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

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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

 

 

Re-Focus Pt. II // Discover Weekly

Mid last week, I wrote a blog post titled, Re-Focus, but have since renamed it Re-Focus Pt. I // Daily Bread. Today I wrote Pt. II // Discover Weekly, and after this post was done, it felt like the two belonged together, so their titles now reflect that.

Now, on to the writing.

The first strum of an Acoustic guitar pours softly into the late-morning air, and my neck, which has grown increasingly tense over the past two months, softens slightly. Folk music always helps calm the maelstrom spinning through my consciousness. It pulls forth memories of happy, peaceful times; moments spent swinging in sun-washed hammocks, and afternoons with windows open, allowing warm autumn breezes to run their invisible courses through my room. Except it isn’t autumn, it’s spring. My neck tenses slightly once again, and I frown slightly at my computer screen, my cursor still floating over the small white bars, which would pause my “Discover Weekly” playlist.

I click away from Spotify, back to the open tab in Google Chrome, where this incipient blog post lay waiting. I watch my cursor blink once, twice, four times more, and then my brain sparks.

“Discover Weekly”.

Throughout our service, we YAGM are tasked with something, which at first may seem somewhat plain, but upon further inspection tends to be easier said than done: Explain. The subject has come up a few times recently in conversations with a couple of my dear friends: one with me here at El Arca, and another an ocean away in South Africa. So I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t more YAGM in our world of 76 which might also be struggling to explain the manifold meaning hidden within our current journey. How do we tell the story? For me, this has lately meant a good deal of thought concerning the beauty in the ordinary, because so much of my life here in Argentina is not complicated, Yet within simplicity I have begun to find a certain profundity.

At break of day, I rise just as I would back home. Yet in the same moment, as my feet touch the cold tile of the floor, I am reminded of the ease with which I move. The weight of understanding what a beautiful blessing it is, that my body can do things so many others’ cannot. There is no difference in how I awake here in Argentina, yet in that daily act there is new meaning. Profundity in simplicity.

At mealtimes, communion in community, I eat just as I would back home, fork and spoon beside my full plate. Yet in the same moment, as I struggle to make conversation and empathize with my tired mind, Marcos utters, “Como estas, Eric?” This simple question solves all my conversational concerns. I failed to see the beauty in asking another person this common phrase, “How are you?” Here I was, trying to craft some complex sentence, or to fake interest in a dinnertime conversation, and Marcos brought care and love to the meal with his question in a way which never would have occurred to me. There is no difference in how I eat at the Argentine table, and yet in this daily act there also lives new meaning. Again I have found profundity in simplicity.

On the bus yesterday, as Tara and I journeyed to Villa Ballester for our Sunday activities at El Congregación Santo Sacramento, a thought occurred to me. As my friends and family dive into the spice and sweaters of the autumn season, here spring is breaking out in full floral array. It is not that spring is some strange concept to any of us YAGM serving in the southern hemisphere, many of us have experienced this yearly transformation and renewal of creation each and every year of our lives. However, though this season of life is one we’ve lived twenty to thirty times over, it somehow is different than those that have come before. It is opposite. Springtime in autumn. There is new meaning in an old thing. This is YAGM for me: new meaning in old things.

To Discover Weekly.

And when the playlist is done, to take those discoveries home, and share our new music.

Screenshot (32)

Prayers for peace and discovery,

Eric

Re-Focus Pt. I // Daily Bread

“The community of L’Arche is a community formed around the wounded bodies of handicapped people. Feeding, cleaning, touching, holding–this is what builds the community. Words are secondary.

‘The Word became flesh.’ That is the center of the Christian message. Before the Incarnation, the relationship between the body and word was unclear. Often the body was seen as a hindrance to the full realization of what the word wanted to express. But Jesus confronts us with the word that can be seen, heard, and touched. The body thus becomes the way to know the word and to enter into relationship with the word. The body of Jesus becomes the way to live.

I feel a deep resistance against this way . . . I wonder when and how I will learn to fully live the Incarnation.”

