Some Egg-cellent Suggestions for Re-entry

On Thursday, we YAGM in Argentina and Uruguay left our host communities in body, though perhaps not yet in Spirit. We are now in the midst of our closing retreat here in Buenos Aires, a last few days at home before our departure for . . . well, home.

A few weeks ago, our country coordinator Krystle shared with our cohort a letter written by Andrea Roske-Metcalfe. One of the previous coordinators for the YAGM Mexico country placement, her letter was a list of suggestions for helping YAGMs’ Sending Communities accompany their volunteers through their reentry into the United States. My sending community –  the group of incredible people who gave me the opportunity a year ago to set out on this incredible journey, there are so many things I want to tell you, and yet they are clinging still to me, unable to free themselves. Some stories run so freely to you, while others I guard within me, mystical treasures that I feel are meant only to be shared between me and my creator. What follows is a list, not Andrea’s list, but one adapted from her words – something to help us both begin this journey of knowing one another once again face-to-face. During these final few days of our time in Buenos Aires, a metaphor came to me earlier, which I felt described well the the tenderness of this time for me as a volunteer, a missionary, a YAGM. If you’ve separated an egg, white from yolk by hand, you know the tenderness with which you ease the yolk across your fingers. Softly you roll it, and some of the white flows freely, almost on its own between your hands, but some amount of it clings to the yellow ball as you cradle it there. As we return to our sending communities, we ask that you hold us gently, letting some expressions of our experience fall from us freely, but also that you show us patience, as we hold onto some of the ether which we have lived within the last year. Some of it may never leave us fully, and that is okay, but it is for this reason that I’ve decided to share the list of items below, so that we might begin this process together ::

1). Do not ask me the question, “How was it?” For many of us YAGMs, right now those are the words we most fear. We cannot process our year in simple words or statements, any easier than you can were I to ask you the same question. If you want to hear honestly about my experience, ask me specific questions: “What was your neighborhood like?” or “What was your favorite dish to cook?” Just as one drop of egg-white tends to pull more with it, simple questions more easily allow me to share my experiences, and gives me the chance to share as much as I am comfortable sharing in that moment, without feeling pressure to offer more. And for those of you who might not be interested in hearing long stories, or about the year I’ve lived, that’s okay. I’d much rather receive a warm greeting, or a long hug, than to force a conversation.

2). “If you wish to spend time with your YAGM, let them take the lead on where to go and what to do.” I’ve been away for a year! That means that things like Wal-Mart, choosing an evening meal, or even getting behind the wheel of a car may be anxiety-inducing, exciting, or even something looked upon with horror. Though I haven’t lived with the same material simplicity of some of my fellow YAGM volunteers (Argentina and Uruguay are wealthy “Westernized” countries with many of the same amenities you can find in the States), this is still certainly a different nation and culture. I’m excited to share in many aspects of my U.S. culture, and I’m also very uncomfortable with others.

3). “Expect some feelings of jealousy and resentment, especially if your YAGM lived with a host family.” I cannot say if you will feel these dear reader, but I know I may very well feel them towards some of you. Living with El Arca meant a sometimes discomforting (at least at first) level of intimacy, but also wove tight connections between Tara, myself, and the acogidxs. When you help bathe, prepare food, and spend all day living with the same seven or eight other people, many things become normal, which may not immediately disappear when I return home. I ask for your patience, as I likely talk constantly about the Arca, because we are “mourning the loss (at least in part) of the deep, meaningful, important relationships that helped [us] to survive and to thrive during this last year. In this regard, treat [us] as you would anyone else mourning a loss.”

4). I do not have an abundance of photos from my YAGM experience. Many of those I have taken, I’ve already shared in blog posts or in newsletters, and so while I certainly have a few I’m happy to share, there will not be the albums of hundreds like I took when I studied abroad. I chose to live this experience and, with exception of my writing or sketching certain things, chose to hold story and memory as my main method for taking in the year. That being said, anyone who knows me knows that I like to talk. Rather than sitting for hours when perhaps you might not have the time, invite me for specific outings or times together when you’d like to hear of my life in Argentina. I’ll be touched and happy to share stories over a beer, coffee, or meal at home. But again, honesty on both our parts, about what we’d like to share/hear will always be the best path forward!

5). “That said, speak up when you need to! Returning YAGMs commonly assume that almost nothing has changed in your lives since they left. (This happens, in part, because you let them, figuring that their experiences are so much more exciting than yours, and therefore not sharing your own.) Be assertive enough to create the space to share what has happened in your life during the last year.” I couldn’t have said it better, and likely would have forgotten, but Andrea’s words here are very very true. I want to hear about your lives too! Living intentionally in community, and limited social energy has prevented my speaking to so many of my loved ones in my sending community, so I’m thrilled to have the change to catch up with y’all.

