Sunday, October 04, 2015

St. Francis and the violin of sticks

Yesterday I went to El Zapote Santa Rosa. I was planning to go to their Mass for the vigil of the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, their patron. When I got there I found out that Mass wouldn’t start until 6:00 PM. I decided I’d stay until the procession began, since I was planning on going to two Masses on Sunday, his feast day.

Despite being an introvert, I sometimes find myself being rather overflowing with energy, interacting with a lot of folks. Last night was one of those times.

I talked to scores of the people waiting for the procession to begin – kidding around with the kids, talking with the young men who are almost always at the edge of church meetings, scaring a few infants but entertaining many kids.

There was a marching band of percussion from Dulce Nombre who had come out for the procession. 

While they were drumming, I remembered the Philadelphia Mummers Day parades on January 1. I began to strut and “dance” to the rhythm. I invited others to join – but no one did. In fact, I think I scared one older woman!

Then, while near the truck with the statue of St. Francis, I remember the story of St. Francis picking up two sticks and playing his “violin.” I even got two kids to play two sticks.

I was having a lot of fun and full of joy and wonder.

The procession began after Padre German arrived with the sound system. The truck with the statue of St. Francis was followed by kids and others with saplings which they were going to distribute Sunday to be planted.

I left a little sad because I wouldn’t be joining them for Mass, since that would mean getting home about 8:30 PM. But I watched as they walked to the church.

When I got home I looked for the tale of Francis and the stick violin. I found several but the one I like is from Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel Saint Francis:
      One morning he sat up in bed and clapped his hands with elation. “Do you know what I’ve been thinking all night long, Brother Leo?” he shouted to me. “That every piece of wood is a lute or violin; that it has a voice and glorifies the Lord. . . . If you want my blessing, Brother Leo, bring me two pieces of wood.”
      I brought them. He placed the first on his shoulder and slid the other over it with rapid bowlike motions. Seated on his mattress, he played and sang endlessly, beside himself with joy. His eyes were closed, his head thrown back: he was in ecstasy.          “Do you hear the pieces of wood, do you hear them singing?” he asked me. “Listen!”
      At first I heard nothing but the two sticks rubbing and grating against each other. But gradually my ear became attuned, my soul awoke, and I began to hear an infinitely sweet melody coming from the two dry branches. In Francis’s hands the mute wood had become a viol.
      “Do you hear, Brother Leo? Do you hear? Cast aside your mind and leave your heart free to listen. When a person believes in God there is no such thing as a mute piece of wood, or pain unaccompanied by exultation, or ordinary everyday life without miracles!”
All creation speaks and sings in praise of God, even the piece of wood that appears mute.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Walking barefoot

Friday and Saturday morning the parish had a workshop for the delegates of the Word in two zones of the parish.

Delegates lead the Sunday celebrations of the Word in their communities when there is no priest. The challenge has been to have them go beyond the celebrations and work with the base communities structure in their communities. In some places, it’s working well; in others, work needs to be done.

Padre German began the workshop with a reading from Isaiah 52:7:
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
announcing peace,
bearing good news,
announcing salvation…
We evangelize he said, not just by our words but also by our presence.  And to make a point the fifty or so of us walked up from the church to a place a little outside town.  As we passed, in silence, the people looked at this strange sight of people walking in silence.

At a point in the road with an outstanding view, we sat down. Padre invited us to take off our shoes and socks and to ask ourselves if our feet are beautiful.

Then he invited us to walk on the gravel road in bare feet – and to be humble enough to stop when we couldn’t go further.

In silence, we walked – though I stopped after less than 100 yards. They continued on and back, a witness to their endurance of the pain of the road on bare feet.

As I look back, I recognize how spoiled I am – a missionary who can’t take a gravel road in bare feet, weak feet in contrast to the strength and endurance of the people I am supposedly here to serve, living a privileged life when so many suffer and still go on the missionary journey.

A good reminder of what I’m called to be and of how far I am from the lives of these people.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Honduran kitsch

Kitsch (noun): 
art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste 
because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, 
but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way: 
the lava lamp is an example of sixties kitsch.

Growing up in the fifties and early sixties I recall various types of lawn items, some of which were quite kitschy.

There were the St. Francis birdbaths and Mary Immaculate in half of an iron bathtub. There was the racist jockey and, of course, the flamingos.

I was delightfully surprised to encounter Honduran kitsch – in tens of roadside stands outside Siguatepeque.

