Next Stop, Bolivia

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Mission. The word won’t leave me. It keeps showing up in unexpected ways.

Like through an invitation from a special friend. She asked me recently to consider joining her on a pilgrimage to Amistad, “the Friendship Mission,” in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where more than half the population live below the national poverty line.

I decided to check out their website (see http://www.amistadmission.org/).

As soon as I saw the children’s faces, the Andes mountains, the indigenous women donning wide-brimmed hats and colorful scarves, tears sprang to my eyes.

I had to say yes. With no clear indication why. I simply felt a pull on my heart. A pull to be with the poor of Latin America.

Who can explain such things?

I’ve no idea what I’ll discover there. It’s only for a week. But I know I’ll come back with much more than I could possibly give. Just like what happened with the migrants in El Paso.

Last week Richard Rohr used the word “reverse mission” in one of his daily reflections. His words say exactly what I’m trying to say.

“An overly protected life—a life focused on thinking more than experiencing—does not know deeply or broadly. Jesus did not call us to the poor and to the pain only to be helpful; he called us to be in solidarity with the real and for our own transformation. It is often only after the fact we realize that they helped us in ways we never knew we needed. This is sometimes called ‘reverse mission.’ The ones we think we are ‘saving’ end up saving us, and in the process, redefine the very meaning of salvation!”

Here’s where I’ve experienced “the real” while on mission:

  • In the sound of children’s joyous shrieks as we play a simple game of Uno at the health center in Anapra, home to Mexico’s poorest of the poor.
  • In the migrant woman, who after being paid a meager $15 for a day’s labor of housecleaning, gave $5 to someone “less fortunate.”
  • In the mud-caked, sole-flapping shoes of the little Guatemalan girls who showed up at our hospitality center with their mom.
  • In the airplane drawing of a six-year-old “undocumented” boy assigned to a Texas detention center who sees God as that plane, ready to whisk him up and reunite him with his mother.

Wherever this mission is taking me, it sure is a slow process. But that’s OK.

I’m learning that each slow step is a piece of the puzzle. And everything is fitting together nicely, just as it needs to, in order to fulfill my unique purpose, my heart’s calling. All I have to do is listen. And not let myself get too comfortable. Something I doubt will happen in Cochabamba.

Truthfully, I don’t really know why I’m going to Bolivia. But I do know what I hear in my heart: “If you want to live a truly fulfilling life, you must follow me.”

As John O’ Donohue writes:

Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment.

These pics were taken from the Amistad website

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Picture of mother and child taken from Amistad Mission website

Amistad sisters

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The Voice of the Beloved

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Since today is my birthday I decided to write about something special to me. The voice that calls me beloved.

It’s what brought me here. It’s what sustains me.

And it’s what speaks to me from the depths of any confusion or concern, fear or uncertainty I may experience. Calling me to be still. And know my belovedness.

I experienced it again over the weekend when I came up against a tough, unavoidable situation, in which, for various reasons, I wound up being alone in the house to deal with a very miserable guest. As this woman began projecting her blame and misery onto me, I felt her negative energy threatening to zap my own. I struggled to stay grounded and centered in the midst of it. I envisioned a circle of light around me for protection. And I avoided her as much as possible. But it was tough.

On Sunday a reflection from Inward/Outward showed up in my email box. As I read Kayla McClurg’s words, I heard the voice of love calling me back to remembering who I am. Towards the end of her reflection, Kayla quotes Raymond Carver’s poem “Late Fragment” — a short poem he wrote on his hospital bed when he was dying.

By the time I got to the last line, I knew what I had lost sight of in the presence of the energy-zapping woman.

raymond carver_best fragment

Kayla then asks: “Are we, too, learning to call ourselves beloved, to feel ourselves beloved on the earth? Are the fragments making us whole?”

In the midst of her questions, an inner voice asked, Do you know yourself as the beloved? Do you allow yourself to feel it, to take it in, and to live with the truth of this in your soul?

In all honesty I knew that, on most days, I did not. And I suspect that I’m not the only one who has difficulty with this.

