Thursday, October 05, 2006

Back from El Salvador

Paz en medio de la tormenta

I've been away from my blog for while due to being sent to Central America for my summer assignment. I was in Ataco, El Salvador for two and half months. I learned quite a bit from the people down there which I wanted to reflect on.

One major theme that really struck me down in El Salvador was that of faith. By faith I don't mean the intellectual knowledge of the dogmas and teachings of the church (though these are important... don't get me wrong). No, the kind of faith that I saw down there was a simple trust in God, a dependence on Him for everything, a happiness even in the midst of trials and difficulties.

There is a song I heard very often at mass down there. It goes like this.

Paz en la tormenta

Cuando lloras por las veces que intentaste (When you cry for the times you have tried)
Y tratas de olvidar las lagrimas que lloraste (and you try to forget the tears you've shed)
Solo tienes pena y tristeza, el futuro incierto espera (you only have pain and sadness, the uncertain future waits)
Puedes tener paz en la tormenta (You can have peace in the storm)

Muchas veces yo me siento igual que tu (Many times I feel the same as you)
Mi corazon anhela algo real (My heart thirsts for something real)
El señor viene a mì y me ayuda a seguir (The Lord comes to me and helps me to go on)
En paz en medio de la tormenta (In peace, in the midst of the storm)

Puedes tener paz en la tormenta (You can achieve peace in the storm)
Fe y esperanza cuando no puedas seguir (Faith and hope when you can't go on)
Aun con tu mundo hecho pedazos el señor guiarà tus pasos (Even with your world falling to pieces, the Lord will guide your steps)
En paz en medio de la tormenta (In peace, in the midst of the storm)

What this song says to me and what I saw while down in El Salvador is that the faith of the people there is not something they use in order to help them avoid their pain or their difficulties. Faith, in fact is not something they use to get them through. No, instead they have faith and having faith they face their difficulties, trusting that the Lord will help them to have peace in the middle of the storm.

I think at times we want our faith to be a commodity. We want it to be something we use to help us get through. In this way, we are the center of attention. We are the ones using faith as a means to overcome difficulties, and taken to the extreme, this can even mean that we use faith to deny our pain or the difficulties we have to face.

But Jesus did not come so that we might never know pain or suffering. In fact it seems as though in the gospel he promises trials and tribulations for those who follow him. And let's face it, trials and tribulations are also a part of the human condition. We face death and disease and our own limitations. But I think that Jesus did not come to remove those things from us as much as to teach us to place our faith in His aid and His grace in confronting these difficulties so that He might be Lord of even our difficult moments. Kind of like with Job.

If we don't face our difficulties with the help of God, we can look for ways of escaping from them, even so much as to try to deny the difficulty. An example to make this point clear is the way some react when there is a death in the family. Some turn to God for help in this time of grieving and some avoid facing it all together. Yet even those who "turn to God" might try to deny the difficulty. For exmple, the reading used often at funerals from 1 Thesalonians 4:13-18 says in verse 13 "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope." In a faith looking to deny our condition, we can use this verse as a means of repressing our grief over the loss of a loved one. The words "so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope" can be misunderstood as "those who grieve have no hope. Therefore I should not grieve." But when we place this verse in the context of other scripture passages we find John 11:35, where Jesus weeps. He is overcome with emotion and expresses it. I think what St. Paul was trying to say to the Thesalonians was not "don't weep" or "don't morn," but rather "do not grieve to the point of dispair... there is hope... there is the resurrection." In this way he tells them "not to grieve in the same manner as those who have no hope."

My point in bringing up this example is this: our faith in God should not be one in which we expect Him to remove every obstacle from our life or one in which we try to deny the natural things we as human beings will experience (grief and pain for example). Rather, like the song Paz en medio de la tormenta, our faith should be something which helps us to trust that God is with us in the middle of the storm... that like He said to Peter and the other apostles when they were tossed about on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm... He says to us "Do not be afraid. It is I." "I am with you to save you, to accompany you through the storm."

Trusting that Jesus is with us in our difficulties, doesn't it help us to pick up that daily cross with greater joy and much more hope? I certainly think so.

May you have the peace of Jesus in the middle of whatever storms you are facing.