So the last post was for indicative of the sense of humor our community has, and this one is a bit different. Two years ago today I was baptized into the Christian faith and the Universal Church, and this reflection came from a “Busy Person’s Retreat” we did last week with a North American nun who has been living in Andahuaylillas for the last few months.
The stones are dark but warm from the sun’s radiation. I don’t know how long I’ve been here, but it’s comfortable… I could sit here for a while. Across the way I can see grass growing, cows feeding, even people wandering the winding roads. It is creation in all its beauty.
And so I sit. Unaware of where these stone steps lead; unaware of anything except creation before me.
I turn around and examine the building to which the stone stairs lead. It is not so big as to be confused with a church or anything like that but definitely bigger than a house or a store. It was painted white at one point, but over time upkeep has fallen away…or maybe the owners don’t mind how nature has worn at its color. The door has been left open. Whether on accident or not, there is no sign.
I take a step further. Next to the door I can see around the jamb. Things appear dark and vacant yet strangely inviting. I take a step closer with curiosity but not before glancing back over my shoulder. For what, I’m unsure. Maybe to assure myself that no one is watching or to confirm that creation is still there…no one pays me notice and creation continues its movement.
I decide to sit in the doorway, uncertain as to what I do next. There are only a few options. I can return to where I was without going in, I can wait for someone to come and invite me in, or I can go in of my own accord. And so I wait…
But it is not idle waiting. It is anticipatory; I begin to expect something. I’m watching the world turn, and still my anticipation grows. The excitement builds. I don’t understand. I process the world and look for ways to comprehend, and without ever being sure of what I am waiting for, my excitement continues to augment.
A while later I turn back to the doorway. No one has passed by. There is no one to invite me in, and yet I feel as though I was already invited. It is almost as if I have always been invited. Odd. What if there is some really important function that I would be interrupting? Plus, I’m content watching creation…content.
Again I turn back to the doorway. Nothing has changed. It is the same doorway, and I still can’t see very far into the building. Do I go in? I keep thinking about my decision. I keep thinking.
And then I realize that it is not my head that will get me though this doorway. It is my heart. I must feel the invitation rather than acknowledge it.
And so I take a step inside. It is a familiar room, but I cannot say from where. Perhaps I have already been here before. I see people I recognize: friends, family, loved ones. I am comfortable here but not quite at peace, not yet anyways. I glance back through the door, and Creation continues as it has since the beginning.
Some fruits of a recent retreat on our pillar of Community
Where does community lead us? Where does it lead me? Thomas Merton said that “We are fighting death; and involved in a struggle between love and death, and this struggle takes place in each of us. Our Lord’s victory over death, the victory of love over death on the cross, seeks to be manifested in a very concrete form on earth in the creation of community.” But death of what; of who? An esoteric death perhaps, one where we fall into a life of solitude—or ambiguous solitude. The world of today provides many paths to this form of solitude. How many of us are connected to our “friends” on Facebook but not really connected to these same people in “real life”? The world we inhabit is seemingly becoming more and more interconnected, and yet at the same moment, we appear more and more isolated. False communities have taken our commitment away from each other and given it to a nonliving entity. Our bonds are not connections of community but rather connections with networks, televisions, and objects. And when we lose this sense of connection to our living, breathing brother or sister, we contradict our humanity.
JVC, being the countercultural agency it purports to be, motivates us to acknowledge this disconnect between digital reality and concrete reality and then asks us to push against it. But what exactly does this pillar of community look like for us? Community can take many forms—compare the monastic community of Thomas Merton to the revolving door at the House of Hospitality where Dorothy Day spent a large chunk of her life. At first glance these two communities are seemingly opposites. But where their actions differ, their motivations share a foundation; that being the message of the Gospel. “Who does Christ pick to build community? He picks us, just ordinary people with ordinary weaknesses” (Merton). That’s where we come in. Our job, mission, and desire of and for community is born of a greater desire to grow beyond what each of us is individually capable. We seek change, whether it is personal, spiritual, or structural. We seek growth. We seek an understanding not readily available in our world today. Through our home JV communities we are growing in our capacity to bear the love of Christ in such a way that we are fortified to live in love with our work sites, our new friends, and our families…all of which are simply other forms of community.
