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Losing Our Way Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing. --------------------------------------------------------- Arundhati Roy (Indian author, advocate, activist)

jurassic park, the walled city and a sermon for questions (mi)

COLOMBIA | Saturday, 31 January 2009 | Views [5704]

Wedding at La Capilla de Los Alcatraces Overlooking the Caribbean

Wedding at La Capilla de Los Alcatraces Overlooking the Caribbean

i discovered the two most beautiful sights in Colombia!  too bad they're separated by hundreds of kilometers!  of Colombian bus-driver-owned highway! 

bussing our way across Colombia has been blessing and has been curse, depending on the state of our stomachs that day... or hour.  the ride has been unfolding something like this (click on your internet map please):

after the day we toured the underground salt cathedral, located about 50 km north of Bogota in the town of Zipaquira (although the Cathedral is not one of the two most beautiful sights, it houses THE most beautiful demonstration of the Stations of the Cross I think I shall ever see – envision enormous gray blocks of salt, artistically placed and highlighted with shadows created by a minimum of secretly placed hidden lights, symbolizing the last walk of Jesus – there is no word for the physical sensation that welled up in my body as we walked among them), we made our way back through Bogota and west a day's ride toward the Zona Cafetera, the central-western region known to Colombians for its mountains of coffee plantations.  Zona Cafetera won its place as most beautiful sight number one; its land is gentle yet stunning to the eye, a region's length of a carving, a stunning series of valleys, mounting hills and craters of lush green carpet, and, nestled in the heart of it, a spanse of towering wax palm trees.  it is magnificent.  leaving it was... but our ride continued two days north toward the Colombia's northwest coast, and we bounded in through the ancient town walls of Cartegena, which then promptly stole my entire city-loving heart.

but first let me tell you about the ride.

in the Zona Cafetera, we were looking for the town of Salento, via the city of Armenia; we had read that the town was charming and that the nearby Valle de Cocora was not to be missed.  the ride was eight hours long, and the bus, not unlike any of the other long distance jobbies we have since taken, was climatized to keep frozen fish sticks in perfect condition (rei layers!), with well-cushioned seats that recline more flatly than first class on Swiss Air (good), and televisions that were built only to play R rated B movie rejects, although sometimes with Spanish subtitles accompanying the Spanish voice overs, so we had the chance to sneak in some practice despite the immediate increase in road-sickness that came with reading along (bad).  as we entered the region, the drive went something like this: decsend abruptly, acsend abruptly, decsend abruptly, turn! turn! ascend! turn!... we managed to keep our rest stop snacks down, but needless to say, this was one twisty roller coaster ride, one that, at times later in our trip, we would despise most heartily, but at that time, as we entered the Zona Cafetera, were almost - emphasis on almost - too distracted to feel - we found ourselves looking out breathlessly at the wonder that is the Colombian coffee region.  the road wound around and through acres of steep terraced farms, and banana trees and various plants lined the roads and dipped sharply off the edges into valleys that seemed to crater thousands of feet below the route. zooming around thin paved mountain curves at 90 km/hr, we held our breath and swept along, stopping a couple of days in Salento before heading up to the Coast for the wedding festivities.

about a 20 minute jeep's ride east out of Salento, (which turned out to be, as promised, a sweet aged town lined with artisan shops and restaurants) we hiked about 5 km up and down the Valle de Cocora, which should have been introduced to us with a drum roll. i instantly named it jurassic park. i can't recall exactly which of the photos from that day we posted, but without looking i can tell you, i'm sure the picture does not frame the effect - I was dizzy at the sight of thin wax palms growing out of the rich green hills of the valley.  it was pure dinosaur. So if the zona cafeteria earns first place, jurassic park in its heart is the primary why.

after a couple of days of fresh grilled trout from the pre-historic valle, we began again our days of yogurt, bananas and bread on the bouncing buses...up through the city of Medellin, and to the coast.  there we met Melissa and Scott and most of their wedding guests in the city of Cartegena, and spent the first few days of the wedding celebration discovering the thick history of Spain's handprint in Colombia. to start with, I have to tell you why Cartegena was so immediately stunning.  The Europeans brought with them insane, and I mean INSANE architechture.  Cartegena's old town was built inside fortified walls, Las Murallas, for protection in the 16th century, and they were built to either keep you way out, or to all out impress you as you enter them.  once we were in, and i caught my breath, I looked up. up at the inner monumental walls of the old town's government buildings and restaurants and hotels and plazas and….  the Walls line Cartegena's shiny old cobblestone streets, and when written about, those walls should be spelled with a capital W, and their description should be spelled out in capital letters with hyphens for readers to take note: these old town Walls are T-A-L-L.  my neck started hurting from about the third minute.  Unfortunately, sometimes within beautiful exteriors lies a very different story….

our discovery began as our organized historical walking tour with the wedding guests turned into the Palacio de la Inquisicion. 

