Monday, February 24, 2014

A twist on the idea of separation of church and state

Actually, there is no separation of church and state in Bolivia. For as long as we’ve been involved in this delightful country, the church, in all its manifestations, has fallen under the Ministry of Culto, part of the President’s Cabinet. Culto refers to (and here I translate from the authoratative Larouse Dictionary of the Spanish Language) “reverent homage that human beings attribute to the divine; the acts and ceremonies with which this tribute is rendered; the administration of the above.” Subsumed under the Ministry of Culto are religion, cultural events and sports. You can see the connection. Deep reverence ties the three together as they bow the knee before Caesar.
But this very year a change has been instituted into the political system. A newly created Ministry of Sports has arisen, with its own Minister and body of governing policies. So instead of separation of church and state, we now have the separation of church and soccer.
Several years ago, I read an article on the front page of the sports section of a Bolivian newspaper. The was the Saturday before Easter Sunday, and the key Bolivian and Argentinian soccer teams were playing a World Cup elimination game in Santa Cruz. The Archbishop was invited to pray for the team, and the headline of the article read: “A Tiny Helping-Hand from God: The Bolivian Soccer Teams Asks a Blessing.” I poetically paraphrased this prayer.

(The Bolivian Soccer Team Asks a Blessing)
Our Father Which Art
in Heaven, on earth, and most especially in Bolivia,
hallowed and hollered be your name.
We, who bow to no one,
bend our heads in devotion to seek your blessing
this Holy Week.  We remember
your death, and plead that it not be in vain,
plead that you remember our Life and let
us win tomorrow’s game.
Resurrect our hopes to place.
Let next year’s Cup not pass from us.
Bless our kicks, our passes, our
blocks and our sprints.  Let us score
against the enemy, whose name is
Argentina.  Reward our faith.
Grant peace to our land and goals to our team.
Give us just a tiny helping Hand,
and we will inscribe your name
forever in our hearts
and on our trophies.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Prayerless among the branches


My imagination, unruly gift,
comes, I suppose, from God.
(I call her Agnes, to satisfy
my primal need to name the animals.)
She squirrels about in the maple tree
just outside my kitchen window,
flits from branch to branch,
only sits a few seconds to chomp
on some savory something,
then with a flounce, flies off again.
Sometimes she chases another squirrel
(let’s call him Fred) who mysteriously
keeps hanging around, perpetual tease,
never letting himself be captured,
but not wandering too far away.
Why can’t Agnes just sit quietly
in her lovely bower, feel the wind
ruffling her fur, give herself
over to prayer? In such a green and gracious
space, shouldn’t prayer be natural?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The view from our Hobbit Hole

Geography and place play an important role in our spirituality. The theologies of creation and incarnation tell us that God expresses his grace and goodness in the ground we walk on, the oranges and broccoli we eat, and the flesh and blood people we love.
The houses or rooms we live in are also expressions of spirituality. I frequently have dreams of houses when I’m entering a new ministry, relationship or phase of life. An important part of these house dreams has to do with light and windows and the view. In “real life,” I like to go through new (or old) houses and imagine what it would be like living there. And one of the first things I look for is the view. Can I see trees from the windows? How much light comes in? One of my favorite book titles is A Room with a View. That’s what I want. Always. That’s what feeds my spirit—beauty and light and trees.
These last few years on our trips to La Paz, we’ve stayed in budget hotels near the Friends Church on Max Paredes Street. Some of our rooms have overlooked sections of the city, always impressive. But even though these rooms are economical, according to USA standards, they have slowly been draining our resources. Our Bolivian colleagues realize this, so they’ve recently made an effort to prepare a small apartment for us here on the church property. We made our contribution, and on Saturday morning we moved in. We’re still in the fixing up stage and, quite frankly, having a lot of fun. We feel a bit like newly weds, acquiring the basics in bedding, towels, kitchen stuff. We also feel like jugglers in a circus, trying to keep in the air the balls of simplicity, comfort and economy.
The space is small, the d├ęcor Spartan. Originally planned to be used for hospitality, carpenters have put in wooden panels to divide the one room into a study area, a bedroom and a kitchen, with a small bathroom (where everything works!). The kitchen has only a counter and a sink. We added a double-burner hot plate; maybe next year we’ll put in a small refrigerator. And maybe we won’t. The bathroom is closet-sized, with the electric shower head in the middle of the ceiling. When we shower, everything gets wet. We have to come out into the kitchen to dry off and get dressed. But, like I said, everything works.
We first named our new home, “The Cave,” which gives an idea of what it’s like. Connected to the second floor of the old mission house, it’s tucked in a walkway between the church and the Friends school, surrounded by concrete and tall buildings. I’m trying to add the word “cozy” to the descriptors “small, dark and cold.” To facilitate our positive attitude, we’ve changed the name from “The Cave” to “The Hobbit Hole.”
But the thing is—the window. It’s large and opens into the study and the bedroom. That’s good. However, the view is of the brick wall four feet away. That’s not so good. And at no point during the day does any sun enter our Hobbit Hole. So.
So, what do I do with that? I accept this as a challenge. If my spirituality runs deeper than the view out my window and the sunshine on my face, this is the time to prove it. I’ve chosen “glory” as my theme this year. “Glory” signifies many things, among these—beauty, splendor, recognition, honor, light. All the things that touch my spirit when I imagine a sunny room with a view can be summed up in the word, “glory.” That’s what I really long for.
So, I read that “Christ in me is my hope of glory.” I read that “You, O Lord, are a shield to me. You’re my glory and the lifter of my head.” And more, so much more. Yes.
So, in the early morning, I come into the study, cup of steaming coffee in hand, wrap myself in a wool blanket, sit in front of the small space heater, close my eyes, and give myself time to enter into the Presence. And soon I begin to sense it. The glory. It’s here. It’s Him.
I can’t begin to describe for you the beauty of the view from this place.
Welcome to the Hobbit Hole!
Living room/study
A place to sleep
A place to prepare simple meals
The view!