6). This for me is perhaps the hardest point to share. I say this with an awareness that I have lived outside of the United States for a year now, and do not know for sure what is and isn’t being said, done, and changed in my home communities. That being said . . . I am not the same person I was when I left. Of course I look and may act much the same at first, albeit with slightly more facial hair (slightly), but this experience has chewed me up. I feel an incredibly complex mix of emotion, which for me is saying something, about the United States, and what it means to return to life there. I am angry at our country, at our inaction, and our division and polarization. I am newly aware of so much of the hypocrisy in myself and the culture I came from. I am battling that, both within myself, and outside of myself as I live in this complex world. I ask, within reason, that you do not judge what may be a new and, at times, uncomfortable perspective on the ways the brokenness of the United States and the Church continue to fight strongly against a mission of equality and Christ-ly love. I know that at times I have already spoken out in hurtful ways, and want to become increasingly conscious as to how I share my feelings with my friends, family, and sending community, but also frankly. I’m pissed. And that righteous anger has a flight back to Wichita, Kansas on Wednesday morning July 3rd.

July 4th; the land of the free, and the home of the brave? Please.

7). Lastly, and most importantly, I’ll let these final words from Andrea close the list: “Go easy on yourself, and go easy on your YAGM. Understand that reverse culture shock is not an exact science, and manifests itself differently in each person. Expect good days and bad days. Don’t be afraid to ask for help (including of the pharmaceutical variety) if necessary. Pray. Laugh. Cry. This too shall pass, and in the end, you’ll both be the richer for it.”


Over the next few weeks, I’ll likely be more distant on social media (I’m planning on leaving Facebook entirely after posting my final newsletter on July 15), and as I return home, I’m so full of joy to return to you. I’m ready to go. Though my heart hurts as I leave my life and my home in Argentina, I am ready to see you, to embrace you, and to love you after our time apart.

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Peace, accompaniment, and very soon face-to-face,

Eric

 

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Oneness // Trinity

For the last nine months now, I’ve lived in a small suburb, or bario, just outside of Buenos Aires serving in the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission Program. Beyond our required bi-monthly newsletters, and an ever-decreasing frequency of blog posts, I haven’t spoken much to the world outside of Argentina’s borders. I could say that it was to delve more fully into the experience of my year, or to help reduce my over-reliance on technology, but neither of those excuses would be completely honest. The reality is, this year has been incredibly hard, and I’ve had many moments where my lack of communication was truthfully, because I’ve struggled to find the silver lining. As it turns out, the tagline for my blog, “the Argentine experiences of a Kansan, who may have gotten more than he bargained for when he chose to do a year of service abroad”, has perhaps proved truer than I’d like to admit.

However last Monday, as I stepped off of the 314 Azul bus onto calle Rosario, and walked the final four blocks to my site: El Arca Argentina (a L’Arche home for the differently-abled) I paused for a moment, gazing up the quiet sub-urban street. Amongst the scraps of wood, grass, and broken sidewalk pavers, a layer of fog hung low over the neighborhood. I saw the breath of the wind blowing through many autumn leaves clinging yet-determinedly to their branches. I saw the ways it curled and wound its silent wisps through gates and over property fences. I could feel the cool humidity of it as it deposited tiny droplets on my face and the scratched lenses of my glasses. Even the Sun, whose bright light normally hides its presence, shown as a defined disk behind the fog. All of my bario, all of Buenos Aires, all of the universe, it felt, was brought into quiet unity under the embrace of an enormous grey blanket.

As I stood there, and took in this ethereal breath of the morning, an episode of the Liturgists podcast played into my ears, its title was “The God Question”, and in that moment, something settled within me, moved through me: ruach. The Hebrew word for breath, Spirit, or wind, used in the second verse of Genesis to describe the Trinity, hovering over the waters of creation. Though the fog of that Monday morning soon disappeared under the heat of Argentina’s intense sunlight, the memory of it remained with me. In me. This year has given rise to many thoughts and emotions, far more than I could share in a dozen conversations, let alone a few paragraphs, but what has been especially rooted in my heart, sadly, has been anger. Anger, at the broken economy of my host country. Anger at the violation of others’ humanity. Anger at the brokenness and the division we, as human beings, place upon ourselves and this world.

However, for a brief time last Monday, I was given witness to the ruach elohim that moves in, with, and through all of creation. The divine breath that knits our universe together, seeping into it, saturating it, even as we move freely and independently through it. And my anger broke upon its exposure to the oneness of the Spirit, and was transformed into what I can only describe as the most ardent love. It’s difficult to explain, because the difference was subtle. There was still frustration and fury, yet somehow in the midst of them was passion and peace. I see it most clearly in the image of the crucifixion, when our God, in utmost pain, anguish, and anger over the brokenness of its creation, in the same moment let that anger break upon the cross, and with Christ’s saving grace redeemed us in love.

