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Immigration in the World and in the Soul
Jul 1, 2013
Are you an immigrant? You may ask: who is not an immigrant? Recent statistics show that there are currently over 200 million immigrants in the world. However, this figure only reflects people who have moved to a new country. What about the children of those immigrants? There are millions of such children who are given citizenship in their new country; nevertheless, they suffer equally, if not more, than their parents from the challenges of adapting to a completely new culture. In many ways, it’s no different when a person or family moves to a new state or city within the same country; with the exception of visa procedures, there are similar challenges regarding cultural, economic, social, and ecological conditions. Joanna Bodnar writes about her own experiences as an immigrant. When her family moved from eastern Europe to the United States, they went from “a country where family was the most important purpose of life” to a place where “family is satirized as dysfunctional joke.” For Joanna, the USA turned out to be not a “land of opportunity,” but a “harsh, unforgiving, and lonely place.” Leaving behind “a simple but fulfilling” life in exchange for a hopeful but separated life, Joanna’s experience reflects the kind of tribulations millions of immigrants around the world suffer to various degrees. All of us live in an increasingly diverse society, and Joanna’s piece forces us to re-evaluate how we relate to our neighbors – especially those from an unfamiliar background – and to ask whether we are sufficiently friendly in welcoming them to their new home.

Sarah-Mae Thomas’ piece on The Convivencia touches on the kind of coexistence we’ve failed to achieve in these modern times. Her piece is a critical approach to this “too-good-to-be-true” period of history when Muslims, Christians, and Jews were able to establish a relatively successful civilization of peaceful coexistence in Andalusia. It was a period when none were forced to emigrate from Spain, and Muslim immigrants from North Africa fused harmoniously with the local Christian and Jewish populations.

In fact, from a cosmological perspective, since Adam and Eve had to leave our eternal home, we are all immigrants. Gülen once wrote “Towards the Lost Paradise,” dreaming of generations to come who would be adorned with the values and virtues that would entitle them to once again regain entry to that garden. The secret to this entitlement, he says in the lead article, is mastering time, and utilizing it as our most precious value.

Katharine Branning felt the deep and eternal yearning of an immigrant when she visited the eight-century old Cathedral of Chartres in France. On her pilgrimage, she walked this monumental place of worship’s famous labyrinth. Katharine’s engagement with the labyrinth reads like an antidote to an immigrant in a foreign land. She overcame her apprehension by taking “slow and deliberate steps.” “This was no race,” she told herself, “there would be no tricks, no teasing decisions to be made, and no one would judge [her] performance.” Her inner voice said that she “just needed to surrender [herself] to the path, and accept the insights it would give [her].” As she navigates the labyrinth, Katharine’s wide and deep inner reflections encompass our diverse journeys of faith and self-discovery, as we immigrate between the centers and peripheries of our human condition.