What is the challenge of fear?
I’m not even sure what started my recent thinking about this question. At least I wasn’t sure as I started typing but it quickly came back to me.
Fear can be healthy for us to experience – I think. It is helpful to us when we experience fear and it causes us to slow down, to pay closer attention to our circumstances, and to think through responses and actions. It can enable us to protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But…I’m not sure I always slow down though when I’m fearful? I think I may speed up? My self-perception is that when I experience fear then I begin thinking about what I need to do in order to effectively avoid what is feared. That’s when I start trying to control things and that’s where I get into trouble. Because ultimately, I can control very little! Really, none of can control much of anything. When we are at our best, then maybe we can control ourselves and our own reactions to circumstances. I emphasize the maybe.
The things that help me break out of the control response include finding some activity that involves my hands, feet, and body while requiring some mental focus. Such activities help break the pattern because they pull me out of the hole that fear creates. The importance of getting out of this hole comes because it widens my perspective. A walk in the hills, through the woods, up a mountain; pulling out the power tools to make something; game time with the family and/or friends. All of these work to help me get out of the hole. Perspective helps me get centered and when I’m centered I’m better able to avoid controlling responses.
The best way I’ve found to stay centered, and to get re-centered, is the spiritual practice of contemplative prayer or centering prayer. To enter into silence and experience the presence of God in this time enlarges my perspective in the greatest ways. The silence slows my mind, my heart, and my breathing and enables me to recognize the presence of God all about me and that presence abundantly in all parts of creation. In the silence I recognize that I don’t have to control things, I don’t have to try to be God. God is God and will be God. I think that is what Jesus is trying to tell the disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1).
The prophet Isaiah challenges God’s people to seek justice and to take note of how their religious practices lead to the practice of justice or lead to self-satisfaction: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (58:6-7)
Last Saturday night when we were serving with Kiki in his mission to feed the homeless on the streets of San Salvador, a shirtless man approached me and asked me for a shirt. I told him I didn’t have one; he asked if he could have the shirt off my back. Immediately I remembered this charge from Isaiah. Should I go shirtless the rest of the night?
Such experiences follow one after the other in El Salvador and challenge me, time after time, to examine my life reflecting on my priorities and daily actions. As I mentioned in a post early on the trip, this place stirs my imagination. I begin asking questions about how do we do more, what do we do, and at what pace do we do it. Issues quickly emerge about prioritization of need and location. How do you help when every time and every place your turn there is tremendous need? The conversation rapidly becomes circular and leads into dead-end after dead-end.
I find some comfort in this debate though – but not because it leads to active reflection on the challenges and opportunities, but because it helps me avoid the issues. The man asked for a shirt not for me to meet every single need of every single person in El Salvador. I took that shirt with me last night as we served with Kiki in his mission again last night. I planned to give it to Mauricio when we made that stop. But we didn’t make that stop because we ran out of food. I left the shirt next to another shirtless man that we encountered. It wasn’t quite enough if you know what I mean?
We leave San Salvador tomorrow afternoon to return to our respective homes. Likely, we’ll each be returning to snow – probably a lot of snow. It has been a great week and we accomplished our goal of completing a house for Don Maximillano. Thank you to all of the members of the team for their patience, hard work, senses of humor, and willingness to experience new things. Job well done!
Some of the fun things to share with folks while we are here is to visit historic sites, natural wonders, and gather some souvenirs for our beloved family members who remained at home. Last weekend that included a visit to UCA where the Jesuits priests were murdered in 1989. Yesterday that included a seaside lunch at Cafe Sunzal on the Pacific, as we watched about 25 surfers ride a nice break, and then a stroll through La Libertad Fish Market. This morning we made a stop at the artisans’ market and then trekked up El Boqueron this afternoon. I am amazed, each time, to look down into that double crater volcano and take in the beautiful flora all about the mountain side. The air is cool and fresh the wind blows and all I want to do is to find a hammock and start rocking gently back and forth. It was a good day for all of us and I’m glad we made each of these excursions a part of this trip.