Though I have so often been reminded this year of the brokenness and separations within our world, I am also witness to the fog of God that still seeps through cracked sidewalks, drifts over walls tipped with broken glass, and softens the stubborn skin of humanity. God through the Christ, and through us via the Spirit, continues to meet anger with love. Though we may often be unable to see it, the water in the divine breath doesn’t really disappear, it simply seeps back into the creation from whence it came. We are a billion galaxies, and yet one universe, 7 billion homo-sapiens, and yet one humanity, our God is three, and yet one. Oneness and diversity is the nature of creation. It is to be shared in love, in full communion, by all its members. And it is that oneness that we, as Lutherans, as Christians, and as human beings, must strive ardently for.

Though my words are always an offering of thanks for the gift, even in the midst of the challenge, that is this YAGM experience, I wrote this post especially in appreciation of my sending communities: the Central States Synod, First Lutheran Church in Manhattan, KS, Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, KS, and all the donors, friends, and family who have made this opportunity possible. Though at times it has been difficult to explain my growth this year, it is worth more than I can ever hope to offer in return. I will try my utmost to do so anyway.

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In gratefulness, peace, and unity,

Eric

 

The Women, the Paschal-tide // Las Mujeres, la Pascua

Vicky’s voice breaks the silence:

” . . . Y seguimos.” // “. . . And next.”

I move away from Vicky, and pause now in front of Tara. We continue the exercise, and look into one another’s eyes.

To lock eyes with another person is intimate, likely discomforting, even with people we know well. It’s strange, how those two small lenses can give such insight into the mind behind them. Over the next few moments, as I look into Tara’s, I am struck by the depth of the young woman before me. Her eyes are very deeply blue, and full of energy. This spark of alegria bursts often outward as she works, gives, pours her love into this ministry we share. Life at El Arca follows such a rapid rhythm that I rarely have a moment to pause and reflect on what it’s like to share a site placement, a home, a family with another person from our program.

There’s a flicker in her eye. In it, a common shared-thought over the last seven months: “Here we are, doing something else bizarre and somewhat uncomfortable. Yay, YAGM, am I right?” Whether or not I imagined the look, I suppress the urge to grin; I’m not sure if it works.

The silence expands, and as it does, so does a new awareness of Tara’s presence, here, in this place, in this ministry we share. As brother and sister, as asistentes, as YAGM.

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, [Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James] took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”‘ Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was [these women], and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” ~ Luke 24 :: 1 – 12

Having lived and worked alongside Tara, and many other powerful women here in Argentina this year, I find myself humbled in new ways by our Easter story. I understand the spiritual significance of Christ’s Paschal appearance to woman before man, continuing to defy the patriarchal machine after his resurrection as he had before it, and the male disciples’ refusal to believe their testimony. However, looking back across my YAGM experience, I find myself pondering, like Peter, what the women have seen.

The misogyny present in our world is not an uncommon experience for the many women in YAGM and outside of it. However, I am realizing that I, like the apostles, have been quick to deny or ignore the inequality of our patriarchal world. Many women’s grace, Tara’s especially, have helped me see now, what I would not before.

I am asked if I’d like to play futbol, whereas Tara is left uninvited. I am asked to help move heavier things, whereas Tara’s physical strength (a strength greater than mine I might add), is left unasked (though she quickly joins in). Tara is asked to teach the children, whereas I am left relaxing at the table to share mate and talk. I wish I could say that these were things I noticed, but each and every one of these times it has been Tara, not my contentedly-sexist subconsciousness, which kindly shows me the misogyny in our world. Similarly, on this Easter Sunday the women, first to feel the joy and wonder of the resurrection, share their discovery with the apostles. The men, much like myself, are quick to distrust and question. While I have, with practice, learned to bite my tongue at Tara’s accusations of our sexist reality, I would be dishonest if I did not admit my mind’s continual tendency to deny her experiences. I long to offer the benefit of the doubt: perhaps you weren’t within earshot when they invited me to help, you are the person with the degree in teaching, or maybe you looked busy when they invited me to play all jump to the tip of my tongue. And even now, when I have begun to see the differences in treatment, between my sisters-in-service and myself, I still so often like Peter, run to the tomb for proof.

But I continue to find it empty, and so am confronted with the reality of the resurrection, or in this case, the misogyny rampant among us. And as it must have for Peter, it fills me with fear. For death is easy, but to confront a new reality, one with brokenness and beauty to ascribe to, is both fearsome and wonderful. On this Paschal-tide I find myself full of grace and thankfulness for the women this year who have given me, and all of us arrogant men in the world, patience as we blunder about in our privilege, too fearful (or more often too stubborn) to trust in the emptiness of the tomb. However, witnessing the brokenness of Christ’s body on Easter is also to see its resurrection. To see the way suffering can transform into new life.