–  Henri Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak

 

Desayuno_Americano.jpg
Desayuno americano; spiritual and physical food, together in one…

 

I haven’t much felt like writing lately. The well of the written word, which in the first month of YAGM flowed so freely, has begun to slow, to dry, to stagnate in the depths of my mind. And so, I have less and less often been inspired by the daily movements of my life, and my experience here in Buenos Aires. However, a friend of mine recently told me that she forces herself to write weekly, because it gives her reason to look for the divine amongst the ordinary. I was unwillingly encouraged by the Spirit, and admittedly a bit inspired by her, to do the same.

The entire fifteenth chapter of Exodus is a song of praise given unto God for deliverance from the armies of pharaoh, and their safe passage across the Red Sea. “The Song of Moses and Miriam” flows with inspired word and musical phrase. I can only imagine the sound of a whole nation’s voices, the strength and fullness of that chorus, proclaimed over the land.

However, with the wheels of pharaoh’s chariots likely hardly dried into the mud, the joy and praise of chapter fifteen quickly gives way to chapter after chapter of grumbling and complaint. Faced with a long journey, difficult experiences, and new challenges, the Israelites lament their newfound freedom, at one point even declaring to Moses “‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve the entire assembly to death.’” Though we might at times be inclined to critique the laments of the Israelites, I encourage you to imagine what your lips and body might feel like after three days journey with no water to drink.

A quick aside, as I am struck in this moment with a thought of this nation of people, a great multitude, lacking home or safe shelter, moving across the wilderness to a land of plenty. How incredible the undertaking, and how understandable that they might cry out in fear and frustration. And how much more incredible it is, that the current caravan of Central American migrants “despite the hardship . . . say it is better than the poverty and violence they left behind”, even now maintaining hope – walking towards an uncertain future. ¹

In the midst of what likely became a day to day doldrum, a literal wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites’ words of praise and deliverance ran dry alongside their water, and I wonder if there was silence among them, broken only by the constant trudge of feet, the cry of animals, and the wind across the desert sand.

It is easy to see the glory of the divine when walking through the Red Sea, split in two by otherworldly might. It is much more difficult to see the divine in the mundane, in fact the meaning of the word mundane literally implies being “of this earthly world rather than a heavenly or spiritual one.” However, I have recently found myself challenged to see God’s work in the little things, rather than visions and miracles. Like Henri Nouwen, I struggle to live fully in the way of the Incarnation, and feel it grate against my earthly being to try to live in the midst of Christ. I am struck by the singleness of my God in its Creation, and begin to understand the ardency with which Christ prayed to his Father in heaven, an infinite distance from the sinful creation in which he had been called to save. What are we YAGM called to save? I at first might be inclined to say nothing, after all, to accompany is to understand that our host communities do not need our salvation. No, I am beginning to realize that we are called to save ourselves, or rather open ourselves to salvation and reformation. The Israelites were not transported by God out of Egypt, or carried by God across the wilderness. No, they walked. Step by step. And though in the beginning there were grandiose celebrations, the wilderness has a way of simultaneously stretching far out before you, while closing in behind. Sometimes the presence of God does not watch over you in a pillar of flame, or in the parting of a sea, but instead through smaller things: bitter water turned sweet, or delicate manna, left by morning dew. I’m realizing that sometimes to see the work of God you need to get down, on your hands and knees, and squint at the grass to see the dust that is your spiritual food.

I find that right now, it is difficult to eat it.

However, I work to remain thankful for the beauty in small miracles, for the daily bread, instead of the great feast. I am thankful for the love in my community, for my small brushes against Christ in my day to day life. And I’m thankful for the understanding that, even though I ought to try to refrain from grumbling, to struggle openly is a beautiful thing: to miss a friend dearly, to long for the warm food of home, to feel frustration and anxiety rather than love and patience, to be beautifully, sinfully human.

My many compatriots in Latin America have repeatedly been told, and are now ourselves beginning to say a common phrase: poco a poco. “Little by little.”

The wilderness is not traversed in a day.

