Both of my parents were immigrants to this country. Like millions of others who sought a safer life and a brighter future, they came to the magical place they knew as New York Harbor in search of home. For them, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .” was a life reality. Today, voices are calling out a desire to close our borders to immigrants. Exiled people fleeing from their tortured homelands may not find a welcome in America.
That grieves me, especially when I remember that my grandfather had to run for his life when he came to America. It also grieves me as a Christian who believes in opening hearts and hands to those in need.
In some ways, it feels as though the people of God are exiled in our own world in these days of violence, racism, sexism and xenophobia. We have for so long lived out our calling to love our neighbors in a land where Lady Liberty lifted her torch of welcome to all people. Yet in these days, voices are shouting out words of hatred and exclusion. How do we live out our Christian mission in these days?
Sometimes it feels as if we don’t belong anymore because we feel powerless to silence the hatred that prevails. So I am reminded of this Psalm and the feelings of mourning of an excluded people.
Psalm 137 is a poignant song of the exile—sung by one who has recently returned from Babylon but in whose soul there lingers the bitter memory of the years in a foreign land and of the cruel events that have taken over life. Our situation is not the same, of course, but the emotions expressed in the Psalm mirror our own emotions when we remember America as a land of hope and not of hate, when we close our borders to hurting people, when we consider the call to cast out certain people because of their religion.
As Christians, should we not sit down and weep when we remember our country that has always welcomed all who sought refuge and a brighter future? Should we not weep when so many Americans are demanding that we close our welcoming entries?
By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.
For there our captors demanded of us songs,
And our tormentors mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How can we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land?
– Psalm 137:1-4 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Today, may we hold in our hearts the people of the world who are truly living in exile. And may we pray that our country will never close its welcoming doors to people in search of home.