives in this borderland season of our liturgical year. ... Who are we in this in-between space? What role does our faith play here?"

Latinx thought leaders have profoundly influenced my ministry. While serving as the chaplain of Monmouth College I read and discussed Ada María Isasi-Díaz’ Mujerista Theology with a group of Latina students. The way those budding mujeristas welcomed me, a White woman of privilege, was not something I took lightly. Trust was not a given in that group. Three of the young women were undocumented, two registered through the DACA program. It was also right after the 2016 U.S. presidential election during which anti-immigrant rhetoric had been inflamed. These Latinas were hurt and angry, but still I was welcome among them. “Latinas aren’t separatists,” Isasi-Díaz’ writes, “we do not exclude others from ourselves, nor do we struggle exclusively for ourselves.”

Around the same time I was studying mujerista theology, I was introduced to the work of Gloria Anzaldúa and her influential book Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Anzaldúa encourages the crossing of borders, no matter what form they take, to venture into new territory, to leave the safe and known in order to grow in awareness and understanding.

Anzaldúa herself embodied such a crossing. As a queer Chicana, she struggled against oppression, sexism and racism in her home of South Texas, her patriarchal Mexican culture, and an educational system that did not value her work in Chicana studies. Her life and work were spent in the borderlands — a space of contradictions as well as untethered possibility. Anzaldúa’s scholarship encouraged the investigation of alternative perspectives and ways of being. She condemned our dominant White Western culture for its use of separation – border building – to dominate and control, which, she argues, keeps people ignorant. “At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank … cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory.”

My time studying Latinx scholars with Latinas was transformative, helping me ask questions of myself I hadn’t yet asked. Who am I? How much of me, how I act, the beliefs I hold, are mine, and what have I inherited from my dominant culture? It was a profound time of examining my White Western cultural assumptions and prejudices, and the predominantly White male theology centered in my seminary education.

As we approach the season of Advent, we are invited to cross a border into new territory. Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year and an expectant time of waiting for the birth of Christ come Christmas. A full year has passed, but here, in Advent, Christ is yet to be born again. It’s an in-between time, a both/and time, an already/not yet time. What do we do in this Advent borderland? What will we learn within this season?

Anzaldúa often wrote about a near-drowning she experienced as a young child on a trip to the seaside with her parents. No one standing on the shore was aware of her struggle in the water as she saw her lonely death approaching and then, thankfully, receding. Being in the borderland can feel like an underwater struggle with the forces of death — a place where you get so turned around you don’t know which end is up. It’s disorienting and frightening to live without secure and steady borders. But it’s also revealing. In the topsy-turvy borderland we recognize what we’ve been clinging to for support and sustenance and whether or not these things, people, habits and beliefs have served us well. This borderland journey can be a transformative crossing if we attend to all it has to offer — a journey where we are led again and again into new territory, new awareness, new life.

This issue of the Outlook centers Latinx voices to help us attend to alternative perspectives in this borderland season of our liturgical year. The church calendar offers us this time as an opportunity to examine ourselves, our spiritual lives and the borders between which we live. Who are we in this in-between space? What role does our faith play here? To what are we clinging for safety and security? I pray this issue of the Outlook helps you ask and answer these questions.