 

Peace and love in the little things,

 

Eric

 

Citations:

1). Semple, Kirk. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/

The One About Mental Health and the Talents

As I begin, I share with you a journal entry, from 11 October 2017:

“My whole life, I’ve thought of schizophrenia as a terrible burden.

Osvaldo is one of the many people who lives with it, and tonight he was especially vocal, energetically conversing with the voices so often present in his mind. I laid on my bed reading, waiting for the telltale honk from the bicycle horn fastened to Osvy’s walker, indicating he was ready for assistance with his bedtime routine. Through the thin wall between our rooms, I listened to him talk and sing, this nightly oration, which is only ever interrupted by occasional bursts of his own laughter. To most of us, the thirty minutes Osvy often takes to change in and out of his clothes might seem tiresome, but for many of the acogidos life moves more slowly.

As 9:45 turned to 10:00, and 10:00 turned to 10:30, Osvy still had not called, and from the increasing volume resounding throughout the house, the train didn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Grinning, happy that he was having such a good time, and honestly a bit torn over whether or not to cut the party short, I finally sat up, and walked out of my room; it was, after all, well past the hour for enthusiastic remarks to be sung in the spring Argentine air, and the other residents in the hogar tend to get a bit huffy if Osvy’s celebrations go on too long.

Glancing back at Tara through her open bedroom door, we shared a quiet laugh, and I shook my head, before turning to the face the wooden sign on the door, which in big blue and yellow letters read, “BOCA”.

*knock knock* “Permiso . . ?” I cooed, and hearing his grunt of approval, I entered the room, while Osvy’s 70 year old, now-dentureless, grin turned to greet me. Normally, I’d head straight into the routine, and get him ready for bed. However, tonight something gave me pause, so instead I walked over, sat down across from him in his now-stationary walker, and let him talk.

He told me story after story; of his childhood, times with his father and their experiences together: walks, working with tools, car rides. I don’t know how long I sat there, but it must have been at least thirty minutes before we finally began his routine, helping him finish getting undressed, and prepared for sleep. I understood very little; by bedtime for the chicos, my mind is usually blurred to regular Castellano, let alone the broken and slurred dialect used by Osvy, supplemented by his unique sign language. However, I understood enough . . .  because the thing to know about Osvy is that any conversation with him is founded in joy.

You see, the voices in his head are rarely evil ones. Instead he hears the voices of his father, his innumerable friends, and his family. All day he talks and laughs, dentures nearly popping out of that wide-spread smile, as he lives in the beauty of memories past, and experiences present.

My whole life, I’ve thought of schizophrenia as a terrible burden.

But tonight I find myself wondering . . . what sort of world might we live in, were we all able to share in the love and the joy of Osvy? I can’t say for sure, but I’ve noticed that you feel your worries and your strife abate when looking into that toothless smile.”


It was a week ago now, that the words above blinked onto the screen of my computer, and when I had finished hammering out their form and their rhythm, I sat staring at my screen, reading and re-reading, struggling again in the eternal battle between writer and the work’s final shape. Then, after nearly an hour of typing and erasing, I saved the draft, shook my head, and with a click selected the small red “X” in the upper right corner of the screen. For nearly a week I have not known why I couldn’t finish that post, but today it finally struck me.

The truth which forced my finger onto that “X” last Tuesday, was an unrealized fear. To see the beauty in Osvy’s mind was its own challenge, but to write honestly about mental health meant confronting demons of my own. God was waiting patiently, offering the question:

“You believe that about Osvy, but do you believe it about yourself?”

The answer, which I tearfully realized in the shower today, was no.

In the twenty-fifth Gospel of Matthew lies a teaching, called “The Parable of the Talents”. First, I feel I should explain the word “parable”. A man named Peter Eide once described the word to me like this: an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Parables are one of Jesus’ favorite ways to share his teachings throughout scripture; he tells an earthly story, with earthly characters, and an earthly ending, but with a meaning that ties itself into some aspect of the spiritual and the divine.