“Very often we think that the only people we have to love are our neighbors. Perhaps we never see anyone else to love. But no, we do have to love others and we want to love others and community must extend beyond our own community” (Merton). The balance in JVC of home community versus neighborhood community versus work community versus friends from the host culture can get tricky. We have seen this in Andahuaylillas over the last year. But I believe it is paramount to remember that our commitment to one another within the four walls of our house cannot and must not preclude the commitment we have to be in community with those whom we seek to serve. We cannot live isolated and apart from our neighborhood. Andahuaylillas is a town of roughly 5,000 people, and our work sites are in the local high school and the parish, two of the social centers of the town. So as we walk down the street, buy our groceries, and use the Internet, we are surrounded by people who know us, who stop us to say hello, and who gossip about us behind our backs should we fail any number of social norms on the brief walk between home and our destination. It is a place where the balance between home and outside is precariously calibrated and the boundaries are frequently muddled.
So what holds it all together?
“Community is not built by man; it is built by God. It is God’s work, and the basis of community is not just sociability, but faith…there is more to community than just personal fulfillment and sociability” (Merton). Our faith is what binds us together in authentic community. “A real community,” writes Martin Buber, “is one which in every point of its being possesses, potentially at least, the whole character of community” (quoted by Dorothy Day). While in our community we may be divided on what exactly this faith means, we can agree that it is our faith in something greater than ourselves that pulls us together and draws us into community. Speaking in terms of my own faith, our goal in community is an attempt to overcome death with love in the same way Christ did. It is a push to draw out the humanity in each of us, to push us to excel beyond our human weaknesses, and to overcome the boundaries that divide us. In the end, we are one body, one blood, and one brotherhood of humanity called to love and serve our fellow brethren because our salvation is tied up in theirs.
**Thomas Merton quotes from a talk given on Eberhard Arnold’s “Why we live in Community” available free online from Plough Publishing House. And the Dorothy Day quote of Martin Buber comes from “On Pilgrimage – October 1950” also available free online from http://www.catholicworker.org.
So I’m frustrated. Community is hard. The kids in the comedor didn’t remember to bring their spoons, but instead brought whistles today. The women in the kitchen are blaming me for the ensuing chaos. And there are just so many other things going wrong today.
What do I do?
Everyone has their own routine, their own thing that they do to unwind, to de-stress, to forget the troubles of the day. But in the international setting, many of us have to leave behind some of our more normal de-stressors in search of others. Back in the states I could easily rely on some good tunes or a quick run to get me out of a funk. But in Peru my ipod’s selection has gone stale, and I live in a town built of cobblestones on the side of a mountain which makes any thought of a quick jog somewhat stressful in itself.
So what to do?
Well, I fortunately have a few tricks up my sleeve. Like I said earlier, we live on the side of a mountain. This provides ample opportunity to go for a hike and enjoy the beauty of nature. This is what I decide to do today.
Side note: remember how JVC said no pets and especially no llamas? Yeah, you do. Well, we here in Andahuaylillas have found a way around this pesky rule. Instead of us adopting pets, we had pets adopt us. Two street dogs have decided that the gringos are friendly, and therefore we should be their humans. They go by the names of Yogi and Colitas (meaning ‘little tail’, ironic because she has no tail). The two of them are partners, as far as street dogs can be faithful to one another, and Colitas just gave birth week to a litter of 10 (yes 10!) puppies. Unfortunately only 5 have survived to present day.
So here I am, hiking boots on, water bottle in the backpack, and Yogi at my side. Ready to hike a mountain. 45 min later I have arrived at my destination. A small landing about halfway up the mountain where the Cross of Andahuaylillas stands overlooking the pueblo.
I take a seat next to Yogi and just observe all that is around me. The river that runs through the valley. The corn fields that are in the process of being harvested. The towns of Pucutu, Piñipampa, and Huaro off in the distance.
All of it bigger than me. My perspective has been reset. The stressors in my life are not gone, but something about the immense majestic beauty sitting here in the Andes causes me to realize that li
fe is good. I spend a while longer up on the mountain. When the sun finally disappears behind me the temperature begins to drop, and I realize that I should head back home. Descending the mountain with Yogi still at my side I am content with everything. Content and ready to renter Andahuaylillas, ready to return to my role in the community.
This is going back a ways, but as I promised, Semana Santa 2011. Also, click on the photos to see a larger version if you want.
