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

 

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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.

The One About Division and Creation

You’d be inclined to think, looking at the jerseys, stadiums, or games, that to choose Club Atlético (team) Boca Juniors, or River Plate would be to pick a side in the same sort rivalry you might find in the NFL, NBA, or MLB back in the United States.

You would be wrong.

To make that choice, is a blood oath, an Unbreakable Vow, for in Argentina, the only thing worse than a fútbol rival, is the person who can’t make a choice at all. The team you stand behind becomes part of you, like the country of your ancestors, or the God you worship. You might imagine then, that for an un-athletic, competition-weary soul like myself, the pregunta (question) “Boca o River?” was a terrifying one… But to be Argentinian, even to the most limited extent, is eventually to choose a fútbol Club, and that changes everything.

When we arrived at El Arca, hogar Brochero was split pretty unevenly. Daní, Sandrí, Maxí, and Marcos all support Club River Plate, leaving Osví alone on the Club Boca Juniors side of the trenches. I now admit that, slowly but surely, Osví’s charm and resolve won Tara and myself over to support Boca, and in fact it won over the other asistente, Lisa’s, support as well. However in recent days, the division between Boca and River has reached a fever pitch. A week ago, the stage for Argentina’s Superclásico (the match between River and Boca), was set. However, on the day of the game, as team Boca Juniors arrived at the stadium, their bus was attacked by River fanatics, who threw rocks at the vehicle until, due to security concerns, the match was postponed. Further weariness over un-satisfactory safeguards for players and fans alike meant eventually postponing the event for another two weeks. While many fanatic@s (fans) were disappointed by the continuing hostilities, this isn’t the first time such a series of events has occurred at the , and it shows the fanaticism behind this way of life.

The Superclásico, and this year’s G20 summit meeting in Buenos Aires, are only the latest in a long series of tumultuous world-events since my arrival to my site placement more than three months ago, and I have increasingly found myself disheartened by the ways our world seems to be rending itself apart, inter-personally, and with recent events in Alaska (not unlike Indonesia and Japan before it), physically. I admit that for months now I have looked-on with a lack of comprehension, struggled to pray, and tried, without luck, to see new solutions or balms within scripture to make sense of this. Re-reading Christ’s words on “love your neighbor as yourself ¹”, and Paul’s anthem of “but the greatest of these is love ²” left hollow feelings in my soul. After all, to find the reason for division is to dig into the deeper meanings of humanity and sin itself, which is not altogether unsurprisingly difficult to reconcile at age 24, (or 100 for that matter), and while I expect questions and doubts to linger for as long as I walk this earth, yesterday finally a thought came to me.

Now, I cannot explain why our world is broken. (Yeah, sorry about that one…) To understand why our Creator (I believe) gave free will to humankind, is to understand a love and a willingness to trust that I doubt anyone besides Christ will ever know. However, after listening to a podcast by Rob Bell, my mind again settled on the poem of Creation, at the beginning of Genesis.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.

And God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault ‘sky.’ And there was evening, and there was morning – the second day.” ³

You see, at the very beginning, quite before anything else in fact, there was separation and division. First between darkness and light, then between waters above and waters below, followed by land and sea, plants from land, animals from plants, humankind from animals, and finally woman from man. The entirety of creation itself is a continuing act of division, down to mitosis within cells creating new life, and the subatomic particles within the fabric of reality dividing, forming the quiet, rapidly pulsing heartbeat of the universe. In the creation poem, the writer creates and explains the order of space-time, and all that resides within it. Yet the beautiful foundation of all we know, lies in that word, which has as of late been causing me so much fear and consternation: division. Because only through division, can something new, togetherness, be achieved. How could the sky, the land, and the sea create such beautiful vistas were they not first pulled apart? How could humankind come to experience the beauty of love for one another were not the spectra of gender and identity spread wide? The ideas are running a bit wild now in my brain, but even the rainbow, symbol for the story of El Arca (the ark), is itself light, divided into its separate hues.