In this parable, a man goes on a journey, but, before leaving, calls his servants before him. To these servants he imparts his vast wealth for safe-keeping until his return. To one, he bestows five talents of gold, to another two talents, and to yet another one talent. Now, about this antiquated monetary amount, the “talent”: the translation into English is in many ways coincidental, because the important thing to know about a “talent” is that it is an incomprehensibly large amount of money. A massive piece of metal, the talent was so large and so heavy that it was often cast with a handle, so as to increase the ease of moving these giant hunks of gold. Even one talent would be worth many times the life wage of one of these servants, so to be left to care for such a massive treasure would have been terrifying. Now two of these servants take their sums, and over time double them, so that when the master returns, they have made good use of his gift. The third servant takes his single talent, and buries it, so that nothing may happen to it.

After a long time, when the master finally arrives home from his journey, he calls upon his servants to bring with them his fortune. To the first two servants, he offers praise for their work. However the final servant, who buried his talent in the ground, is met with anger and punishment at the hands of his master. He made no use of the man’s gift, and did nothing to increase its value, but instead hid it from the world until the man returned.

Oof.

The thing about gold, money, and power, are that they have the two-fold ability to support acts of incredible good, and incredible evil. Now I don’t know how exactly each of these men went about doubling their fortunes for their master, but I assume there were good days and bad days. There likely were honest, profitable businesses, as well as shady deals and greedy mistakes. It honestly seems to me, like simply burying the sum in the ground was the safest, most respectable option.

So why then is the master, who you might have realized is God at this point, so angry with the servant who buried his talent. He didn’t increase it, no, but he also didn’t lose anything either.

It seems like the man offered his talents to the servants, in order that they might learn from them. Now as a man who had accumulated such wealth, he of course must have known the power and danger of imparting such a thing onto these servants, but he chose to give them the gold anyway. He must have known the risk, and that the servants would likely make mistakes, but in the end somehow keep from losing themselves, for it says at the beginning of the story that the master gave the servants the gold “each according to his ability”.

He wanted them to try.

Now it’s very Lutheran of me to ignore the anger and punishment part of this parable, and so I want to assure you that I see those words, and wrestle with them too. However the point in my writing about the Parable of the Talents, is that the part of the story which spoke to me this week concerns the bit where God gives us this really terrifyingly large hunk of gold, which can either build or destroy, and we have to try not to bury it. Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

Since my journal entry about Osvy, I’ve been able to see the other side of his schizophrenia as well, just as I am so often confronted with the darker parts of my own brain. Even with medication, even with proper self-care, there are still mornings where I lie in bed, on a day-off, not needing to do anything, and yet still am paralyzed with anxiety. Showering, making breakfast, writing this blog post, just the possibility of doing feeling like someone has placed on your chest one of those X-Ray vests you get at the dentist: it’s not impossible to get up, but the weight of it makes you want to stay seated. Some days I get out of the chair, and some days I don’t. And I want to be clear that I understand for many people there are days past, present, and future where life is much heavier than an X-Ray vest, days in my past where me[n]tal chains tied me to my bed, and I could do nothing.

But I’m realizing. Slowly. Painfully. With a lot of failure and grace . . .

I’m realizing because of Osvy’s joy the night of that journal entry . . . that the talents God bestows on our minds do not always have to be fearsome piles of gold, which can only be spent hurting others or ourselves. The genetic conditions which make us hear voices, feel uncontrollable anger, and unfathomable emotional spectra can also be used to preach sermons, offer consolation, and even to show joy and share beauty with the scared Kansas boy who has only seen his mental struggles as a burden.

I’m slowly, cautiously, and with great anxiety, digging up my talent.

But if Osvy has taught me anything, it’s that we both urge you not to bury yours.

“Moses was a stutterer, David was a murderer,                                          Jeremiah suicidal, naked in the street.
Paul, he had a problem the specifics left unsaid.
Timothy had stomachaches, and Lazarus was dead.
Samson was a long-haired, arrogant womanizer.
Rahab was a scarlet-corded lady of the street.
John the Baptist eatin’ bugs and honey on his bread.
Gideon a scaredy-cat, and Lazarus was dead.