if you are reading to children, please screen the following as you think appropriate - 

the Palace is now a museum, and displays mementos of one grand sin that John Paul II apologized for during his leadership of the Catholic Church: years of widespread Inquisition.  let me tell you how it went back then: if your neighbor, in the middle of the night, secretly slid an anonymous slip of paper identifying your name in through the building of the Church authorities - let's say he wrote that you didn't believe in the intercession of the saints, or say, that you're actually a witch - then for your disagreement with the Church, or for bearing the physical identifiers of a witch (too skinny, too fat, epileptic...), you were tortured and killed under the authority and rule of the Church, done so by the priests, with a cross hanging in witness.  By stakes to spear your inards, metal spokes driven into your head, wheels roped to your limbs in order to tear your body to shreds, or you were drowned or burned by fire, etc etc etc... if you confessed you would be killed for your errors, and if you denied you would be killed for your lies. and if by chance your were innocent in the end, no one should worry assured the priests, for God divides the innocent from the guilty and certainly you would find your heavenly place after your pained death.  it is something of a surreal experience, for someone like myself, so tied to the message and way of Jesus, to come upon the reality of his followers.  and his followers in authority at that.  it is one thing for ordinary people like you and me to sin, it is another to come upon the mass organization of popes and bishops and priests, all thinking that of course to keep the Church pure, of course to keep the way straight, of course, of course....  the tour guide I was glad to see, stressed that most of these were not men and women who wished to dominate the world with torture and death; these were ordinary Dominicans, Fransciscans, believing they were doing the right thing, keeping the faith, and leading its believers. 

and so I walked through the day, struggling with the duality of it all.  and I write to you as perplexed as ever and thinking hard.  perhaps the root of Inquisition is the root of multiple Crusades.  perhaps part of the root of many of today's errors.  what becomes lost someplace is the humility that a human, in the end, even one to whom God has revealed something about God, is still a human being, with limited mind.  after all, among even our most aged and wise persons, what is the extent of the human mind compared to that of God? and the most certain belief, albeit certified by centuries of religious authority, may indeed, be understood in our present circumstances in ways that miss the mark from what God intended. i remember in high school, as I began to pay attention, at leat somewhat, to my history books, that human beings, no matter the age, the culture or the identified religion, with our capacity for such great humanly achievements such as great city walls, and travel, and medicine, and…, all magnificent products or images out of our minds, have one very bad habit of also making God into an image of ourselves.  and we have a very bad habit of clinging tightly to that image, as if a life spent worshiping God with words and acts that acknowledge in more concrete ways that we don't know a lot (like the analogy we hear from our religious leaders, about trying to fit the ocean into a tiny dixie cup) is somehow denying that God has placed himself directly in our hearts. 

Ivan and I are blessed to be in relationship with all of you, each so different, we know that each of us has varied thoughts about God, in big ways and in small details.  as a Trinity believer and a Jesus-follower, you know that i myself happen to be a big fan of a collection of stories that's pretty famous and details intervention after intervention of God using all sorts of, frankly, practically unbelievable methods to shout at generation after generation: “Hey! I'm not where you think I am!  Hey! I'm not doing things the way you think I should! Hey! Stop thinking that just because I keep revealing myself that means you know what I'm doing right now!”  being a Bible reader, i can't help but get the message that when people struggle in relationship with God, in humility, and embrace the unknown, the crazy, what seems foolishness in the world´s eyes, there is awakening.  but where there is rigid certainty in our own mind´s eye, we end up thinking that epilepsy is a sign that the devil lives inside of our neighbor...until a few centuries later of course that turns out not to be right.  because i'm cursedly curious about questions none of us have any way of answering, i wonder a lot what God thinks about all our time spent trying to figure out what God is thinking...

i don´t know.  it seems maybe that the questions, if we struggle with them, keep us in the relationship... we wrestle like Jacob in the Hebrew Scriptures.  or at times it is The Dark Night of the Soul.  wrestling or night, this comes at all ages, sometimes when we least expect it, complicated and beyond our grasp; faith and hope do not stem from certainty of the answers, they are simply signs of our engagement with the journey.  it is what it means to be in relationship with God and with each other.  relationships are messy, and an experience of God is just as much dry desert as it is wet land.

i have to relay to you the sermon i heard just a few days after our inquisition tour, in the small and simple chapel near Santa Marta, a few hours north of Cartegena, where Melissa and Scott said their vows on Friday, the 23 of January.  The chapel has only two walls that ultimately meet to form its roof, and in the rear where the congregants enter and the front where the alter stands, the walls are missing so that you approach and enter and take your seat always looking out directly over the vast blue sea.  in this setting, to the background of caribbean waves come in tide by tide, Father David stood before the wedding congregants of Melissa and Scott's Catholic Nuptual ceremony, where Colombian and North Americans came to celebreate together, and offered this message (if you will forgive me Father David for the very loose quote):

the Hebrew Scriptures tell us that it was not enough for God to continue to externally intervene so that his creation whom he loves would come along with him... but that he sought to plant himself in each human heart, so that no matter who we are, from what corner of the earth we come from, or what we say we believe, God has planted himself inside of us so that we all, all humans, cannot help but long for God, who is love, and to long for God's ways, the ways of love, and to become one in God, as God is One.  and so to experience God fully, we need to let go of our tightly held thoughts about God and our habitual ways, because no matter the revelation we have already received, no matter the culture or even the name we claim, God is God and beyond our knowledge, which is why the scriptures tell us that some, in showing hospitality to strangers, have unknowingly entertained angels.

ok, that´s enough for one night about the ultimate questions...the homily ended and we were off to the palm tree laden reception site where my friend Melissa (you'll remember her from my year volunteering in l'Arche community in Cuise-la-Motte, France) and her now husband Scott (greetings to you too, in Aruba... or now in Bonaire, diving!) had their first dance………….

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we have been in Quito, Ecuador for a few days now and hope to catch you all up soon on the journey here and our time in Quito. We are leaving the city for our first volunteer experience together at Jatun Sacha, and invite you to explore their website… we will be at La Hesperia site, in the Cloud Forest a couple of hours outside of Quito, learning about and experiencing creation and working hard at our Spanish lessons…

we will be out of internet-weblog contact until then… we await your news with anticipation in March -

van con Dios y en paz,

miral

 

 

 

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