This metaphor pulls me now back to my site placement, to the rivalry between River and Boca, and one final example of the way togetherness was forged by division. We don’t often watch fútbol here at El Arca, because the chic@s tend to have difficulty controlling their… let’s say passions, for their equipo (team). However the Superclásico is an exception, and so the whole house is now eager to watch the final match; prayers for respective team points come up at oración (oratory prayer) almost nightly. We all can enjoy the game if we stick to a simple rule: our teams are our own, but this is one family. Now despite the fact that nearly every item he owns is adorned with that blue and yellow starred coat-of-arms, Osví is again the one who shows the quintessence of the rule. Because the only time he gets angry over fútbol, is when one of the other chic@s let’s the division come between themselves and another person. He longs to experience the togetherness of an embrace; joyful smiles on both faces, one shirt red and white, the other blue and gold. River Plate and Boca Juniors, yes, but one family, one people, one ark.

I again I find myself challenged with a new truth: The essence of life sustains itself through division, but only to provide a chance at experiencing the beauty that is returning to one-ness.

Boca_River

 

Peace, grace, and newness through togetherness,

Eric

Post-Script :: If any of you are interested, El Arca Argentina made a video a couple of years ago about the two teams’ rivalry in the family; whether you understand Spanish or not, it’s a touching look into this place and its people. You can click here for a link to the video on our Facebook page.

 


1). Mathew 12: 31

2). I Corinthians 13: 13

3). Genesis 1: 1 – 8

NIV Translation

Everything That Remains //

“There were things scattered inside of her that she needed to gather together.”

~ Adichie, Chimamanda N. Americanah. Anchor Books, March 2014.


19 November 2019

The scent of her hit my nose awhile ago, in this Uruguayan library-cafe, five-thousand miles from where she ought to be. This retreat has been strange; not at all the refreshing descanso I expected. My past calls questioningly to me, and I find I do not know how to answer it.

As the last sip of Sauvignon Blanc falls between my lips, I find myself disconcerted with the experiences of this last week; “the tourist”, back again after his two year hiatus – sipping wine and relishing sunny days on foreign beaches. This is not the life I want any longer, and yet I do not know what life it is that I desire, or that the Lord desires.

From my consciousness have emerged pieces; tomorrow I go home to Boulogne and see what form they take when put back together.


ColoniaValdense.jpg

My friend, and fellow A/U YAGM, Oscar asked me on Tuesday, while we waited to board our boat back to Argentina, “if you could live anywhere on Earth, where would you choose?”, and I found for the first time in my life, that I didn’t have an answer. Actually, full disclosure, I did have an answer – a pretentious enigmatic response, as per the usual. However, what I mean to say, is that no city, no place, no country came rushing to mind. I’ve had the incredible privilege to see many different parts of my home country, to see the cloud-crowned skyscrapers of New York City and Chicago, to hear spirited Dixieland Jazz on a New Orleans steamboat, and to climb in the branches of the California Redwoods. I’ve even been so lucky as to live on three different continents, and come to know their rhythm, life, and language (kind of). But you know, the things that have stuck with me are not the meals, or the treasures-brought-home. Neither have they been the journal entries, the books read, or even the painstakingly-drawn sketches.

The things that now remain, scattered throughout memory, are the people.

I remember the Maria, on the streets of Orvieto, who lent me her guitar for a few minutes one night when I was so longing to play an instrument after weeks without.

I remember laughing with joy, and with fright, as Braeden, Isaiah, and I danced around a massive blaze in the fire-ring up on the prairie at Camp Tomah Shinga one June night, hoping it wouldn’t catch the tall grass surrounding us.

I remember my colleague Jacob doing pull-ups on the I-beam in a studio of Regnier Hall at three in the morning, when we were all struck-dumb with fatigue in the final weeks of our thesis designs.

And now I find my mind full of the voices, besos, and abrazos of my community here in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Some of these places have had beautiful landscapes, others have had good food and music, others still gave me great inspiration or helped me understand my place in the world, but what tied me to them, are the moments with others. And the beautiful thing about the world, is that you can find people just about anywhere. The people are what make the journey. When the Netflix and the Spotify, the food and the wine, the money and the possessions are all stripped away; when the pacifiers are pulled from our grasp, what remains?

The answer is not what, it is who.

One of the pieces of myself unearthed during our retreat is an understanding: that human beings are our world’s most undervalued resource. And that on this day, and every day, I am so filled with gratitude and thanks for their presence in my life.

Peace, grace, and thanks to you all simply for being.

 

Love,

Eric