As is, as is, He chooses us as His.
As His, as His, infuses us as is.
Never ending love transcending all our weaknesses,
As is.”

-“As Is” by Peder Eide

Peace and love with you all,

 

Eric

“There’s too much room here.”

There I sat. The living room was well manicured, with framed family photos carefully placed on pieces of antique furniture, various period paintings hung on the walls, and three sofas gathered around the large stuccoed hearth.

“This isn’t what I expected accompaniment to be like”, I thought, my ears perking up to the sound of songbirds flitting to and fro in the rear garden. The words of one of the acogidos and a psychologist spread throughout her home, distant and distorted, muffled by the walls between us; words which I likely would not understand, even if they were intended for my own ears. I glanced down at the book I was reading, chapter eight of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, and then looked back up, closing my eyes for a moment and feeling the warmth of the reading lamp above my head.

A phrase, which had repeatedly passed in and out of my thoughts during the last week, came again to mind:

 

“There’s too much room here.”

 

The conversation across the house grew louder for a moment. I picked out a word, Remis, which was familiar to me; the name for the Taxi-like service used by many throughout Argentina. It meant it was time to head back to the hogar, passing again through the rich, walled neighborhoods, whose honeycomb of security fences held many massive, vine-covered mansions of varying Western styles.

I looked back down at the cover of my now-closed novel. “Americanah”, I thought. “Where haven’t the cultural echoes of my nation reached? Why couldn’t I have done my YAGM year there instead?” Two questions which, for the moment, would remain unanswered, as two short bursts of a car’s horn settled me back into reality. The Remis was waiting outside. I stood up, and gathered my things.

It was time to head home.


For weeks now, I have struggled to find the right words for this post. I’m not sure if the ones before you now will do my thoughts justice, but I finally feel them on the tip of my tongue (or I suppose on the tips of my fingers) so for the moment, I’ll write.

“‘This isn’t what I expected accompaniment to be like.'”

When I applied for YAGM, I pictured something dramatic. I imagined teaching English to lost and forlorn children, or digging a well in rural Africa. I pictured a stockpile of medication for deadly diseases, and long nights in a bed with too few blankets.

What hubris.

Instead, I find myself laying in a room with a ceiling fan, a warm radiator in the corner, adjacent to a window looking out into a small courtyard. The home I live in is less than a year and a half old, with a fully stocked kitchen, and access to Netflix. I spend my days doing a lot of cooking and cleaning, eating, and even some sleeping. My job is essentially to wake people up, and lead them through the day. I make sure three meals (four if you count afternoon tea) are consumed, medication is taken, showers are thorough, and that shoes are on the right feet. Life at El Arca is experiencing accompaniment in its simplest form, that is, to help others live. Now that does come with some un-glorious things, including wiping human rears which are not my own, and cleaning between someone else’s toes in the shower, but the beauty of the L’Arche organization lies in one of its key principles: do what is needed for the residents, but not more. In that way we assist, but do not carry. We do not walk before or behind, but beside. We accompany. That leaves a lot of time to think.

“There’s too much room here.”

Did you know that we suppose our reality to be predominantly composed of that which we cannot see? Though still a hypothesis, physicists think that this “dark matter” makes up about eighty-five percent of the known universe. Eighty-five percent of everything that exists, may as well be considered nothing at all. Except that it isn’t nothing at all; in fact it’s very very important that this dark matter isn’t nothing at all. Because it’s all that nothing, which keeps the rest of the universe together. Without all that invisible mass, galaxies would fly apart, gravity would break down, and you and I would likely be in a very different sort of Creation.