Domingo de Ramos
This day started with a procession. The whole town gathered down on the highway at the Capilla del Señor de Antahuayla. This is the cross of Andahuaylillas (Antahuayla was the name of Andahuaylillas before the Spaniards changed it to be more Spanish sounding) and Holy Week starts with a procession to carry the cross from its capilla up to the church for the week. This is also where the blessing of the palms took place so that everyone could carry palms up with the cross as well. Along the route up to the church there were these lines hanging across the street with flowers, bread, fruit and other things hanging from it. Once the cross passed underneath these lines it was fair game to reach/jump up to pull the stuff down…and by “fair game”, I mean free-for-all.
Once we got to the church the place was packed. Something I had not seen since arriving…there was absolutely no room for anyone to sit. The choir was spread out across the entire church because we hadn’t thought to reserve benches ahead of time since the church had never been this full. So with more than 300 people we celebrated the Palm Sunday mass.
This day usually passes without notice in the US. While there might be more people who got to mass this day or whatnot because it is Holy Week, it is a day we do not usually mark. This is the opposite here in Andahuayillas and the greater Cusco area. This is the day that we celebrate El Señor de los Temblores (Christ of the Earthquakes). In 1650 there was a massive earthquake in Cusco which destroyed many buildings and damaged the Cathedral. And somehow this image of Christ survived the destruction and was henceforth known as El Señor de los Temblores. People have a high reverence for this image of Christ and he is found in most communities throughout the Cusco valley. And every Holy Monday is the day he is brought out from the churches and processed throughout communities. For us this means taking the cross down from the altar where it normally sits throughout the year and placing it in a special stand that is then carried throughout the whole town. And by the whole town I mean the whole town. The entire procession took about 4.5 hours. We would go a few blocks, stop, place the cross on a table, and then we prayed and sang before moving on. I’m not very good with estimating the number of people at events, but my guess is that by the end of the procession (circa 8:30pm) there were over 1,000 people in the procession, and if you weren’t in the procession you were waiting at the church for the return of Señor de los Temblores.
Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday
These days were less busy in the parish. We were doing a lot of planning for the rest of the week, but there wasn’t too much going on. Wednesday afternoon we hosted a group of jovenes for the first of several sessions on what Holy Week means, but this day wasn’t too intensive as only a handful showed up.
This is where the big work of the parish started kicking in. And to complicate things, Padre Oscar was called away to serve as the pastor in another parish so a different priest, Padre Cesar, came in from Lima to celebrate the rest of Holy week with Andahuaylillas. Fortunately most of the plans were set on what we were going to do for the washing of the feet, the Hora Santa, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil, so it was a matter of filling in Padre Cesar and working to get things done. For me, the largest part of my work was putting together a 2 hour long community prayer service for after mass on Thursday evening. It is something that is done to accompany Jesus while he is in the Garden at Gethsemane. The idea we had was to show clips of a video followed by reflection questions, followed by a prayer, followed by a bit of silence, followed by a song. And we repeated this sequence 8 times. Each time through we varied the form of prayer drawing from things like responsorial Psalms and poetry. Half of the songs we sang were also in Quechua which was cool to listen to, but I still don’t understand most of what is said to me in Quechua. The video clips I selected started with the entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and followed his life up through the 3 denials of Peter. Each clip was between 2 and 3 minutes so as to not be too long and to give us something concrete on which to focus the reflection questions. And everything was done through Powerpoint; kind of cool to bring 21st century technology into the 16th century church.
At the beginning of the service there might have been close to 75 people in the church, and by the end there were more than 50 so I was happy to see that enough people found what we did useful enough to stay until 10:30pm. Some of the nuns stayed long enough to thank me for putting it together saying that it was a really cool experience and a really helpful guide in community prayer for that evening. That meant a lot to me, because I was unsure how people would respond to what we did. Sometimes change isn’t easily embraced in such a small town, but those who were there thought it went well. Now we just have to think of how we can improve or change it for next year!
Morning came quickly today. After going to be late on Thursday, we were up at 4am to hike up into the mountains to pick flowers. We walked along the highway for about 90 min to a mountain on the outside of Huarcapay where a lot of wild flowers grown. I walked with one of the nuns and a volunteer who lives with the nuns. We were going to pick flowers for the parish so that we could create an alfombra in the church. Creating alfombras is something that many families in Andahuaylillas do in the streets for the Good Friday procession. Around 6am things started to get light and around 6:30 we were hiking up the mountain from the highway. It was a really pretty way to start the day, because daybreak in the valley gives you a lot of colors and a lot of cool views. We then spent a couple hours picking different colored flowers to carry back. Once the sun came over the mountain top, we realized why this is an activity for the wee hours of the morning…the temperature quickly rose and we decided it was time to join the masses heading back to Andahuaylillas. Only this time, instead of walking the 90mins back, we flagged down the first bus and rode back to town.
