well, march is over and the awaited Resurrection is here and the search is now out of the desert and into how to find that Resurrection joy in the daily, the boring, the gritty, the not feeling joyful. we all know it. you’ve asked it, no? “how do i hold onto JOY, how do i live like i believe Jesus changed it all?”
missionaries ask the same questions.
but i want to back up to tell you about something that happened during Holy Week. Setting: La Ceiba, Honduras (north coast). Plot: “Jesus en la Playa” aka “Jesus at the beach,” our annual mission full of all kinds of things from acting out the passion with children to SHOWING the film The Passion of Christ (yep, on the beach.) to playing a ton of soccer and getting very sunburned.
i’ll be honest with you: i really didn’t know what i was doing at Jesus en la Playa. except that i was in charge of dramas and “sports and youth” activities…anyway, back to God’s Providence, much more interesting and beneficial to hear about.
so the second day, Monday of Holy Week, a slightly aimless Kate volunteered for “obras de misericordia” (“works of mercy”), which is when we go find areas in the city to bring lunch to the homeless. i had heard that this was a very powerful experience, but i had no idea what was in store.
our equipo consisted of a couple Missioners, some jovenes from Ceiba who were helping out all week, a lady who organized the meals, and Fr. Herald, CFR. nine of us, packed in a modest SUV. off to la basurera (garbage dump). a quick prayer and we’re on our way.
it wasn’t until later that day when someone asked me that i realized i had never before seen what i saw that day. slums. i have encountered the poor, the dirty, the drunk, the homeless, the imprisoned, but not like i experienced poverty that day.
among gigantic smelly garbage trucks we drive up the last colina in the humble SUV, and i’m not talking painted green garbage trucks with WM logos on the sides. i’m talking derelict, run-down.
we park in a little empty patch next to a few guys working at the dump and get out of car. the first thing i notice (after a mountain of garbage and the stench of it) is v u l t u r e s. tons of them, all swooping about the garbage-mountain.
and i honestly did not think we were going to find 100 people to give out our 100 lunches to. because i couldn’t believe that human beings actually lived there.
as my senses adjust and i center my soul for a second, Father asks for someone to “go up with him” to invite people to come for the food. the rest will stay at the car, where we have the back open to give out the lunches, to guard it and be there when the people come down. of course, i volunteer.
up we go. scampering up matted down trash-pathways, i follow behind Father’s big Chaco strides. higher, worse-smelling, more horrible it gets. Father starts shouting “HAY COMIDA! VENGAN, HAY COMIDA” and other things, like not to run, to form two lines one for children one for adults, that there is plenty of food, to come down to where the food is, free, etc.
and people start to emerge, fast. out of their trash-huts, where they guard their goods from their fellow scavengers. they run, they are filthy, many are children.
they are beautiful.
i think it might actually have been because their bodies, clothing and skin, were so filthy, that their eyes, especially with the hope of real food, truly SHONE. especially the kids. i cannot forget those brown and golden eyes looking curiously up at me, anxiously packed in a hungry line. they’re beautiful.
pause for a quick second- THIS IS NOT A pity-the-poor, stop-drinking-overpriced-Starbucks anecdote. it’s really not. its a love story.
what did I encounter at the basurera that day? a lot of people suffering a lack of dignity that should not be happening in a world where there IS enough for everyone (i believe). yes. i saw suffering and tragedy; and some would say only that and nothing more.
but this is where EASTER comes in. having faith in Jesus includes a lot of listening. a lot more of listening even than acting, because we need the eyes of Jesus to see what is beyond what sometimes only appears through to what IS. reality.
“Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and his hand in every happening; This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
-Saint Mother Teresa
that day, i discovered the presence of Jesus in the “distressing disguise of the poor.” i discovered a hunger not for simply food but for dignity and love. i encountered people who wanted even more than to be given food to be given it while looked in the eye and not pitied for who they were.
where the world says “you’re nothing” Jesus says, “that is where I will make my dwelling place.” like Mother T says, in the little bread, in the poor.
so for the “now what?” for the “and us?” this Easter time it’s about opening our eyes to the reality of the unlikely places God dwells IN OUR DAILY LIFE.
we don’t all encounter the distressing disguise of the poor as directly as i did that specific day, but we DO all encounter people who hunger for real love. we encounter boring tasks, mundane errands, and thousands of circumstances that in no way appear to be filled with the presence of Jesus. BUT THEY CAN BE. a relationship with him isn’t hard; we were created for it.
because Jesus wants us to know whats really up after the Resurrection. Love wins. He is so hidden in the world but SO REAL:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good Shepherd; the Shepherd cares for his sheep…” -John 10:10
Easter Challenge: don’t let the devil or any of his swarming vultures swoop down on you to convince you that reality is just what you and other people see and nothing more. JESUS IS RISEN. and he dwells equally in you, your neighbor, your mom, your coworker, as in the golden-eyed children of the trash slums. where he is most alive is where he is most hidden, but if you look for Him, you will find Him.