Saturday, November 29, 2008

Chiapas Journal: Day Four

Es 20 de Noviembre, la dia de la Revolucion! So, naturally, we ended the day in the Bar Revolucion, appropriately situated on Calle 20 de Noviembre. To celebrate the 1910 tierra y libertad (land and liberty) uprising of Pancho Villa in the North and Emiliano Zapata in the South (Dad, please note: both Villa and Zapata had moustaches, not beards), we toasted Micheladas and listened to loud indie rock. Sounds fun, no? It was. And we - well, I, at least - needed it, because the rest of the day cut a little to close to the bone.


We spent all day at INESIN, an ecumenically-oriented theological dialogue center that specializes in bringing indigenous Mayan spirituality into dialogue with other religious traditions, like, say, Lutheran Christianity. Yes, they have crazy-awesome stuff like this in Chiapas.

My only complaint was that "indigenous spirituality" tends to become overly generalized and oversimplified in lets-educate-foreigners contexts like this. For example: indigenous spirituality=peaceful resolution. Ok...maybe. But aren´t there, like 64 different languages, implying 64 different cultures, implying at least 64 variances in peoples' spirituality? I know, I know, they just want us to appreciate the positives, but I want to deepen my understanding, to profundizar...

One example that kept me thinking for awhile: The story we were told today about the Eagle and the Chicken. Long story short: Man raises a baby eagle to be a chicken. But the eagle still has eagleness in his heart, blood, and wings. So one day another man comes along and, after much cajoling and encouragement, finally gets the eagle to recover his inner eagle-ness and soar off into the sunset. Great story. Who doesn´t want to recover their inner eagle-ness?

But life, I think, is more complicated. In life we have to ask: What constitutes eagle-ness and what constitutes chicken-ness? Are some destined to be eagles and others chickens? Can eagles learn and adopt practices from chickens and vice-versa? Ok, enough. I love parables and myths, but we are all messy humans here, Mayan and norteamericano alike, and we are not animals in a neat story with loose ends tied up. For us life is...complex.

Regardless of my million questions, I understood the point, or at least part of it: Native spirituality is important, first for the indigenous, the native Americans, and then for us non-indigenous, we immigrants and descendants of immigrants, for this is the spirituality of the place, of the American continent, we now call home. Being Christian doesn´t negate that; even as conservative a place as the Vatican recognizes that the seeds of faith are present in non-European cultures. And it may be especially important for us Europeans and European-Americans, we who have dominated Christianity with our culture for so long, to recognize that.

So, as part of our effort to understand the spirituality of the American continents, we participated in a native ritual. Beacuse there was no translation for this session, I didn´t follow it all that well - my Spanish is still far from where I´d like it to be. (Afterwards I learned from my colleagues about what I was supposed to be doing during the exercise. Apparently there was a dog-like spirit-guide involved, which of course (Adam, listen up) made me think of El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer, an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer inadvertently goes on a spiritual journey with a Johnny Cash-voiced coyote as his spirit-guide. Yes, I admit: thinking of the Simpsons helped me understand better...)

Anyway, the basics of the ritual are actually not all that different from (thanks to David Miller for this part) Ignatian contemplation, a Jesuit practice in which you carefully sift through your life - or just your day - and you have a little chit-chat with God, a conversation slow enough that you actually pause to listen to what God might be saying back to you. It´s like looking into the mirror with God at your side.

Somehow in the fog of my English-Espanol language struggle and my limited understanding of the exercise I saw the reflection of my life. And it scared me. Afterwards I climbed up to the rooftop terrace of our hotel and sat quietly for awhile. Then I put my headphones on and listened to four songs, all on a whim but each of which, oddly and inadvertently, corresponded to a different period of my adult life. The last song was Maná`s "Arde el Cielo," in which first the sky, then the speaker´s heart, his spirit, burns.

Earlier in the day our instructor asked us to draw a picture in response to a common Mexican/indigenous question: Como esta tu corazon? (How is your heart?) I drew one of the muy catolico sacred hearts that I`ve seen everywhere in Mexico. (It was barely more than a year ago that I saw a sacred heart, like a premonition, on the inside cover artwork of a Bruce Springsteen album.) The sacred heart is nearly always pierced with a sword, wrapped in thorns, bleeding, and a fiery flame burns above it...or from it? Either way, it burns.

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