Tonight we said goodbye to our Honduran friends in the big fiesta. At the end of the time Father Dagoberto and I always speak. We tell people what’s important. We talk about our common vision. We talk about the friendships we hold dear. We give thanks to God and one another for all the work done in the last week.
We also speak of upcoming changes. We speak of shifts we anticipate that will influence how we work together. For example, this year we had Honduran doctors working with us. It was a real joy to work with them. It gives us a sense of shared work. This is no longer just the Americans bringing good things to the Hondurans, it is Americans and Hondurans working together for the good of the Honduran people. This really is our ideal world. This is team-building and sharing. It embodies many values we in Honduras Good Works hold dear.
So this is goodbye for another year, it is also goodbye to old ways of doing things. With every goodbye there is a welcome. We welcome the future.
Today was day 5 of 5 in our mission to take medicines and doctors to the needy people of Honduras. It’s been a rewarding and exhausting week as it is every year. We always end the week with a church service at which people get a chance to share what the week means to them. People shared a variety of things, like a 10 year old girl that impressed the doctor so much that she wants to support her when she goes to high school through our scholarship program. Others talked of older people who impressed them with their resilience and their good attitudes in the face of tremendous trial. I found that as I listened to people’s stories I began to see their souls, and they were all beautiful. Stories really make the world go around. When we tell our stories we tell ourselves who we are and we show ourselves to the world. This is a bunch of people with beautiful souls. It has been a privilege and an honor to work with them these five days.
The stories people told are all stories of an encounter. Running through them all was the scarlet thread of encounter across great differences. The differences are economic, racial, linguistic, geographic, and of personality and personal history, yet in some unlikely way connection is made between two hearts. Two minds find that there are common themes in there thinking. Two souls find that they have common ends and common goals, common ideals and common images of the beautiful. These are the substance of our humanity, the scarlet thread of human experience through all time and place. Invariably we discover this thread by telling our stories.
We are not meant to find common stories. We are meant to find places where our stories touch one another, where they share moments of humanity, times of true beauty, goodness and truth.
I went on a home visit today. We went to visit a lady who turned 100 years old this year. She was born before the nation of Honduras celebrated its own hundredth birthday. I remember well visiting her 7 years ago, one year after she had fallen and broken her hip. It had healed wrong rendering her bed ridden. She was in good health, well cared for by her family. Now 7 years later, she is still in very good health for her age. But she is restless, very hard of hearing and very dim of sight. There is something about her soul that seems ready to fly.
It leaves me wondering what people like that really believe, what they might know though their ancient flesh. How might this woman look at something like justice? Maybe they would see it in terms of their family around them. This woman apologized to me seven years ago for only having had 19 children. She has lots of family around her, caring for her in her old age. Justice, then, perhaps is a function of the quality of our relationships.
How might she see mercy? Maybe mercy is the ability to set aside all of the unnecessary burdens of guilt, resentment, anger, and hurt that we so easily load on our backs, especially the ones that are the works of our own hands and tongues.
What about love? Is not love the hands that care for her now in her old age? The hands that she extended toward her little ones and then her mid-sized ones and then her grown ones gave life. Now those 19 children and the hosts begotten by them reach out to her in tenderness and concern.
I don’t really know, I’m not a hundred years old yet, but maybe my almost 60 years can open my eyes just to crack to see what the future might tell us of wisdom when my own flesh turns ancient.
This woman is certainly soon to fly. She will be mourned by those she leaves behind who love her so. In my mind she will live on as the one who embodies ancient wisdom in ancient flesh.
I met a shining soul today–not like the young woman pregnant with a child already diagnosed with renal insufficiency; not like so many others who are concerned about little things grown like a cancer, all out of proportion.
This 85 year old woman lost her son three months ago to complications from diabetes. She is mourning, to be sure, but she’s not undone. She is sad, to be sure, but not without a deep and abiding peace. She said that the key is friends that stand with her through thick and thin, through all of the trials of raising nine children, through the death of her husband several years ago. Almost in passing she mentioned an automobile accident that broke a number of bones some years ago. But she continues strong, healthy and full of a deep and abiding joy.
The struggles of life have knocked off the hard and rough edges that we so quickly develop and left her a clean and pure soul. She wondcers why she is still on this earth. I know why. She is here to shine light into the rest of us.
