Fortress Press

Precious Precarity: A Spirituality of Borders

Precious Precarity

A Spirituality of Borders

Helen T. Boursier (Author)


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Borders are places of collision. People and politics, compassion and cruelty, law and lawlessness, hope and despair, idealism and ideology, life and death--all collide at the border. But these collisions have human faces. North and south, rich and poor, nuns and nones, desperation and courage--a spirit draws all these poles together and a spirituality animates their encounter. 

Precious Precarity examines the spirituality that emerges between life and death, when vulnerable raced migrants must leave their homelands and traverse harsh environments to seek safety in an often-unwelcoming foreign land. The spirituality of displaced people mingles with that of volunteers, advocates, and environmentalists at the southwestern US-Mexico border, creating a unique and distinct spirituality in the borderlands. It's a spirituality shaped by the reality of death and the passionate quest for safety and for life.

Informed by interviews, activism, scholarship, original art, and a practiced compassion, Precious Precarity takes readers beyond the headlines, policy debates, good intentions, and bad faith that too often dominate our understanding of the borderlands to reveal the ways in which human experience endures life's travails, transcends its vagaries and vanities, and persists in the face of danger and even death.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506489575
  • eBook ISBN 9781506489582
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 254
  • Publication Date May 21, 2024


When (or perhaps, if) future theologians and ministers survive the crises of our day to look back on life in the 2020s, I am convinced that they will define our times in terms of a complex intersection of contributions and challenges: the needed corrective of contextual, diverse, non-Eurocentric voices in the church and academy, a rise in awareness of the impact of man-made climate change, ongoing attempts to overcome a problematic bifurcation between pastoral and systematic theology, and--likely above all--our response as a human race to the staggering numbers of people on the move. In Precious Precarity, Helen Boursier offers a gritty and textured account of a spirituality of the borderlands which weaves together many of these themes that define Christian witness in our day, one which highlights the enduring goodness to be encountered in the "badlands."

Michael M. Canaris, PhD, associate professor of ecclesiology and systematic theology, and co-director, Miguel Pro, S.J. Iniciativa de Protagonismo Pastoral, Loyola University Chicago

Helen Boursier's book Precious Precarity will break your heart and lift you toward a new appreciation for life, love, and the possibility of a future worth living. Using Ecclesiastes to ground and frame what she calls the "spirituality of dissent" at the border, she interprets what it means to live a hope-against-hope life in an unjust environment. Boursier uses migrants' own words to communicate their experiences of death and relentless suffering as they seek a new life on the other side of the border. Their words show how tenaciously they cling to their trust in a God who is with them and protecting them; a faith that sustains their quest for sanctuary and transforms those who meet and support them. The book is a clarion call to religious leaders and other practitioners of the Global North to leave our functional patterns of indifference and apathy to what is happening at the border since, in truth, our lives and futures are deeply intertwined with these asylum seekers. This is a timely work that can speak persuasively to our shared time of precarious living. Practical theologians, pastors, and secular volunteers will find the stories and insights compelling and inspiring. The visual illustrations are remarkable and help bring the text to life, while the incredible number of quotes and references invite the reader to explore more deeply the themes and questions raised in the text. The bibliography is a treasure in itself.

Rev. Dr. Sharon G. Thornton, PhD, professor emerita, Andover Newton Theological School, and author of Broken Yet Beloved: A Pastoral Theology of the Cross

This book is a must-read: a brilliant, compelling, and timely exploration of one of the greatest ethical, theological, and political challenges of our time. How do we counter the political denial of the humanity of those families migrating to the United States in search of safety, and instead honor their integrity and profound courage? Boursier provides an evocative resource for this vital work, honoring the spiritual resilience and deep faith of those families seeking safety and the life-changing solidarity of those volunteers and advocates who support them with compassion and creativity in this painful and precarious endeavor--the search for a safe place that can become home, where justice is embodied and all can thrive.

Sharon D. Welch, author of After the Protests Are Heard: Enacting Civic Engagement and Social Transformation

Precious Precarity is a gift for all of us who want to live with humanity but don't always have access to human stories, especially when they pertain to the most vulnerable among us. This book is a wake-up call, both for our dehumanizing politics and for our ignorant hearts, and it creates space for compassion at a time when we need it most.

Simran Jeet Singh, author of The Light We Give: How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life

We may remember weary Jeremiah saying, "You have seduced me, and I have let myself be seduced." We may use contemporary jargon about "compassion fatigue." Whatever our language, we are recognizing that prophets get exhausted. Depths of spirituality are needed so that one does not internally or externally flee the harsh and ambiguous realities of the borderlands. Boursier opens up to us the paths of deep spirituality by juxtaposing words and images from immigrants, volunteers, and those around, with the words of wisdom from Ecclesiastes. She does not deny the struggle. She does not deny the hope and joy. By getting close to "the other," one can move away from controlling fear into a peaceful sense of deep purpose.

Recently we were able to offer overnight hospitality in our convent to a ninth grader and his father from Venezuela, who had gone through months of dangerous and exhausting travel to reach the US border and ask for asylum. A thoughtful judge affirmed they could be in the US for now and be considered. Before the student and his father left to join a relative, I shared a vocabulary-building workbook that our mother, a high school English teacher, had used with her students. As I touched Momma's handwriting for the last time, I realized that twenty years after her death, this gift book was her life and love continuing. The student lit up with joy and wanted me to inscribe the book. We, like Sarah and Abraham, were blessed by the strangers who came. Boursier writes with boundless compassion and creative skill. She opens our eyes, that we may let the strangers in.

Sister Martha Ann Kirk, ThD, professor emerita, University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Texas

In her best and most thought-provoking book yet, Rev. Dr. Boursier takes a unique look at migrants seeking refuge in the US, this time through the lens of the special kind of spirituality that develops when the line between life and death is thin and the reality of the fragility of existence is pervasive. Trapped between the homes they fled and a new life where they don't and likely may never belong--the reality of placelessness--migrants cope by relying on a deep and ever-present faith in God. Precious Precarity beautifully expresses what I have witnessed, particularly the strength and resilience arising from the spirituality that is in the very nature of these strong and determined people--the constant sense of the presence of God that guides and protects. I have seen this profound spirituality in children detained for months with no idea when they might be reunited with their loved ones. Some fill notebooks with prayers, smiling and trusting in God. Precious Precarity captures the sustaining hope that is necessary for survival when the world is precarious and the future uncertain. Precious Precarity is the antidote to the divisive narrative raging around immigration. This thoughtful and comprehensive work will change attitudes about migrants and hence the choices we make regarding what we need to do and how we should do it. The insights in this book remind me that I am one of the lucky ones.

Hope M. Frye, executive director, Project Lifeline

Helen T. Boursier's passion for employing art as embodied pastoral action and her deep knowledge of scriptures and feminist scholarship are masterfully woven in this volume, guiding us in understanding and appreciating the lives and persistent issues of displaced migrant women and children, as well as the volunteers she has encountered in the borderlands.

Yudit Kornberg Greenberg, PhD, George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Endowed Chair of Religion, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida

Precious Precarity by Helen Boursier is a refreshing approach to the book of Ecclesiastes for the modern day, as it impinges on the lives of migrant families on the southern border. Dr. Boursier does this by engaging several major themes from Ecclesiastes ("striving," "time and chance," "gain," "joy," etc.) and applying them to the experience of migrants and those who work with them. Precious Precarity both recovers a neglected, and often misunderstood, biblical book and shows us a way forward in the faithful application of its teaching. Heartily recommended!

Mark Shipp, professor of Old Testament, Austin Graduate School of Theology (retired)