Sunday, March 16, 2014

Seeing and Hearing God this Lent

Once when a visiting philosopher
 asked St. Anthony the Great (251–356)
how such a learned man as he
got along in the desert without books,
Anthony replied,
"My book is the nature of created things,
and as often as I have a mind to read the words of God,
it is at my hand."

I’m still working on my Lenten mission of trying to deepen my awareness and understanding of the psalmists words that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the work of God’s hands” (Psalm 19:1).
Getting the fields ready for the rainy season
I may not agree one hundred percent with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux when he wrote a thousand years ago, “You will find something greater in woods than in books,” but I do believe that if we have the eyes to see, then every moment can allow us to apprehend (or be apprehended by) the sacred, the holy, the divine (I thank David Suzuki for that metaphor of “apprehension”).
The mobile ice cream "truck." The ice cream costs the equivalent of 50 cents.
I am undoubtedly prejudiced toward books, simply because I love to read. But this Lent I’m trying to get away (okay, I admit it—not totally) from books, trusting that Origen was correct when he wrote almost two thousand years ago that since “the parallel between nature and Scripture is so complete, we must necessarily believe that the person who is asking questions of nature and the person who is asking questions of Scripture are bound to arrive at the same conclusions.”
Some days it seems like I'm going to drive to the clouds.
 Of course, people play a special role in this apprehension. I went this past week to Potoichan, where Mission Mexico plays an important role in supporting a high school for 260 impoverished youth from all over La Montaña of this state of Guerrero. A Mexican Marist brother, Salvador Gonzalez Cardona, is the director of the school. His nickname is “Cepillo” (“Brush”); take a look at the photo below, and try to guess why he has this nickname. Cepillo is, for me, almost a “miracle-worker” in terms of the incredible difference his school is making in the lives of these youth from the mountains.
"Cepillo," the director of the high school, with two crosses from Chiapas.
And I visited with Abel Barrera Hernandez, the director of the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center (which receives support from Mission Mexico). Tlachinollan has received recognition from all over the world for the great work it is doing in its support for justice for the indigenous peoples of La Montaña.
Abel Barrera Hernández, director of Tlachinollan Human Rights Center
 On Wednesday evening, Abel was travelling on a road outside Tlapa when he was assaulted. The three thieves stole the vehicle he was driving—a new Nissan truck just like the one I drive—his laptop, his cell phone, and his wallet. He was left abandoned in a remote field, but after managing to untie himself, he was able to walk to a road and eventually receive assistance. Here in La Montaña we are simply grateful that Abel is still alive.
House where I stayed overnight in San Marcos
 But it’s not only “important people” that allow me to feel that I am on “sacred ground.” On Friday night I slept in Doña Gertrude’s house in San Marcos. When I got up at about 7 on Saturday morning, she was outside pushing coffee beans into a bag, so that I could take a gift of coffee back to Tlapa.
Doña Gertrude with her coffee beans
Another woman, Elodia, insisted that I go to her house for breakfast. The photo below shows this “special” breakfast for the Canadian visitor: water to drink; noodles; squash; beans; herbs; tortillas (under the colorful cloth). No coffee, but who was I to complain?
Breakfast. It's not all for me. Each persons takes a bit of what he/she wants.
 And since Elodia’s mother, Doña Virginia, was going to the river to wash clothes, Virginia insisted on taking a dust-filled shirt of mine to wash. While she was washing clothes, other children were taking advantage of the river to cool off.
Doña Virginia washing clothes at the local "laundromat."
So, hopefully, I am advancing with my Lenten “challenge.” I wonder if the seminarians who are doing homework this weekend for my class next week will refer to nature and creation in response to the questions I left with them. The class is on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), and we were talking about Abraham. Genesis 12:7 begins: “Yahweh appeared to Abram and said.”

The seminarians have to turn in a written response to the following questions: How does God “appear” and “speak”? Does God appear and speak today any differently than when God “appeared” and “spoke” to Abram? What is needed to “see” and “hear” God?
Some children cooling off on a hot day near Ojo de Pescado.
I’m smiling as I’m thinking that I’m glad that no professor ever gave me a homework assignment like that. Maybe you, esteemed reader, are thinking the same thing. But just maybe we’ll all learn something from the exercise. I’m not great at answers, but I love asking questions.
I'm still happy to have my mother's rosary accompany me in my travels.

Have a great week, my friends. I hope God appears to you and speaks to you this week. Or maybe I should rephrase that: I hope that you are “seeing” and “listening” as God appears and speaks to you this week.

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