A dozen women sat around the room. One of them, a priest, open with prayer. Another, a lay pastor, gave a meditation on 2nd Corinthians 3. She took St. Paul’s comments about not commending himself to mean that each of these women showed who they really were by how they cared, for not just the people they cared for but the way they cared for one another.
These are health guardians in the various communities around the area in which we work in Honduras. They are First Responders, administrators of first aid when people come with medical needs. They are often stretched way beyond their training. They often have no equipment and no medicines; only a listening heart, a tender hand and a desire to help the people for which they care.
Gathered together through mutual relationships and a common concern for the welfare of their people, they listened to one of our doctors expound about the various forms of cancer. Cancer is a big word, often becoming a bugaboo that hides behind the corners of our fears whenever something doesn’t quite feel right. Dr. Brenda’s comments were aimed at clarifying the situation so that fear need not drive decisions unduly. You could tell they were very engaged. Not only did they listen intently, and take copious notes, but in the question-and-answer times they had concrete situations they wanted to discuss among themselves and with the doctor. They did what their lay pastor had advised them to do. They helped one another.
It dawned on me that they live a different reality than what surrounds them. What surrounds them is a world where each one strives to gain advantage. Each one finds their best reward in not caring for their neighbor. Yet among these women another way of life is seen, one upside down from the world, one that challenges the world in its simple, powerful humility, it’s open, generous, self-giving love.
Jesus calls it The Kingdom of God.
John Gillespie Magee Jr.’s famous poem, High Flight, ends with the words, “Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”
John was a pilot, and his poem talks about the wonder of flight. I have also seen the wonder.
Today, in the town of Savana Redonda, Honduras, a man stood on the periphery of the crowd watching the people coming to the clinic. He was in his mid-sixties. He wore a dumpy hat, cowboy boots and a scruffy beard. I asked him if he would be seen, and his eyes turn to the ground, he told me he couldn’t afford the $0.75 it would cost.
His name was Visitación Fonseca Valero. I know of no one else whose first name is “Visitation.” It recalls the visitation of the angel Gabriel to Mary the Virgin announcing the birth of Christ.
His integrity in the face of humility, the honesty with which he spoke of his pain, the clarity of his eyes, all made this little conversation a visitation to me. Maybe it is better said that I did not reach out my hand and touched the face of God. I saw the face of God looking at me through his eyes.
Of course, he was seen by the doctor anyway.
I just heard a recording of music from the Canela tribe from northwestern Brazil. The sounds produced were entirely discordant to the western ear. At first I thought it was African, with quartertones and complex rhythms. It turned out to be one of the more complex musical systems in the world. It was recorded by Wycliffe missionaries who had translated the New Testament of the Bible into the Canela language. As Canelas became Christians the missionaries wanted them to be able to sing praises, but they found that the Canelas believed that all the music in the world had already been created. Complex as it was, to write another piece of music was tantamount to creating a new river or a new species of animal in the jungle.
The missionaries took a recording of the language to a musicologist in Dallas who analyzed it with a complex computer program. Using the results the missionaries created a new Canela song of praise. With great trepidation they played it for their Canela friends. The Canelas were delighted. They assumed that an unknown neighboring tribe had finally taught these numbskull gringos to sing and sent them back with a song they did not know. When they found out just what had happened they wept with joy. One man said, “You have brought God’s word to us, now we can bring our words to God.”
- Cultures are fluid, open systems that constantly change. The change that missionaries bring is not really brought, but rather their influences flow into all the different dynamics and forces that move cultures out of the past into the future through the eternal NOW of the present.
- The human experience is lived out in tension. All cultural groups are made up of people who make free choices about how to live. Freedom of choice lies at the heart of the human experience. On the other hand, we are no one if we are not in community. Our families, neighborhoods, It makes the human experiment a great exercise in unity in diversity.
- Music goes to the very fabric of our existence, built as it is on rhythm and pitch. Rhythm is the same moment through time. It recalls the past and sets us up to anticipate the future in the eternal NOW of the present. Pitch traces the breadth of human experience.
- The direction and end of the human experiment is to respond to the Eternal Reality underlying and undergirding all of existence.