My journey towards womanism has just begun. I stare blindly far more often than I see. However, on this Pascua I find incredible thankfulness and joy for the powerful women who share the gospel with those who deny it. The resurrection is equity, life, and light, and colored women were the first to see it.

 

The women declare, “Christ is risen!”

And the men reply, “He is risen indeed, hallelujah!”

 

Thank you especially to Tara, Jenna, Gracia, Gabby, Liz, my mother, my sister, my aunts and grandmothers, Paula and Flor, Annika and Tori, Krystle and Deja, Ale and Ceecii and Anahi, Kristin and Mari and Kaylie, and all the other incredible women who offer the bounty of this table to all.

 

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Peace, joy, and hosannas lifted high,

Eric

 

Cuaresma

When I chose to do YAGM, I longed for adventure.

I longed to see the other side of the world, both literally and metaphorically. I wanted my perspective shattered and reforged.

A number of my fellow brothers and sisters in blind-absurdity (a term I’ll coin for us silly young men, women, and others that elected to live out this year-long journey) have had our expectations flipped on their head. This has resulted in a mixture of love, loss, profound joy and sadness, expectation, and stark reality. Though at times I find my palette tainted by the bitterness of change, I count myself among this number. I never expected to live in a L’Arche home in Argentina, or a small and isolated Lutheran community in a Buenos Aires suburb.

For goodness sake, I’m an architecture graduate from Kansas.

But above all, the one thing I never expected was to find people like me. Human beings, wistful and full of hope, ignorant to racism, sexism, and cultural appropriation. Lost, and in the same moment, intrinsically intertwined with some aspect of a divine other. And the task then set before me, by this incredibly loving, but maddeningly frustrating consciousness whom I call God: Love them all.

I long to use my Creator’s name in vain to shout back, “Love?! These petty, selfish, broken, angry beings are whom you want me to love?” But the response is a silent push towards a mirror, which shows that same pettiness, selfishness, brokenness, and anger living within this stone-crusted heart I so often call Christian.

And inside I fall to my spiritual knees pleading, crying out, “Fine. Yes. I am them, and they are me, but what can we do in the midst of so much strife and divisiveness; where I find little trust in my government or my President, where I feel such loneliness and solitude in a city of millions, where I am overwhelmed by the needless deaths of so many across our world. What hope is there?”

 

“Grace.

 

Answers something, unspoken and unheard. Grace. The swallowing of that bitter taste instead of spitting it back at another. The choice to leave that which causes so much pain instead of striking back. I feel some understanding-disbelief of Christ’s words, “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Now let me clarify, there is an imperative difference between this and in-action. In-action is letting them strike the right cheek, and to do nothing. But to turn the left cheek to them, to offer yourself in pain and anger, instead of striking. That is an action. A profound act of grace and of hope.

Though often I may fail. Though so often I have failed this year, and the twenty-two before it. This is why I cling desperately to grace. That subtle acceptance of pain and anger that results not in retaliation, but in love. The truest love. Not romantic movies on a screen, or wedding vows at the altar, but an offering of further pain and suffering, the other cheek, instead of striking back.

My Creator knows my hypocrisy in this call to action. But my acceptance of this inability to love, and yet the longing for it, is why I believe the divine manifested on this earth to die for me on a wooden cross.

Forty days we walk in the wilderness. Cuaresma. This Lent. This life. But to walk, and not to strike. What wondrous love is this. What grace. What hope. I fix my eyes upon it, and I thank God for its redemption of this broken and beautiful world.

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Grace, peace, and longing for the continued strength to turn that yet-unbruised cheek,

Eric

The One Where I Sound Clinically Insane

I want to begin by saying, what you’re about to read likely will not make sense. It doesn’t even to me. Over a week has passed, and I’ve only just begun to understand what this experience means. Or what might have happened. In any case, last Monday I laid down for descanso “afternoon-rest”, and soon found myself in a deep sleep. The next few paragraphs are a small part of what I remember from a vivid dream, and more importantly, what I experienced as I woke from it:

I’m walking with the group, inspecting various parts of the large earthen barrier. Its compacted form stretches off into the distance, dividing the landscape, creating within and without. It creates an imperfect ring, protecting our valley settlement from something in the mountains beyond. I do not know what is coming, but this defense feels important, it needs to be kept in strong condition. I wander up a street away from the group, closely looking at the wall’s outer reaches. It’s brightly painted here, to match the houses which nestle up against it, seeming to trust in its strength. I press my hands against the painted stucco, climbing up onto the barrier to get a closer look at it’s surface, but immediately, I pause, and frowning am struck with a sudden feeling of concern. Bits and pieces of the barrier crumble off against my hands. The wall is aging here, and has begun to erode. I look around quickly to shout to the rest of the group. They aren’t there. It’s critical that the wall is prepared, that it’s ready. Something is coming soon. The earth could give way. I look back at the crumbling struc*

