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Center for Action and Contemplation

Justice Close to Home

Friday, June 22, 2018

Justice: Week 2

Justice Close to Home
Friday, June 22, 2018

Over the last two weeks I’ve explored justice in a broad way. Today I’d like to bring it closer to home, in a little longer meditation, so you get a fuller picture and some of the nuances in my own life.

My first assignment as an ordained deacon in 1969 was working with the Acoma Indians, a Pueblo people living west of Albuquerque. I quickly fell in love with this multi-cultural and beautiful “Land of Enchantment.”

In 1986 when I felt called to start the Center for Action and Contemplation, I returned to New Mexico. Its physical proximity to the U.S./Mexico border, Franciscan legacy (both good and bad), extreme poverty (only Mississippi and U.S. territories have higher poverty rates in the U.S.), and history of nuclear testing made this seem like a good place to live in solidarity with suffering and practice contemplative approaches to justice and peacemaking.

I am still learning to hold the tension of our stunning landscape and rich art with so much injustice and pain. I’ll share just a few examples of New Mexico’s complex past and present.

The Catholic “Doctrine of Discovery” sent Spanish Conquistadors in search of gold, beginning in the sixteenth century. [1] As the area was colonized, many indigenous peoples were massacred, enslaved, or forced to assimilate. Colonial governor Juan de Oñate (1550-1626) had one foot cut off of each man in Acoma Pueblo after they rebelled against Spanish domination. By the late eighteenth century, approximately one-third of New Mexico’s native population was enslaved. [2]

The exploitation of Native Americans continued under Mexican and then United States rule. In the late 1800s, two federal “Indian” boarding schools in the state tried to “remove the cultural and individual identity” of Native American children by prohibiting them from “practicing their native language and beliefs.” [3] Anglo settlers stole land from both Native Americans and Hispanic residents. The U.S. Army forced the Navajo or Diné people onto a small reservation on the eastern side of the state in 1864; the “Long Walk to Bosque Redondo” from the Navajos’ home in western New Mexico—which covered 300 miles of desert and mountains—was an attempt at ethnic cleansing. [4]

The U.S. government has formed numerous treaties with tribes and pueblos, only to blatantly disregard them and give preference to corporations and private interests. Today Native Americans continue to struggle to protect their land, water, and diverse cultures. Even while many in the U.S. try to keep immigrants from crossing our country’s borders, they have broken promises to respect the boundaries of those who were here before us.

Migration—whether chosen or forced—is a reality we must continue to face. U.S. interference in Central America has led to destabilization and violence. In 1986, the year before the Center for Action and Contemplation officially opened, our governor declared New Mexico the country’s first “State of Sanctuary,” a welcoming place for those fleeing civil wars in Central America. Albuquerque’s mayor, Tim Keller, recently affirmed that we are an “Immigrant Friendly” city, limiting city resources in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. [5] I support this decision and applaud the faith communities who are sheltering undocumented immigrants!

The policies of separating families at the U.S./Mexico border and of criminalizing those who seek asylum are disgraceful. Throughout Scripture we see God’s mercy toward the outsider and the vulnerable. Jesus makes our treatment of “the least of these brothers and sisters” the only real criteria for the final judgment (see Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus himself was a refugee, and his life and teaching show us what it means to welcome the stranger in our midst. Without love, “law and order” mentalities too often lead to dehumanization, concentration camps, and genocide. In today’s political arena there is a lot of finger-pointing; we need to move beyond blame and rhetoric to take action on behalf of those who are suffering.

With its high desert environment, New Mexico is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The Rio Grande, which begins in Colorado and finally borders Texas and Mexico, often dries up in the summer before it reaches the Gulf of Mexico, and droughts will only worsen. The over-consumption of fossil fuels in the U.S. has significantly contributed to global warming. Those in power must take responsibility for caring for the people and places most impacted. We’ll all have to come together as a community to find creative ways of sharing and preserving our resources.

Our history is complex and layered. There is no single side of the story, though history is often written from the perspective of the “victor.” [6] We continue to peel back the layers and learn more about the many people who call New Mexico home, often displacing or marginalizing the previous residents. I can only touch on a few of the issues I’ve learned about. In doing so I hope to spark curiosity about your own place in the world. Who lived on “your” land before you? If you don’t know, find out. [7] How might this awareness change the way you live and your attitudes and actions toward indigenous peoples and immigrants?

[1] For more on the Doctrine of Discovery, see Sunday’s meditation,

[2] Learn more about the Genízaros, Native American slaves sold to Hispanic families under Spanish rule, See also “Of Bloodlines and Conquistadors,”

[3] See Santa Fe Indian School, See also Albuquerque Indian School,

[4] See Mark Charles, “The Historically Accurate Abraham Lincoln,”

[5] See City of Albuquerque,

[6] For an in-depth exploration of the negative impact of colonization upon Native Americans, see Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Beacon Press: 2015).

[7] See “Tribal Nations Map,”

Image credit: Full side view of adobe house with water in foreground, “Acoma Pueblo, National Historic Landmark, New Mexico,” (detail); from the series Ansel Adams Photographs of National Parks and Monuments, compiled 1941-1942, documenting the period ca. 1933-1942.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
The Catholic “Doctrine of Discovery” sent Spanish Conquistadors in search of gold, beginning in the sixteenth century. As the area was colonized, many indigenous peoples were massacred, enslaved, or forced to assimilate. Colonial governor Juan de Oñate (1550-1626) had one foot cut off of each man in Acoma Pueblo after they rebelled against Spanish domination. By the late eighteenth century, approximately one third of New Mexico’s native population was enslaved. —Richard Rohr
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