After leaving the flowers in the temple I helped to hang up the signs for the procession which would take place in the afternoon. We had to mark where the Stations of the Cross would take place while on the procession. After this was accomplished, it was time for a rest before lunch. One of the most interesting traditions of Andahuaylillas is the tradition of the 12 plates. While the rest of the world is fasting on Good Friday we live in a place where you eat 12 plates of food for lunch before the Stations of the Cross procession. Lili invited me to eat at her house with her family. We did not end up eating 12 entire plates, but instead stopped at 9. There were 4 soups, 1 plate of fried trout w/ potatoes, and 4 plates of dessert. The trout was unbelievably delicious, but of everything, the plate that stands out to me was the mazamorra de calabaza … essentially a sugary, soupy, dessert of pumpkin.The alfombra for the parish…distinct honor of actually being inside of the church
Immediately following the lunch we went to the church for adoration of the cross which ended with El Señor de los Temblores being taken down from the cross and placed in a giant glass coffin. After we had all passed by the coffin the in the church, the procession began. The empty cross was in the lead, followed by the glass coffin, followed by a mourning Virgin Mary. As we left the church the band began to follow too and would accompany us throughout the entire procession. My job in this procession was to play the matraca at the front of the procession. Because you are not allowed to ring the bells of the church between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil we have this instrument called the matraca we play instead. It is a heavy and cumbersome instrument to play, so I shared the duty with Onassis who also works in the church. The idea was that we were announcing the movement of the procession, alerting people in the streets that it was coming. Although I feel that most people were aware of its presence, it was still something they looked for. So for the following 5 hours I, along with Onassis, would shake the matraca announcing the coming of Christ’s coffin.
While there were 14 scheduled stops of the coffin for the Stations, we ended up making over 30 stops because we stopped at every house that had placed a table out in the street. This is also where all the alfombras come into play. Many families had arranged their flowers in the streets to create images for the cross and coffin to pass over. It was all very cool, very beautiful. While I thought the procession on Monday was really big, this one came in at over 2,500 people by the time it ended. And when we arrived back in the plaza there were over 500 more people waiting to receive the procession.
Foto from Cara – in the plaza welcoming back the cross, coffin, and Virgin Mary
One of the most interesting things that I didn’t realize until the end was that the image of Mary in mourning was only carried by women. Of the three it was by far the heaviest and carried by women throughout the whole 5 hour procession. And they sang. They sang as they carried it. Christ’s coffin had a band, but these women sang for 5 hours as they carried Mary. Granted they had rotations and invited volunteers to carry her too, but still, it was quite impressive and showed a real connection that they have as women, as mother to the Virgin Mary.
This day I spent with the jovenes on a retreat. We discussed many of the themes of Easter and what they meant to us. The Jesuits and Nuns were in charge of leading it which was awesome to be able to simply participate. Afterwards we invited those who wanted to help set things up for the Easter Vigil (which is celebrated at 4am on Sunday morning as opposed to Saturday night) to stay the night in the Retreat House. Things we had to do were prepare the readings, prepare the fire out front of the church, create cardboard things for the candles so as to not drop wax on the floor of the church, make hot chocolate for 400 people, and cut up fruit cake for 400 as well. By the end of all this it was midnight, and I went to bed knowing that I would have to be awake at 3am.
To celebrate the Easter vigil at 4am Sunday morning was a new experience. Several hundred people showed up too, which surprised me. We started outside the church in the plaza with the fire in a pit, and after this service of the light we proceeded into a dark church. It was really neat to have several hundred people in the church in darkness except for the candles. The service proceeded as normal, and after the priest had invited us to extinguish our candles there was a power outage so everyone immediately relit their candles and the mass continued in candle light. One of the really cool aspects of having this service at 4am is that as the service progressed the sun began to rise symbolizing the new day, the resurrection, the life that comes from Easter. So cool. Mass ended, and then there was a procession of the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament through the plaza. At this time we, and the jovenes, went to the kitchen to bring out the hot chocolate and fruit cake we had prepared. When everyone made it back to the church we then broke bread and drank hot chocolate together, which gave it all a more Christmas feel than Easter feel, but everyone enjoyed their food.