My alarm shatters the dream, leaving the bright color of the wall vividly pressed into my mind. Late afternoon light drifts through the window. What’s happening? I’m awake, but something feels wrong. Am I awake? Yes, you are. But what’s wrong? Why are we out of rhythm with ourselves? I don’t like this. As my mind runs its waking paces, it feels like its staggering, similar to the off-kilter steps taken around a room when only wearing one shoe. This feels wrong. Something is wrong. My thoughts feel as though they’ve been run through a prism, pulled apart into several pieces, part of the same whole, and yet somehow broken. Wait, why can’t I move. Move. Come on! Move! My body finally gives in. I sit up, and place my bare feet onto the wooden floor. Blinking, confused, I shake my head, as if trying to rattle my thoughts back together, but they won’t line up. I feel displaced, half here, half . . . somewhere else. What’s going on, why does the rhythm of this feel wrong? I know I’m awake, but I feel like I didn’t pull all of myself along with me when the alarm struck. And my thoughts still. won’t. settle. Minutes pass. I eventually wander to the kitchen, and put water on the stove for mate. I feel sick. More minutes pass, and slowly the initial panic within my mind, which at first was so disconcerting, finally begins to abate. I begin to calm. This sensation is so strange. And . . . almost peaceful. Everything, my thoughts, memories, and dreams, my past, present, and future, the good, the bad, and the unknown, all simply are. Present and alive, in a single moment, yet outside that moment. What is this? I’m not sure exactly how long I remained in that enlightened state; it seemed to blur. But in the end I was left with this question: What on Earth just happened to me?

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Now. Before I go further, or before one of you calls a psych-ward (don’t worry, the thought crossed my mind too) I want to talk a little bit about the science of sleep. Sleep, in terms of brain activity takes place in five stages, but they all relate to what’s called R.E.M. (Rapid-Eye-Movement). REM is the deepest of these five stages, and is also where dreaming occurs. The first three are NREM (Non-Rapid-Eye-Movement), with the last two pertaining to deeper REM sleep. All of these stages are critical to rest, and the human sleep cycle, but I’m primarily going to look at the final stage, because I was woken from a dream, and so was in REM. During the first three stages, your brain waves and body slow down, relax, and prepare for the later sleep stages. However, when the body enters deep-sleep, the brain begins to increase its activity, and by the time REM occurs, brain waves are active at near-waking levels. People woken directly from this stage-five REM sleep have been noted to experience a variety of effects, some of which you may have experienced yourself, and among them are: sleep paralysis, hallucinations, a deep sense of discomfort, disorientation, and grogginess, and more profoundly felt negative emotion. Now, for any specialists out there, feel free to correct me on any of this, because I’m no expert. But essentially if your brain is kicked from REM right into wakefulness, it messes you up.

I want to mention one final term before I continue: the hypnopompic state. No, I did not just experience a small stroke, and jostle the keyboard (though the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke was one of my sources for this). The hypnopompic state is the body’s natural cycle between sleep and wakefulness, where the rational waking brain starts to make sense of the non-linear thoughts and associations of sleep; simply? It’s you waking up.

For the two people who have managed not to click the red “X” in the upper corner of your screen at this point, your patience is well-noted and appreciated.

What I believe happened last Monday, is that my brain was kicked straight out of REM, and into wakefulness. My brain did not transition overly-smoothly through my hypnopompic state. I tripped out pretty hard.

But out of this experience has come something truly incredible. What I felt as I woke, I’ve realized, was a sense of separation from time. My brain was caught between the time-rhythm of my dream, and reality, and wasn’t able to reconcile the two. At first this was horribly disconcerting, and generally just super freaky, but as the experience continued, I began to experience the sense of peace I mentioned towards the end of my narration. I became powerfully aware of past, present, and future, in a way I am not able to adequately explain. For a few minutes, again I don’t really know how long, the universe became . . . thin, and I felt like I was somehow part of a greater . . . something. And that’s about where words fail me.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast called “The Liturgists”. The episode, titled “Lost and Found (Part 1)”, recounted the way the two speakers fell away from, and ultimately returned to belief in a God. “Science Mike”, the nickname of writer Mike McHargue, spoke of a truly incredible set of experiences, which culminated in, what he refers to as, a “mystical experience”. Mike mentions that neuroscientists and psychologists agree that a particular type of “spiritual experience” exists, that has no real explanation in terms of our contemporary understanding of brain function. However, those who experience these powerful moments, have been able to define them using a set of 7 criteria. They are as follows:

  1. The experience transcends language.
  2. The experience reveals hidden knowledge.
  3. The experience is limited in duration.
  4. The experience happens to you, it is not initiated or controlled by the one who experiences it.
  5. A sense of unity or completeness.
  6. A sense of transcending time.
  7. An encounter with the “true self” that transcends life, death and ego.