But Spirit fully intended for me to get the message this time. Later that evening, when I picked up Henri Nouwen’s book Discernment, hoping to read a little before going to bed, these lines came up within the first paragraph:

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us God’s beloved. Being the beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”

The core truth.

The crux of our existence is that we are beloved.

The voice of Love tells us this. Again and again and again. Until at last we can accept it and fully take it in.

This being Holy Week in the Christian tradition, I was reminded how, at the end of his life, Jesus was certainly surrounded by negative energy. Daggers of hatred. Projections of fear and misery. Yet always he walked the earth grounded in the love of the One who sent him, able to hear the voice that called him the beloved. Despite what was going on around him.

So, in my meditation, I ask Jesus, “Did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?” Tears forming as I ask the question because I know the suffering and intense humiliation he endured. “I can’t imagine why you would have…”

And then the answer comes: “Yes, because I drew you to myself.”

A response so beautiful. So loving. So beyond what I can fully understand. Unless I know myself as the beloved.

Blinded…or How One Boy Challenges Response to National Prayer Breakfast Speech

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Once again a child  has revealed an important lesson.

As I stood on our steep hillside shaking out a rug, a mom and her three children waiting at the bus stop caught my attention. The eldest, a boy of about 7, had gathered pebbles from the rocky mound beside them and, as I watched, he whipped them at his little brother. One at a time. The younger boy turned his body away from the force of the stones. Their mother, preoccupied with removing their little sister from her stroller to prepare for the bus, either didn’t notice or chose to ignore them. The boy continued without reprimand. I stopped beating the rug, wanting to yell down at him from my perch on the hill. Suddenly he stopped and turned his attention to his sister. The toddler now stood beside him while their mother folded up her stroller. Instantly he changed from a relentless rock thrower to a tender caregiver as he enfolded his arms around his sister and pulled her against his waist, as if protecting her from an oncoming storm. His sweet actions, in stark opposition to what I had just witnessed a moment ago with his brother, rather than surprise me, resonated within me.

Maybe that’s because when I was about his age, I picked up a metal toy shovel and threw it full force at my sister’s head. She’d pissed me off, after all. That was my natural reaction.

But the boy’s actions created something stronger than that memory — a recognition of the capabilities within myself.

I am this living paradox.
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And I’m not the only one. Within each of us lies this propensity for both darkness and light — a false self and true self, lower self and higher self — whatever you choose to name them.

This recognition is particularly meaningful to me in light of the overblown negative reactions I’ve been reading in response to President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. To tell the truth, I don’t think it matters what the president would have said at that prayer breakfast. The pundits would have pounced.

But in his remarks, the president noted that religious groups have distorted and twisted faith or used it as a weapon to justify violent acts. He warned us that these actions are “not unique to one group or one religion.”

Honestly, I think he was trying to get us to pause and look within ourselves. At our own negativity and intolerance.

But some people, most of whom I imagine are Christians or politicians — or both — took offense. They didn’t like being included in this “club.”

A former governor of my home state of Virginia, Jim Gilmore (R), even went so far as to say, “He has offended every believing Christian in the United States.”

Well, I consider myself a Christian, and I’m not offended.

Because even though I strive to follow the teachings of Jesus, I readily admit that I fail — every day. Following what Jesus taught, and how he lived is just downright difficult! And it requires humility — something I didn’t see at all in any of the negative comments I read about Obama’s remarks.

I did, however, find the word in the president’s remarks:

 “…we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards [God], and have some humility in that process.  And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.”

The truth is, still today, and in this country, people say and do terrible things, justified by their version of God, or justice. And some of these people call themselves Christian.

Somehow I can’t see Jesus condoning religious intolerance, the death penalty, and torture — all of which have occurred in or by our country. Recently.

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Our president asked a legitimate question: “How do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities?” Realities of the darkness and light that exist in the world.

I think the trick is to look within ourselves first.

I’m remembering these wise words: “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own?” (Matthew 7:3)

If we continue to point to evil and darkness as being “out there,” we will never reconcile these realities. We will completely miss that log lodged right in our own eye. I almost did. Thanks to a little boy at a bus stop. Just being himself.

To read the full script of the president’s remarks, go to:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/05/remarks-president-national-prayer-breakfast