And after all the Easter festivities in Andahuaylillas (including the 11am Reserruction mass) we got out of the town to find our Easter duck.
So this was a long long post about what Semana Santa looked like in Andahuaylillas. I’m planning on another post to write more about what Easter felt like here. Also to expand more upon what my first year as a Catholic (celebrated on April 25) looked like, and where things are headed from here. Thanks for reading!
And Jesus was known in the breaking of the bread. The Gospel reading last Sunday comes from Luke and talks about how the disciples were slow to believe that Christ had risen. They were so focused on what was going on in their lives that they didn’t even recognize Christ when he walked with them to Emmaus. It was only after He had blessed and broken bread (in the same manner he had done just a few days earlier at the Last Supper) that they realized He was with them. It was in the breaking of the bread that they realized Christ was still within their midst.
In the mass we have every Monday night as a JVC community with Padre Oscar (in English) we reread the Gospel from Sunday, because Padre thinks it has such a powerful message. It stops you and makes you think about where Christ is found. A quick side note: for the homily in these masses Padre usually gives us a few thoughts and then asks us for how we feel or think so it normally becomes a discussion of the Gospel instead of a homily, and therefore some of these thoughts may be co-opted from my community mates. Before He died Jesus told the disciples that He would rise, that he would be with them again in this world and the next. But they were slow to believe, as they were most of the time. It’s amazing how dense the disciples could be at times. For us, how many times during the day do we come face to face with Christ, but can’t or don’t see Him? We are all called to be Christ-like and we know that Christ works though us, so why are we slow to recognize all the ways in which Christ talks to us in our day-to-day? He is in the child who runs into the comedor to hug me, or in the community mate who sparks a change in thinking, or in the mother who comes to ask us for medication because her child is ill. Christ is in everyone and everything, but we often fail to recognize Him. We become so wrapped up, like the disciples, with what we can see/hear/feel that we fail to acknowledge the risen Christ in the physical world we inhabit.
But I think Jesus knew all this. He know how dense his disciples could be, he knew that if they could deny him while he was alive as Peter did three times, that they would have a hard time recognizing Him in the world after the resurrection. I think for this he left us tools to remember His gift to the world. And as is pertinent to this gospel reading, the breaking of the bread is a wonderful celebration left for us so that we may come to know Christ better in the breaking of the break. “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me. (Lk 22:19) ” In this action we are remembering Christ, and in this action we recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread. We celebrate the Eucharist every day all over the world, but often we forget this global community as we leave mass. We just finished celebrating the breaking of the bread in the manner in which Jesus showed us, but we forget that it is in this breaking of bread He is known. We leave this recognition in church, and forget that the Eucharist is not the only way Jesus reveals Himself. While the breaking of the bread can be the “ah-ha” moment of duh, this is Jesus, we must remember that He is walking with us along the camino of life; He is with us in everyone we interact with, in everything that we do, in all that we are.
Just to let everyone know…things are still moving along well in Peru. There are a number of blog updates in the fire right now and some will get finished once I find some time. Holy Week just finished which was crazy busy since I work for the parish, but really cool to be a part of. There will be full details soon of this plus pictures…but if you check out Mallory’s blog or maybe just her facebook you can find pictures there. We’re all in the house finally and the kitchen is clean and has been painted orange…there will be a house tour soon on the blog. I’m slowly getting to know the surrounding communities of Andahuaylillas.
And on a less cheery note, Grandmom passed away a week and a half ago. She had spent the last 2 years or so with Alzheimer’s, and now she can be at peace. It was difficult being here and not being at home with Dan and the rest of the family, but I appreciate all of you who got in touch with me and have been thinking/praying for her. My community here was really helpful, both the Peruvian community and my JVC community. Padre Oscar remembered her at mass and has been keeping in touch with me to see how things are going. On the whole I know that it is better for her now. It was a long downward battle, and I knew when I left that this would happen while I was in Peru. Doesn’t make it easier, but I’m lucky to have so many people here that care about me.
Hopefully one or more of these will get written in the next few days as things start to slow down and I catch up on sleep…