Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Celebrating with the archangels

We’ve changed planets again. The alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. yesterday, and since then we said goodbye to our Bolivian family; entered the weird transitory culture of jet planes, customs agents, increasingly invasive security checks and international airports; and landed this morning—after a 30 hour odyssey—on the planet called Oregon. It’s good to be home. The rain outside our window strums a good green melody.

It’s also my birthday, and I can think of no better way to celebrate than by just being home again. But Hal is taking me out to dinner this evening, and we will celebrate together. And it won’t be just us. I always celebrate my birthday with the archangels.

Let me explain. Several years ago, as I was reading Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk, I discovered that my birthday falls on the Feast of the Archangels, according to the liturgical calendar. We Quakers don’t usually pay much attention to the liturgical calendar, but I, for one, delight in this particular date. I don’t at all mind sharing it with Michael, Rafael and Gabriel. Somehow our fellowship is wide enough to include all my various worlds. It brings them together, and that is good.

(The Feast of the Archangels)

Every year on September 29
they gather.
Raphael brings the drinks,
while Michael and Gabriel
raid the pantry for caviar and taco chips.
They congregate in the fireside room,
spread the food on the table,
pull out the Parcheesi board,
and take off their shoes.
Then they sing.
They start with the old songs
--Psalm 100, the Magnificat,
“Behold, I bring good tidings”
(a favorite after all these years)—
work their way through Gregorian chants
and Martin Luther to New World
Yankee Doodle, Southern gospel,
and somewhere in the process
they sing Happy Birthday to me.
With voices like wolves,
strange, far, and wholly holy,
the archangels celebrate.
“Don’t be afraid,” they tell me.
Planets realign.
The juice of the sun flows free.

(From The Secret Colors of God, 2005, The Barclay Press)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Andean Travelogue

Since leaving Costa Rica on August 15, we’ve been on assignment in Bolivia and Peru, where we spent so much of our lives. We’ve been serving as consultants at the Bolivian Evangelical University, for the masters in mission program. And we’ve been leading a series of writers’ workshops for Bolivian and Peruvian Friends. These workshops have been sponsored by the Friends Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas, and focus on narrative writing. We’re encouraging Andean Friends to remember and write down the stories that give insight into their faith and life, both on the personal and communal levels.

In the above photo of the Santa Cruz workshop, Esteban Ajnota and Vicky de Carrillo learn how to do peer evaluation of their articles.

After a few weeks in Santa Cruz, we flew to La Paz, partly to give ourselves a few days to adapt to the high altitude before the writers workshop in Peru, and partly to again be with the Friends community in this city where we raised our kids and lived for 18 years. The above photo, taken across the street from our hostel, captures some of the lively confusion of this city.

The building project above is the reconstruction of the New Jerusalem Friends Church on Max Paredes Street, a project that has involved the entire congregation of some 400 people, and seems like a miracle in the making.

But more than scenery or buildings, we came to see people. Margarita Mamani (above) and I have known each other since 1972, when Hal and I first began living in La Paz. Of course thirty-seven years ago, we were both younger, but Margarita’s smile has not aged a bit. She belongs to a group of women in the New Jerusalem Friends Church who have been meeting together to pray for probably twenty years now. They are praying the church through this building project. And they consistently pray for missions. Margarita and the others knew our son David since he was one-year-old. They are thrilled that he and his family are Friends missionaries in Rwanda. In fact they consider him their Bolivian missionary to Africa, and they pray for David, Debby and their kids every week.

From La Paz we rode across the altiplano (above, photo taken from the bus)…

…across the Straits of Tiquina of beautiful Lake Titicaca, over the international border…

…and to the Peruvian town of Juli, on the lake, home of the first Friends church in Peru almost 50 years ago.

Twenty-five Friends from the highlands of Peru and Bolivia met for the writers’ workshop. We gathered for three days in the Friends high school “Jorge Fox” in Juli.

Enthusiasm and level of participation were high, with both orientation by us and lots of group work. Aymaras learn communally, and, actually, so do I.

Participants in the workshop were men and women of all ages, but the oldest budding writer was Teodoro AlanguĂ­a from the Peruvian Friends Church. If I had to choose from a collection of “favorite faces,” Teodoro’s would be high on my list. But more than his face, his spirit blessed us.

We’re back in Santa Cruz, Bolivia now, and tomorrow is the last session of the Friends writers’ workshop in this city. Participants are to bring the first revision of their article. As one of the results of these workshops, we hope to come up with a book of stories of people and congregations that will give insight into the faith and life of this branch of the Friends Church. These Andean Quakers have much to contribute to the rest of the worldwide community of Friends, and they have a unique contribution to make within their own social context. I feel privileged to have been a part of their lives.