Now folks, I don’t know what happened last Monday, and all of this could be my brain just trying to make sense of really waking up on the wrong side of the bed, but what happened to me was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.

I don’t know how exactly the divine interacts with our world or our minds, but after this experience, I drew new meaning from the twenty-eighth chapter of Genesis. At a random place along the road (it was getting dark, so he stopped for the night), a man named Jacob dreamt of a stairway between heaven and Earth, with angels ascending and descending between the two realms, and at the top of the stair stood God. The divine then proceeds to tell Jacob of the good future that will be given to his descendants, the people of Israel, and as Jacob wakes, he thinks “‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.'” Now I’m not planning on erecting any stone pillars, and renaming my church “Bethel”, but I echo Jacob’s “‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it!'” pretty loudly. Not to mention his fear.

I don’t understand how God speaks to humankind, or how to make sense of anything that happened this past week. But I am beginning to believe that God does occasionally reach directly into ordinary space and time, sometimes even to tall-skinny-frustrated YAGM, and absolutely blow their craniums.

Today I’m no less confused, and I no more clearly see evidence of a divine path in my life. However, my glimpse into . . . whatever this was, gave me a profound sense that all of our world’s division, destruction, and pain are but fleeting blinks in a sea of profound wonder. It doesn’t make the battle of today any easier, but it does give me some inexplicable joy to know the oneness I felt in the midst of that timelessness. Even if it makes you sound nuts telling the story.

 

Peace, grace, and not too worried about occasional psychosis,

Eric

 

 

Sources and Further Reading ::

1). Robson, David. (2014, November). Do dreams occur in slow motion?. BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20141125-do-dreams-occur-in-slow-motion.

2). Author Unknown. Date Unknown. Hypnopompic. Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnopompic.

3). Bell, Vaughan. (2016, April). The Trippy State Between Wakefulness and Sleep/ The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/04/deciphering-hypnagogia/478941/.

4). Brain, Marshall. Date Unknown. How Sleep Works – Sleep and the Brain. howstuffworks. Retrieved from https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/sleep1.htm.

5). Author Unknown. (2019, February). Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. NIH. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-sleep.

6). McHargue, Mike. (2014, May). You Ask Me How I Know He Lives, He Lives Within My Brain. ScienceMike.com. Retrieved from http://mikemchargue.com/blog/2014/5/26/you-ask-me-how-i-know-he-lives-he-lives-within-my-brain.

Today, I Prayed.

It was my first moment of devoted prayer in four months.

The last time I prayed, I conversed earnestly with what I call God, and for the first time in my YAGM experience, I really truly cried.

This time I didn’t.

I struggle with prayer, because it defies the logical framework of my divine understanding in ways that many other spiritual practices don’t. What, I’m supposed to just sit, and dwell in nothing, in the silence//ecnelis? (A word I invert because my mind is more often the roar of a turbine jet engine than a meditative garden.) Please… If the divine was going to speak to me, it’d have done it already.

God would have spoken in the midst of my high-school depression.

God would have spoken as I frantically wrote “Architect/Pastor/Architect/Pastor” ten-fold during a campus evangelical worship.

God would have calmed the storm that so often is my mind.

God would have spoken.

And yet, for some strange reason, today I prayed. And I wish I’d do it tomorrow. Though I can’t tell you now if I will.

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The divine is a peculiar, frustratingly complicated thing.

Because the thing with prayer, is that when I look back on my pleas, on my longing, my pain, my lack of understanding. Answers somehow seem to drift forth:

A single piece of paper ornamented with a web of my strengths\\beautiful things, offered by a friend on the darkest of nights.

The fact that I now lay on a bed in a L’Arche home in Buenos Aires, instead of sitting in the desk-chair of a United States architecture firm.

The inner peace brought by written words, as they siphon the conflict within, and pour it from my fingers into these keys.

But were they purely my musing, hopeful mind, or something more?

 

Today I prayed. And the divine offered no answer. It often doesn’t.

 

But perhaps tomorrow it will.

My thoughts come to rest on a series of quotes, from a man who, like myself, found himself angry with the being we both call God:

 

“‘[Father Lantom] told me something, years ago, when [I was struck blind], that I never forgot.

See I was pretty angry at God, and bitter towards his world.

How could a loving God blind me?

Why?

Anyway, he told me…  God’s plan is like a beautiful tapestry.

And the tragedy of being human is that we only get to see it from the back.

With all the ragged threads and the muddy colors…

And we only get a hint at the true beauty that would be revealed if we could see the whole pattern on the other side…

as God does.'”

 

Perhaps each prayer is another thread being pulled tight, and we simply must wait till the end to see what we have made. I do not know.

