Recently, I was honored to give the invocation and benediction at a Naturalization Ceremony at the local, federal court house. As part of this honor, I visited with the presiding judge and guest speaker, a naturalized citizen who is an associate professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Florida.
Even as a boy in India, the professor knew about the United States as a land of opportunity. He lived in a dirty village in a tiny house with no luxuries, such as clean water. He enjoyed reading, though books were scarce. As he described his childhood, he remembered being certain that one day he would come to America, though he didn’t know how. His childhood faith astounded me, much more hopeful than mine at that age, and I had plenty of clean water, a pile of stuffed animals and shelves of books.
Before I delivered the invocation, I stood for a moment at the podium and looked into the eyes of several people, acknowledging the divine expressions of God also looking at me. I spoke the same greeting I say before each church service: “Namaste. The Spirit in me welcomes, honors, embraces and rejoices in the Spirit in you.” After the assistant U.S. attorney made the motion for admission, the court’s deputy clerk administered the oath. Forty-one candidates for citizenship – each with stories of the past and dreams for the future – rose. One, a young Latina mother, gently rocked a carriage as a baby cooed inside. Many people smiled, while others cried openly. I doubted I could imagine their life journeys to reach that day.
A few minutes later, President Obama spoke in a video message and Lee Greenwood began to sing, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” Then, I also cried, blinking away tears, fishing in my handbag for a tissue to dab my eyes. Suddenly, I realized that our stories were connected; many years earlier, three of my four grandparents escaped oppressive regimes and also became U.S. citizens, dreaming of new lives, even before I was a glimmer in my parents’ eyes.
After the ceremony, one of the new citizens thanked me in carefully spoken English for my prayers. I offered my congratulations. She smiled and said, “So thankful. So thankful to be.” I thought she might say more, but she wiped away tears, shook my hand and turned to greet some others.
As I prepare for Thanksgiving and consider the recent news about refugees, immigration and border patrols, I see a tapestry of Thanksgiving stories: mine, my grandparents’, the naturalized citizens’, and those who await a new homeland. As divine children of God, we each desire a safe place to live and be free. Say what we will about the failings of this country we call home, none of us would be here without the grace which opened doors and the courage to step out in faith, each of us so thankful to be, here and free.
Happy Thanksgiving, Blessed Readers, and Namaste.
© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.