Saturday, October 24, 2015

Daring to Really See

Discipleship is at its core a matter of whether or not we really want to see enough to follow Jesus' Way...The challenge of how to live faithfully as a servant of the living God in the context of power, privilege, and inequity is timeless.
-       Laura K. Cobb, Mark & Empire: Feminist Reflections (Orbis Books, 2013)

Mark’s gospel has always been my favorite, for many reasons, and as I stood in the cemetery of Xochitepec the other day, I couldn’t help but think of these words quoted above that I had read the night before. I kept thinking that perhaps my whole life has been one of responding—or, in too many cases, not responding—to the challenge of really wanting to see.
The final resting spot for three-year-old Ezekiel
I was in the cemetery for the burial of three-year-old Ezekiel, who had died the day before. Death is a common experience here in the mountains, but it seems to be especially painful when the victim is a young child. I wondered, “What does it mean to really want to see—to see that this death and so many others should never have happened? In a just world, with adequate nutrition and access to health care, without so much power, privilege, and inequity, Ezekiel would be playing with his friends in front of his house.”
Father Juan tries to console Ezekiel's grieving father
Of course, I didn’t come up with answers—I seldom do. So I won’t be illuminating the people of Xochitepec (or the reader of this blog) with any pearls of wisdom. All I can do is recommit myself to trying to really see and trying to follow Jesus’ Way as best I can. I consider myself blessed to be surrounded by so many friends who are trying to do the same and who teach me by their example.
After the burial, all attendees were invited to lunch. The orange bucket has water to wash hands;
the yellow bucket has tortillas; the blue bucket has pieces of chicken. And, of course, Pepsi.
A special blessing this past week was the opportunity to spend time with Tlapa’s former bishop, Alejo Zavala Castro. Bishop Alejo is now retired in Morelia, Michoacán, but the Diocese of Tlapa wanted to offer him a final “Thank you” for his fourteen years as pastor of the diocese (and I had been his assistant for ten of those years). I wish I could describe the huge celebration given to Bishop Alejo, but his Jeep broke down as I was driving him to Tlapa, so he continued on in a bus that passed by, and I stayed with the Jeep to try to get it fixed. The celebration began at 12 noon; I arrived in Tlapa with the repaired Jeep at 8 that night. But at least I arrived.  
Bishop Alejo being greeted by friends in Tlapa
And there was lots of activity these past days as Tlapa celebrated its largest annual religious feast day. October 23 is the feast day of El Señor del Nicho—the Lord of the Niche. The story is told that the Augustinian priests who evangelized the mountains in the 1500s brought over from Spain a three-meter image of the crucified Jesus. At the beginning of the past century, while excavating at Tlapa’s main church after an earthquake had destroyed it, workers found the image in the rubble—but the image had not a scratch on it. Falling beams had created a natural “niche” to protect it from all of the other wreckage that came tumbling down. Such a “miraculous” occurrence gave rise to a special veneration for this image.
The Lord of the Niche being carried out of the cathedral
The highlight of the day is an afternoon procession (lasting about four hours) with this image of Jesus throughout the city of Tlapa. Families and businesses purchase lots of sawdust ahead of time, dye the sawdust different colors, and make a pictorial carpet of sawdust on the street in front of their house or business.
Families on Matamoros Street preparing their sawdust carpets on the morning before the procession
Of course, the thousands of “pilgrims” in the procession “destroy” the carpet, but at least it is in good shape when Jesus (whose image leads the procession) passes in front of their location.

I was toward the rear of the procession, and yet all of these people were behind me.
So, yes, it is definitely a huge procession.
The idea of “really seeing” occurred to me during that procession too. Most of the sawdust carpets have typical religious images: crosses, doves, Bibles, bread and wine, Jesus, etc. But several families remembered the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers college who were “disappeared” just over a year ago, and their sawdust carpet referred to this terrible crime.
This reads: Lord of the Niche, the Mountain cries out for justice and truth for the 43.
This reads: We place in your hands your 43 children.
So I will continue asking myself tough questions. Do I really want to see? If I do allow myself to really see, what might that mean in terms of my following of Jesus’ Way? What does life look like when seen from the underside of history, from the side of the victims of this global reality of power, privilege, and inequity? How can I (and Mission Mexico) best respond to this challenge of living faithfully as a servant of the living God? I suspect that you, the reader, would not be reading these lines if you weren’t asking the same kinds of questions. I honestly wish you well in your journey toward a response. Feliz camino.

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