EDITOR’S NOTE: This reflection by D.L. Mayfield is part of the 2019 Growing the Light: Advent Reflections on Farmworker Justice.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocusit shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. — Isaiah 35:1-2
So many times I have felt as though one of my ministries has been the duty of despair. I can go into any happy gathering and deflate the mood instantly by bringing up any number of topics: white supremacy, inequality, the strategic dismantling of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, slave labor, and unjust food practices. I wonder why I don’t get invited to many parties anymore!
The truth of it is that the world has always been full of people who are being oppressed and those who benefit from that exploitation. It is the age-old story of Pharaoh’s empire and the enslaved Israelites, of predatory economies and the disenfranchised people whom God sees. I see the threads of this scriptural theme everywhere in my own context. As a white evangelical American woman, I too have benefited from an economy of scarcity and extraction. I enjoy low, low prices on my food and clothes and electronics because of low, low wages paid to the workers. I am connected to the threads of suffering that enable my lifestyle.
But staying solely in a place of despair can lead us into places of paralysis, toxic shame, or burnout. How are we to respond to the great injustices of the world — including how farmworkers are treated in our own communities and countries — wholeheartedly? I believe it takes the imagination of the Creator God to move us forward and give us a vision for a world where everyone in our neighborhoods can flourish.
When I am tempted to only see the world with the eyes of despair, I read passages like Isaiah 35 and something new is sparked within me. God, who is obsessed with those who have been and are being exploited, also seems to have an eye for beauty. God designed flowers and trees to burst into bloom simply for the joy of it. I read about the highway called the Way of Holiness, where people will walk to Zion, singing and shouting for joy, their sorrows and sighing long forgotten. What does it look like for me to live today as if I might someday be on the highway of joy to the new city, one where every person in our communities is flourishing? Perhaps it looks like leaning into joy where we can find it, even in the midst of these dark times.
One of my favorite activists is Dorothy Day, who is known for living in solidarity with the poor and getting arrested for the rights of others. But she is also known for her belief in the duty of delight, of being connected to the small joys and pleasures of being alive: a piece of pie, a hot cup of coffee, a tree blooming in the spring, a favorite novel. Dorothy Day lived and fought for the humanity of her neighbors until her death. Is it possible that she was able to live her life the way she did because she pursued joy in the midst of a world choked with despair?
Sometimes it truly does feel like we are living in a wilderness, where xenophobia, racism, economic inequality, and misogyny have stripped our societies bare. But this Advent season, I am going to try and look deeper. I will learn from the Israelites before me, and from those like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, that the fight for justice is also a fight for joy. I will walk in that precarious balance of having both the duty of despair and the duty of delight. I will keep walking the road in front of me, trusting that one day we shall reach the new city together, singing songs and eating in the house of the Lord, where the meals are marked by laughter, not tears.
God, give us eyes to see both our neighbors who are suffering in the fields and factories of our communities and the eyes to see glimpses of your beauty at work in the world here and now. Give us the resilience needed to not stop the work until every single person in our community is flourishing. Take our impoverished dreams for the world and replace them with your expansive, joyful desires. Bless those who are at the forefront of the fight for justice, and give them a taste of your joy today. Amen.
Learn more about how farmworkers from Immokalee and consumers across the country are working to expand the gains of the Fair Food Program to cover thousands of more workers by bringing Wendy’s into the Fair Food Program. Spread the word about the Wendy’s Boycott through which consumers and farmworkers are demanding Wendy’s sign a legally binding agreement to use its purchasing power to guarantee farmworkers rights — just like McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, and Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut) are already doing.
Searching for a gift that matters this Christmas? When you make a donation to the Fair Food Program in honor of someone, your gift goes to protect and advance farmworkers’ human rights. And the Fair Food Program has beautiful holiday cards you can print or which can be emailed. Give a gift of justice, respect, and hope today.