 

 

Grace and peace; sometimes prayerful, sometimes not,

Eric

The One About YAGM and the Divine

In my mind’s eye, I picture a simple Venn Diagram, the left circle inscribed with the word “YAGM”, and the right circle with the words “My Life”. A year in the past, those two circles popped into existence, and over the course of the next few months slowly fell into each other’s orbit, revolving closer and closer to one another. At last, during the placement event last April they touched, and ever so slowly began to overlap each other’s boundaries, that seam of the universe where YAGM and my life began to embrace one another. Those first interactions were electric, pulsing new energy into my life as I prepared for this year in service. And every time those circles sank deeper into one another I’d feel another rush of joy, or excitement, or fear. It’s been over three months since I arrived at my site, a L’Arche home in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and during the last few weeks I felt something change. An imperceptible settling. And at first I didn’t realize what it was, but I’ve come to understand that recently, acostumbrar, the circles of YAGM and my life, with one final flex of reality, sank together, and two became one. However, you see, as those two paradigms finally reached their joint resting place, I felt the luster of newness fade to the simple sheen of normalcy, and I felt . . . unsure.

What is your reaction when YAGM becomes your life, and the world-changing becomes your day-to-day? When the strangers, Daniel, Tara, and Maximiliano become uncle, sister, brother, and the beso no longer feels strange and foreign against your cheek? When you decide to live for a year on the other half of the globe, you really can’t imagine where the future might pull you. I look back at myself twelve months ago, after I had clicked that “Apply Now” button on the Young Adults in Global Mission website, and I realize now that within my mind was this fantastic mural of what could be. Now, a year later, I sit at my desk in Boulogne, Buenos Aires, and find myself wondering what on Earth it is that I’ve agreed to, whilst the backdrop of my life here in Argentina settles more clearly into focus. When we seventy-six global volunteers agreed to take up the tarnished mantle of “missionary”, the excitement was tangible in that seminary chapel; the density of a divine spirit was profound in that space, as we laughed, cried, worried, and wondered at the year ahead. As I look down at the circle of black string tied round my wrist, symbolic both of YAGM’s global unity and of the eternal, I find my thoughts settling upon two lonely disciples wandering slowly down a road, away from Jerusalem, silent and, like myself uncertain, of the journey ahead.

As the two walked along the stony path, which led to the town of Emmaus, they spoke softly and seriously to one another about everything that had happened over the course of their three years with their teacher, culminating in these strange and terrible past three days. As the hot sun shone on their faces, settling slowly in front of them, they continued their westward walk, contemplating and conversing with one another, when suddenly one of the men, Cleopas, stopped speaking. The two paused, and turned to face for a moment the footsteps which had become audible behind them. Seeing nothing but a lone figure, the two men turned back round, and continued on, but after a few moments the stranger came up alongside them. He wore simple clothes, and held no possessions. After a few minutes of silence, the stranger, I like to think with a polite smile to Cleopas, spoke:

“What have you two been discussing together as you walk along?”

They stopped, and the two mens’ faces fell slightly. Cleopas asked, a note of incredulity in his voice, “Are you the only person visiting Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has happened there over the past few days?”

“What things?” asked the stranger.

“About the man called Jesus of Nazareth,” the other replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and many people. The chief priests and our rulers,” he pointed back towards Jerusalem, “handed him over to the Romans to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him.” Then, hesitating for a moment, he continued, “but we had hoped that he was the Messiah, the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

The three began again to walk, and as they started, Cleopas went on saying, “What’s more, it has now been three days since all this happened, and today some of our women amazed us. They went to our teacher’s tomb early this morning, but didn’t find his body.. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive!?” Cleopas’ face twisted slightly with a look of confusion, and he said “Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see any trace of Jesus.” The two men fell silent, and after a moment it was not them, but instead the stranger who spoke.

“How foolish you two are, and how slow are you to believe what the prophets have spoken!” Looks of surprise appeared on the disciples’ faces, but the stranger continued, “Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer through these things and then enter into his glory?” Then the stranger began to explain, to the amazement of Cleopas and his friend, many mysteries and meanings within the history of their people, beginning with Moses and the Prophets. With understanding befitting a great expert in the law back at the temple in Jerusalem, the stranger explained to them all the Scriptures said concerning the coming of their Messiah.

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“Stay with us, for it’s now late; the day is nearly over.”

After awhile, Emmaus at last came into view, and as their three shadows fell long behind them, the stranger made to continue onward on his own. The two disciples caught him, urging strongly, “Stay with us, for it’s now late; the day is nearly over.” And so, the stranger went with them, and after finally reaching their destination, settled in for the evening meal. When at the table together, the stranger took bread, gave thanks for the food, broke the loaf apart, and began to give it to them.

