I haven’t washed my hair since Sunday before I left for the airport, and it still holds the curl of the Salvadoran heat. All I can do is look in the mirror and not recognize myself; I see my reddened cheeks, tired face, and eyes longing to laugh and sob simultaneously. Then my brain distracts me and I run off to check my e-mail or see a friend or (try unsuccessfully) to do homework. I am in a whirl of confusion at this moment, trying to process a life-altering experience in the reality of my life at Davidson.
El Salvador left me pregnant with a creative energy that I can feel wants to explode within me. I want to tell everyone about what I felt and saw, but I am struggling to find the words and time to explain my experience. We didn’t build homes or “do” anything easy to explain. I sat on hammocks and played with children for timeless evenings, listened to stories of women who suffered torture in prisons during the war, remarked at a breathtaking landscape also strewn with transnational corporation factories. I met women weavers, Catholic sisters in solidarity since before the war, doctors, university students each with a life story to share. I went to the site of martyrs whose blood rises now in the spirit of the people resurrected with a new hope – nueva esperanza. And in the community of Nueva Esperanza, I caught a glimpse of the spirit of the exiles in their return to the promised land after a long struggle.
It was a journey that confused me, humbled me, and opened my eyes to the world around me. I saw everything through the lens of poetry – from the street corner graffiti to the man who stopped me on the street to tell his story. I was amazed by every sight and sound, even the trying moments when roosters or car horns woke me in the night. Every day in prayer, God spoke to me, “Pay attention. Look deeply. I am near you.” Over and over, I heard this call. Pay attention.
The more deeply I looked, the more I saw God present in the suffering of the people. God is crucified along with the martyrs and the victims of injustice, taking on the pain and suffering with them, just as Christ exemplified on the cross. The people that we met never questioned the existence of God, only the insistence of God to live for love and justice. “The energy of the resurrection lives here,” a Salvadoran sister told us. The people who have been crucified through war-torn suffering now live risen for their fellow humans.
I saw the risen God in the captivating eyes that refused to look away from mine. The Body of Christ in El Salvador, men, women, and children, saw me as a human being. They did not ask what I did or what I had accomplished in my life, but they just saw me for who I was. And in their eyes, I saw the unrelenting joy of living in community for others. I saw the devastation of family members sacrificing their lives to search for lost loved ones, or to emigrate and feed their families from afar. I saw the strength that touches the hearts of the poor who hold on to nothing but their loved ones and to God. From their eyes, the Bible is the only book written by the poor and for the poor, and it is a Gospel of hope for the coming of God’s just Kingdom.
But that Kingdom has not yet come. The Bible has been deformed into a moralist book of a patriarchal God, while from the perspective of the poor, Jesus and the prophets call us to radical love and justice. I feel that call beating within me to be frustrated with my life here. As Americans, we represent 2% of the world’s population yet we consume 80% of the world’s resources. We are infected with consumerism as a way of life. We see our world through the lens of capitalist values of productivity, efficiency, and commodities. How can we break ourselves from this disillusioned destruction, putting others and ourselves in a cycle of endless poverty?
During our trip, God opened my eyes to the vulnerability of the poor, especially migrant populations – and the evil that consumes flesh in our world. I saw violence as a black, swirling vortex like I have never seen before, and I even saw it present in my own heart. Truly, I saw the destructive violence of the self-righteous individuality that continually tempts me to take control of my life. I felt a death of my old self-image over time, especially when I could not speak the language or “do” anything to take away their suffering. I also was humbled by being sick and taken care of by a truly loving doctor. In the experience of being loved and cared for by strangers, I felt God’s grace humbled my heart through its hardened shell. I am left with utmost reverence and gratitude for the God present with us always, loving us to be fully human in our weakness.
Now, at Davidson, my only prayer is to keep listening to God. To keep hearing the voices of the oppressed, to keep hearing the words of Padre Nuestro as prayed by the Salvadorans gathered around Oscar Romero’s tomb. I pray for God to speak into me how to live in community, rather than for myself in an isolated college dormitory. To hear God speak love through my troubled thoughts. And, above all, I pray to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly” (Micah 6:8) as each of us are called to do.
This experience has changed my life path forever – and for the better. I leave you with some of the quotes from my journal now sitting within me, waiting to be spoken. Overall, I am overwhelmingly grateful for everything I have experienced, and for your company to share it with me. I look forward to writing more reflections over the coming weeks (and years).
“Lord, one day, I pray to live
as an instrument of your peace
as a humble servant in solidarity
with the poor and marginalized,
as my friends Rosie and Sister Peggy live.
May you give us all the humility and courage
to be fully human,
one with the family of your children.”
“This experience has made me wrestle with my daily orientation to values. Serving Christ is a way of life in Nueva Esperanza, not an activity. The women wake to begin cooking, the men go to work, the children do chores and study. Could I live as selflessly and simply, with hands as open as theirs? My life is so complicated, so materialistic, so distant from my family.”
“Each time I lay in the hammock, I feel a new union with God in my belly, waiting to birth laughter within me.”
“The denunciation of injustice is not about hatred as it is about the violence of love: mending our hearts to God’s will.”
“Questions of today: Who am I and what living journey to I embody? Who am I called to accompany? Do I let God dismantle my thoughts? Where is my treasure right now? For whom am I named? How can I be a myth teller? Whose voice am I silencing? Where is God speaking wisdom? For what will I say “no step back” in rolling away the stones to settle Nueva Esperanza? Does my life dialogue with the Gospel’s never-ending call?”
“I can no longer be a Christian who seeks self-sufficiency, comfort or luxury in this world. Romero calls me to a new way of being human. To follow the way of Christ, may I be converted to a seed for the unification and redemption of all creation. God, protect me from seeking security and approval from those around me and take me as your seed.”
“The only weapons these mothers have are their missing children. Help us all, O Lord, to hear your cries in the widow’s and mother’s chests.”
“I don’t have the answers. But I thank God I have been given the heart sensitive and dedicated to a search for justice. I am inspired to restore our connection with the land, with God, with each other like never before.”