Now that nothing isn’t something we human beings get along with. If you were plopped down in the middle of it, you’d very quickly suffocate, freeze, burn, or experience a slew of other equally-unpleasant scenarios. Yet, it’s into that almost infinite soup of nothing,  which everything you and I know, and love, was placed. The nothing is where it all happens. Nothing and something interact together in a very dynamic way; they are yin and yang. Oh, and this year? YAGM? YAGM has placed me into a massive lake of nothing. When you sit with only yourself, you have to consider everything that you are. Now that means considering the humble, loving part of yourself, where you volunteer to peel and cut an orange for someone at each meal. However, it also means you get to consider that part of yourself which ignores another person’s cries for help, while you curl up in your bed, pretending to pretend you can’t hear. And it’s awful. You don’t get to experience grace and feel good. You might not feel guilty, but it sure as heck doesn’t feel good.

“‘Where haven’t the cultural-echoes of my nation reached?'”

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I know it isn’t here. On the one hand, I’m learning to speak a different language, eating new foods, and looking at trees and plants I’ve never seen before. On the other hand, an authentically “Argentinian” architecture doesn’t even exist because of Western influence, my native country’s government directly supported the death of 30,000 innocent Argentinians due to a fear of “communist ideology”, and, as a result of that US-backed dictatorship, Argentina is in the worst state of currency inflation in national history. Not to mention the fact that we too, loudly hear President Trump and the US government’s current indifference towards victims of sexual assault. Icing on the cake – bitter taste.

Except now, with nothing to block the noise, I am presented with a choice, a question: “‘Why couldn’t I have done my YAGM year [in a place free of US noise and influence] instead of Argentina?'” Now, I have the beginning of an answer.

Because I shouldn’t. GrupoconBelen

YAGM, will eventually end. And even if it didn’t, the social and global changes enacted by the nation of my birth will continue to shape the lives of myself, and billions of others around the world. As a human being, and I believe, as a Christian, we owe one thing to the rest of man-and-woman-kind: stop surrounding yourself with that which distracts you from the nothing. As soon as you put an obstacle between yourself, and that painful, but important, nothing-ness, you ignore eighty-five percent of what is real. Of what is intrinsic to the existence of everything. Of what holds us together. I haven’t figured out how exactly to do it yet. In fact, every day I run back to the comfort of something, anything, which helps distract me from the reality and hurt of this world. But every time I do, I try to stop myself one step sooner than the day before, and slowly, I’m starting to slow down. One day I might actually stop, turn, and each day choose to face the brokenness of my nation, my faith, and myself.

My “‘Americanah.'” And perhaps, one day, with continued grace, and help from God, I can look out to that eighty-five percent, and know that all that nothing isn’t something to be feared, and that the intrinsic-beauty of creation itself, really what our God does best, is making something out of the nothing.

I daily pray that He/She/It will do that for me . . .

 

Peace, love, and the willingness to be,

 

Eric

 

“1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

~ John 1: 1 – 5

Beautiful Things

My first month living as a YAGM, though incredibly complex and difficult at times, has been undeniably beautiful. Below, you will find a list of items which have brought me joy in these first four weeks, both in their beauty and in their simplicity:

An extremely small and adorable puppy.

Awakening each day to the joyful singing of 70 year old Osvy.

An unexpected call from Farafangana, Madagascar.

The song, “Creo en Dios”.

A handwritten letter from my grandmother.

Being asked by Sandry to jot down each and every artist I listen to.

The sound of John Denver drifting into my room from across the hall.

The peaceful rhythms of a late-night thunderstorm.

Laying on a trampoline.

Dani, yell-singing when he doesn’t have his hearing-aid in.

Listening to dinner conversations in Castellano, English, and French.

Emails from old friends.

Losing a futbol game to children . . . badly . . . for the second time.

Sipping mate on a dia libre, “day off”.

Recognizing the tune of a hymn during worship.


In writing this list, I’ve thought of one more item to add:

Realizing that this is home.

 

Trampoline

I have a few other blog posts in the works, but have not yet been given the guidance to craft them into the written word. You can expect more posts here and there in the coming days, but this is all I have for now.

 

With peace, love, and thankfulness,

Eric

 

“All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change, at all.

All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come out from this ground, at all?

All around,
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found, in you.

You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us.”

“Beautiful Things” – Gungor