A Piece of Your Heart
We began our excursions into the broader culture and experience of El Salvador today with a visit to Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeón Cañas” and the Romero Center there. We almost always start on Saturday morning with this stop as it offers a great way to begin telling the recent as well as more distant history of this land. This afternoon offered the opportunity to visit Wal Mart San Salvador style. We went shopping for food to use with KiKi’s street mission of feeding the homeless in the innermost parts of the city. Not our choice but his for the shopping. Thankfully it was only a moderate madhouse and not the full blown variety. It provides the opportunity to talk about the power and influence of our own culture and the opportunities and challenges of that influence.
I find this experiential learning and opportunity to teach incredibly rewarding personally because I learn so much in the process. I hope that some of these experiences will be transformative for the others along on the trip….and I know that the full impact doesn’t happen in one moment but takes multiple experiences and unfolds over time as the experiences are internalized and then shared with others. That’s some of what I take away from El Salvador and, I hope, some of what my traveling companions take away from this experience.
While we are here, we also talk about what we leave behind. Often times what we leave are gifts for friends and new acquaintances, clothes that we can empty from our bags. We talk some also about what we don’t leave behind – excess trash scattered in our wake, physical trash and the trash of poorly treating other people.
One thing, I realized sometime last night or early this morning, that I definitely hope all of this traveling troupe leaves behind is…a piece of our hearts and that a piece of the Salvadoran people and story will fill that new room in our hearts.
Oh, how this place stirs my imagination!
Most of the time, I don’t know what I don’t know and… many times I don’t know what I do know. If you can follow that maybe what I’m saying can makes some sense to you.
We’ve touched down and got our feet firmly on the ground at Casa Concordia as we return to El Salvador to build another house in Puente Azul and to install 10 more solar panels. As we start this journey, we are mixed with regard to our experiences in El Salvador – 3 of the 6 have at least 1 previous trip to El Salvador in their passport; this is the first trip for the other 3. We’ve spent some limited time in preparation for this trip talking about some of the history of the country and the history of our relationship with Puente Azul. We’ve traded a bunch of emails over the past several weeks with packing suggestions, travel tips, and answers to questions that were asked and that maybe never even entered our minds. But when we arrived and settled into the solace of the porch at Casa Concordia, there were more questions and realizations that there were lots of questions and topics that I hadn’t thought to raise. I have all of the experiences of previous trips – limited still compared to many like our friend and often fellow travel companion, Marco Gonzalez – and perhaps some of it can be helpful to those with me and perhaps it is cannot be?
As I was sharing more information and telling stories of previous trips to our current fellow travelers, I became aware that I don’t know what I don’t know, I don’t know what I do know, and that I need to be intentional about how I share information. That goes not just for this particular trip but it goes for all facets of ministry and life. With the Lenten season in the back of my mind, I particularly began to reflect on the ways in which we communicate the faith to new believers, or prepare candidates for baptism, or welcome new members into our faith community. How often do we just dump the information on people, young and old, without any framework? Do we communicate what really needs to be communicated that leads to the nurture and development of faith or are we just pouring out the pieces on the table and hoping folks will somehow put them together?
I don’t want to imagine a different way of sharing this information that leads to the creation of a dogmatic and judgmental system. But at the same time, there has to be some intentionality to what we pass on in the process of faith formation.
There’s no telling where this week might lead – already what a gift it is!
I remember getting flipped in my kayak one time as I was paddling through a rapid. After getting flipped over a couple of times and surfacing, I did as the rafting guide had taught us and got my feet pointed downstream and then started paddling with my hands when I reached calmer water so I could reach a place to get everything gathered back together and back in the boat. I had to stop and breathe for a moment after that – the temperature of the water had taken away my breath and I was soaked all the way through. I needed to shake off a bit of the water and get my mind ready for continue the journey down the river.