It was in this moment that Cleopas and his friend, with a mixture of utmost amazement, excitement, and perhaps just a bit of fear, recognized the man holding the bread. It was no longer the stranger who sat before them, but their teacher. And in that moment of understanding, again I imagine with a small smile, Jesus vanished from their sight. Awestruck, jumping up, Cleopas said to his companion, “Weren’t our hearts burning in our chests while he talked with us on the road, and explained the scriptures to us?!” They quickly gathered their things, and at once, though darkness fell around them, started back to Jerusalem. When at last they found the other disciples, they burst into the room to find them talking excitedly, saying “It’s true! The Lord has risen and appeared to Simon!” At hearing this, Cleopas and his friend, explained what they had seen and heard on the road to Emmaus, and how they too had seen their teacher. And though the night was thick around them, that room was full of light. ¹

On that Easter day so long ago, the disciples too were in the midst of a transition. Their circles of faith and life had begun to merge with the strange first-century rabbi called Jesus. As their teacher performed signs and prophesied, their worlds sank into one another, and I can imagine their moments of excitement and joy as they followed this man, and as he changed their worlds forever. However, then at the height of his ministry, when at last the circles sank together into one, their teacher was taken from them, and publicly, brutally killed. Their journey, which had at first been so thrilling and life-changing, seemingly reached its end. And so as their hopes faded, they probably felt like their lives were again only one circle, the dimension that was Christ no longer visible to them. However then on Easter came the realization that no, this was not the end. Christ still lived, though not in the miraculous like before, but instead in the ordinary – in the daily breaking of the bread.

As YAGM and my life became one, so too the miraculous became ordinary. However I have struggled to see Christ in the daily journey, struggled to see my teacher while walking on the road. As I go throughout my daily routine, beneath the hot Argentine sun, I couldn’t help but feel indignation for, and distance from, the divine. I, like Cleopas and his companion, in fact like many of the eleven, was frustrated that I could not see what this year was doing for me. For me . . . And then a week ago, El Arca Argentina celebrated its fifteen year anniversary. Priests, men, women, children, differently-abled, all came together to celebrate the day fifteen years ago, that a young girl named Sandra came to live with a woman named Maria Luisa. A few years later came Maxi, and then a few years after that Osvy, then Marcos, and finally this June, Dani. And along the way came untold voluntarixs, asistentes, acogidxs, and their stories too became a part of this family. That afternoon we all shared a misa “mass” together and, as a friend of the community, Padre Pepe, began to preach, someone’s voice cut across his. A voice full of joy, with a laugh that we all know so well. Osvy’s small frame stood up animatedly, dentures nearly popping out of his wide smile, and as he gestured to Padre Pepe, we all laughed: he had one hand on his walker, and held out the other in a request for the microphone…

And then, Osvy preached.

But what struck me deepest, as Osvy stood before us all, telling us of his thankfulness and love for El Arca, was one of his signs. He took his left hand, and held it across his body, pausing over the crook of his right elbow, and then squeezed his palm open and closed, a bit like someone pumping to take your blood pressure.

“Copi…” The name was murmured with a chuckle by many throughout the room, and at hearing so many say her name, tears filled my eyes. I bit my thumb to keep from crying. Copi is the name of a nurse who helped care for Osvy after he was abandoned at a hospital. He adores her, and she is deeply intrinsic to his story. I couldn’t believe so many knew her name, one Osvy himself is unable to say. I couldn’t believe that so many knew Osvy’s language for her. That this man, in his twelve years at El Arca had touched the lives of so many, and I nearly cried out because in that moment El Arca showed me what this year was for, and I understood. It isn’t for immense acts of giving, or for witnessing other-worldly miracles. It’s simply to live with people and love them. That’s what it means to accompany, nothing more, and nothing less. El Arca is my family, and I’ve been so humbled to be able to live with them, to be a member of this family. The word El Arca uses to describe the chicxs is acogidxs “those who are taken in”, but in the end, it isn’t the chicxs who are the acogidxs, we are.

When Christ came to Earth, the circle of the divine merged with the circle of the ordinary, and I believe an all powerful god, Dios todopoderoso, took on the mantle of a man. And when that happened, when humankind and God became one, there was no revolution, and comparably fewer miracles than you might expect. But with Christ, one thing existed in abundance: love. Though at times it may seem difficult, in a world where circles are all too often pulled apart, Christ calls us to merge. To live and love in the midst of the ordinary, and the broken. For in that love we impose upon our world an extraordinary aspect of the divine. To be like God, is to merge with your fellow human beings, and to share their circle with yours. Walk with others. Break bread with others. Love others. Accompany.

Peace, grace, and may our circles be opened wide,

Eric

¹ Luke 24: 13 – 35

*disclaimer* You might notice I spell certain words in a strange way when I write in Spanish, i.e. acogidxs. The nature of Castellano is to identify words with a gender, and especially tends to place more emphasis on the masculine than the feminine: i.e. if there are 50 acogidas in a room and only one acogido, then the room is described as being full of 51 acogidos. Spelling words with an x, or with an @ are two common ways to be respectful of the gender of others when using the written word, and that is why I’ve chosen to do so in my writing.