On the main roads here there are gas stations, tire repair shops (much needed), small restaurants, stands selling vegetables and fruits,  honey sold in used liquor bottles, and much more.

But there are several large areas where painted clay figures are sold. 

Some of these stands also have hammocks and toys like tops. 

A good number have large pottery vases – two to three foot high – that are used for displays with artificial flowers.

But what really fascinate me are the very colorful figures - of all kinds:

Mushrooms with butterflies:


Deer and bananas:

Toucans and cows:

Even ants, made out of metal:


Lonely hearts:

And of course, flamingos!

More flamingos:

Flamingo love birds.

Even a pink flamingo.

And, to answer the question in the back of your mind, NO! I did not buy anything for my house - except for a bottle of honey.

But I really enjoyed myself, as did the two Honduran guys who were traveling with me.



A friend wrote about a possible connection between the flamingos:

 What, no painted chickens?! I thought they were the iconic Honduran kitsch. This really took off after the Peace Corps sent volunteers to Siguatepeque to teach them to paint pottery other than ceramic chickens. We endured several years of pepto-bismol pink pottery vases because of this Peace Corp program. When I look at the 19th C. traditional pottery and compare it to this stuff......

Traveling two days to Tegucigalpa

On Thursday, I left at 4:30 am for a trip to Tegucigalpa with two leaders of the El Zapote coffee growers association and a lawyer from Caritas. They were going to see what steps were needed to obtain official status.

We arrived at the government office about 11:45 am and the lawyer went to see when they could have time to work on the status. She returned about 40 minutes later after the government official advised her that the group needed to make some changes. Instead of signing up as a cooperative, he advised them to form themselves as a mutual aid association or business.

It was a little disappointing but the government official was very helpful and stayed even during lunch hour.

But since it was too late to try to drive back home, we decided to stay overnight.

We looked for a place for a late lunch. The first place, recommended by the hotel, was overpriced. We, instead, went downtown to the central plaza and ate pupusas in a food court.

Then we walked around downtown.

We saw a tent where a few people were fasting against corruption and calling for an international council against corruption in Honduras.

I noted a few women walking around in groups; I judgmentally wondered if they were women of the street. Then I noted a few young boys, including one with a beer can in a paper bag. One little boy was shoeless. I wondered if these were some of the many street children in Honduras.

We went into the cathedral and, as I had when I visited before, I was filled with sadness at all the gold in the altarpiece.

Women and children in the street; people fasting and calling for an end of corruption; a church filled with gold, much of it probably mined by poor and native peoples during the Conquest.

I arrived home tired, but glad to be back in Plan Grande.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Avoidance and facing suffering

A friend, Dave Nantais, has a beautiful essay on the spirituality of living in a city in America magazine. Though I haven’t lived in a city since December, Dave’s wisdom is inspiring. In Santa Rosa de Copán, as well as on Baker Street in Ames, Iowa, there was a sense of front porch spirituality. The one thing I miss from both places is the sense of close connection I felt with my neighbors. There is a sense of community here in the village of Plan Grande, but it is different.

I am particularly touched by Dave’s remarks on coming face to face with suffering and, in particular, his quote from Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain:
“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”
I have seen how I avoid suffering and seek to distance myself from even seeing suffering.

But I fear that this avoidance is widespread.

We erect walls and gated communities; we live in our part of town  or our village and avoid entering places of suffering, which we consider all too dangerous. We turn our eyes away from the images of suffering in the newspapers and turn off the news stories of violence and poverty on the radio or television.

But what does that do to me? It turns me in on myself, making me all too fearful and anxious and all too easily provoked to anger.

This past Monday and Tuesday I assisted Sister Pat Farrell in an alternatives to violence workshop in the prison in Gracias, Lempira. It’s the second one we facilitated there.

Some people fear entering a prison, especially after we are locked in. But this visit was a healing experience for me – listening to the men, watching them engage in the workshop activities – listening and talking with each other in a place of safety which is hard to find in a prison.

As we worked with them and listened to them when they spoke with us personally, we were being graced by their presence and by the ways that the Spirit was working in them.

I feel privileged and blest to be able to be with them and blessed by their presence. Their presence and my stay with the Franciscan sisters in Gracias were agents of God’s healing in me. I feel grateful and blest - after a very trying week.

We’ll do another workshop in November, God willing. I look forward to going to jail again.