Sometimes I feel like I never reach the calmer waters that give me the chance to find a place to stand up, pause, catch my breath, and get everything back together. The current of life sometimes feels so strong that it seems that all I can do is try to keep my feet pointing down river and steer a little bit with hands quickly paddling. It feels like I am at the mercy of the stream of life. And I suppose I am unless I call a timeout, unless I decide to stop for a moment and catch my breath – get re-oriented before continuing. I forget that I have that option at times. But usually in the midst of such moments, someone or some event reminds me that I need to pause and reflect before jumping back into the midst of all of the frenetic activity. I’m not sure when the realization came most recently, but it is with me clearly now. Now the challenge is to do that – take the time, pause, breathe, get re-oriented, and discern where to jump back into the boat.
A great journey concludes today as we leave shortly for the airport. We returned to Puente Azul yesterday morning (Friday) and completed the roof on the porch – 40 screws and some silicone around the windows. It was wonderful to work with this group of people and with the Toledo family on constructing this house. We had a few mishaps along the way but it all came together.
Early in most weeks on these trips, I find that some folks are already talking about the next trip and the looks on some faces indicate wondering why they chose to come on the first one. Those experiences sometimes change over the course of the week and sometimes they don’t. This group was making lists and sharing ideas of how to improve the next trip and wondering if we’d have to wait until next March. We’ll see what unfolds over the next few weeks and start making plans from there.
Thank you to all who made this journey. Thank you to all those who helped make this journey possible for the group and who helped provide the funding for the building materials.
Our blessing shared with the Toledo family as we said farewell to them yesterday and a blessing for all of us: “May God bless you and keep you, may God be gracious and kind to you, and may God’s face shine upon you forever.”
It’s starting to look a lot like a house. We made a lot of progress yesterday. We finished all the framing except for the porch supports; we hung all but 2 pieces of the siding, and installed the windows. Today we’ll put on the roof and complete the house today.
This trip, like all of the journeys to El Salvador, have been filled with a variety of experiences and surprises. Sometimes the surprises seem as if they might de-rail the whole trip. A blizzard the day before we leave nearly did that this year. But we readjusted and after arriving on 3 different flights the group was all together. We’ve joked and laughed and worked hard together. Again I am thankful for the experiences with these folks and the deeper relationships that come forth from this time together.
If all goes as planned today, we’ll have a day tomorrow when we see a bit more of El Salvador and join Kiki in his ministry serving the folks who live on the streets of San Salvador.
P.S. All did not go as planned. We ran out of screws and daylight so we’ve got about another hour of work this morning before we complete the house.
We now have all of the materials on site and are moving forward with the completion
of the house. We ordered and delivered the siding yesterday and continued to work towards the completion of the framing. We still have one wall to put up and the roof to weld but we did start putting siding on 2 sides yesterday and should move forward with that today. Yesterday was another good day of work and I think today will be as well. We finish each day tired. The heat and humidity at this time of the year are quite different than during our November trips. The heat and humidity takes more out of you.
I knew that the trip was going to come together and that we’d adjust well to the disruption to our travel plans when we picked up the first part of the team on Saturday night and no one complained about the cancelled flight or the change in schedule. That same attitude continued to be present when we said we were leaving for Sonsonate at 10 p.m. on Sunday night. The group is flexible and adjusting to the needs of the day.
Monday started with visits to the hardware stores for building materials and a level. It also included the search for a welder/generator and scaffolding. All was acquired with relative ease and quickly all things considered. Then we were off to Puente Azul to start bringing up the walls of the house for the Toledo family. We’re building a steel frame house with galvanized siding this time. Everyone has been able to work on the project and we made significant progress the first day – we framed the front and back walls and are ready to finish the two side walls this morning. Hopefully the roof is completed this afternoon. Here are a couple of pictures to give an idea of what we are doing. Thanks to our photographer – Connie Price