Tuesday, November 29, 2005

When I Get Home

OK, here are some thoughts I have had of late ... having just recently returned to the good ol' USA.

- When I landed at the airport in Chicago, I was amazed to see water fountains from which people can just … drink freely.
- People on the street speak … the same language as I do, and I can understand them.
- Unlike Lima, our intersections here seem to have an overabundance of stop signs and traffic lights.
- I have this urgent and strange desire to read everything I couldn’t get my hands on in South America.
- On my computer, I was so used to looking for “Escritorio” to save files … I forgot it was called “desktop.”
- Unlike keyboards in public Internet sites in South America, the @ symbol is easily accessible on US keyboards.
- I find that I am cold … seeing as how the temperature today in Chicago was 25 F.
- I miss rice.
- And indeed I miss all the people I met. Sigh.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Across The Universe

"Words are flowing out like endless rain into a letterbox ... " and there are simply not enough of them to say appropriately how GRATEFUL I am for everyone here for making this South American journey a smooth and enriching experience.

Leaving is very difficult, and saying goodbye or thank you is even harder. The words are so cheap, but the senitment profound. So, let me throw in a picture.

This is the new moon setting in the west as seen from the southern hemisphere.

The first day I arrived in Bolivia, as the plane landed in LaPaz at about 5 am, I beheld a smiliar sight, the faintest of crescent moons ... but it was rising. A moon rising in the morning is very old, almost finished after 29 days of shing. But a cresent setting in the west is brand new, ready to reveal more of itself and reflect His light.

That's why I choose this song title and this picture to symbolize the end of my trip. I feel like I have been across the universe and that I have found pieces of life and matter that have rejuvenated me and charged me with fire and energy (see Teilhard de Chardin for more on that).

I return to Chicago on November 22, my little brother's birthday. Love and kisses to him (although his mouth is probably covered with slobber) and love and blessings to all I met in South America: Thomas, Alex, Pablo, Ryan, Tatiana, Cesar, Stephen, Caitlyn, René, Gary, Jorge, Emily, Kevin, Megan, Gonzalo, Roy, Fritzi, Oscar, Frances, Martin, Chi Chi, Ana, Pancho, Seu Chin, Fabián, Carmen, Sergio, Raffo, Christina, Ale, Victor, Attilie, David, Chuck, Pato, Juan Manuel, Marcos, Teresita, Jaime, Jose Antonio, Adolfo, Edy, Rey, and especially young Anthony who did his arithmetic perfectly in Pamplona. More and more of you too. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Tell Me What You See

Hmmm, let's see ... in this landscape I see the city of Arequipa, Peru in the foreground (including what looks to be the Jesuit novitiate where I am staying) and several mountains ... no ... VOLCANOS in the background.

On the right is the famous Mt. Misti, rising high into the sky at over 5,000 meters above sea level. The city itself is 2,000 meters above. To the left are the Chachani Volcanos, a little higher than Misti. In any case, this is close to the view I woke to the morning of Wednesday November 16. I am hosted by the Jesuits at the St. Stanlaus Kostka novitiate. They have 8 novices in the house, and all of them are as gracious and helpful to this graying priest as can be. I am most grateful.

We celebrated Mass this morning, the Feast of St. Roque Gonzales,S.J. and the 16th anniversary of the martyrs of El Salvador.

To read a bit about this anniversary, and the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Maryknoll martyrs (December 2nd) click here: http://www.rtfcam.org/martyrs/UCA/UCA.htm

I am privileged to be in this least Society of Jesus where finding God in all things I see (especially volcanos) is an every day pleasure. Peace to all.

Monday, November 14, 2005

With A Little Help From My Friends

Greetings all from Lima, Peru. I won't say too much about the city of Lima itself ... I'd like to keep this message positive. But I can speak positively about the people in Lima, they are fantastic!

Here is a shot of me with a few of the scholastics (seminarians) who live here in La Cominidad San Juan Berchmans. This is a great community of guys who are studying humanities and philosophy in Lima at the Jesuit college here. From the left are: Gary (from Bolivia), Marcos, Oscar, and Pancho. I have been visitng them for a week, and tomorrow I will travel to the lovely city of Arequipa, an hour south of here by plane.

I will write more later, but I wanted to send this photo. For more pictures, please click the "See My Photos" at the left. Bye for now.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Mother Nature's Son

This title ... "Mother Nature's Son" is indeed a Beatle song, but it is also one of the few tunes recorded later by none other than John Denver.
Why do I mention John Denver? Well, read on.

One of the major destinations of my trip to South America was to visit the ancient ruins at Machu Picchu (shown here). It is a nice visit and the ruins tell of an Inca culture that lived about 500 years ago in the heights of Peru. The masonry and plan of the sacred site reveal an intelligence and ingenuity that rivals modern architecture. Plus, the differences in construction indicate a spirituality among the Inca, and the plan of the site shows the primacy of natural phenomena in the lives of these ancient peoples. OK, enough of Machu Picchu. You can read more about it on the web. What I didn't expect was ...

That the three hour train ride DOWN to Machu Picchu from Cusco would be so overwhelming.

As you may know from previous posts, I have been in Cusco for a few days, waiting to get a cheap ticket to Machu Picchu. OK, I did that. With a lot of hassles. On the morning of Thursday, Novermber 3, at 6am, our "Vistadome" train left Cusco station on a zig-zag trek up the hills surrounding the city.

During the first hour of our 3 hour trek, I was really taken with the happenings and goings on of the local folks living in the (poor) suburbs around Cusco. As I peered down to the barrios from my comforatble seat on the train, I could see people were just getting up for work, school, chores, whatever. It was fascinating.

Little kids would wave to our train as they walked several kilometers to their schools. They waved at us. Why? Did they even know who "we" were (mostly European tourists) or where we were going. No. They just wanted to wave. And it moved me sincerely.

Side note: on the town square of Cusco are many many kids who make a living selling postcards for their folks: cards of Machu Picchu and Cusco. I asked several times of these kids, "Ah, here is Machu Picchu ... have you ever visited that place?" All of them ... all of them looked at me as if I were on some drug. No, they answered. They may not have even known what it was.

Same with the kids who waved at our train. I wondered if they knew who we were and where we were going. Good questions for those of us "on the train," too.

As we left the environs of Cusco, the train entered an area of fertile valley and farmland northwest of Cusco. It was then I decided to put on my Ipod. A tune was moving in my head and I wanted to hear it. The music was John Denver.

OK, stop laughing.

Many of you who know me well, know that I love the Beatles. But a yet smaller few know that I am a big fan of John Denver and have seen him in concert about 12 times (You'll have to ask Jo Ellen for the correct number). Anyway, I wanted a "soundtrack" for my trip through this fertile valley and eventually up to Machu Picchu. The trip was to be 3 hours, and I wasn't about to listen to the Irish lady behind me scratch her thighs incessantly.

I turned on the music and relaxed. That's what music is for.

And I watched out the Vistadome windows (in the celing as well) and the most magnificent scenery on God's green earth passed by my eyes. Green mountains and hills, farmland, streams and a lovely morning sky. The morning shone on people at work, walking, waving, and gathering vegetables or eggs for breakfast. It was simplicity and life at its best. The music played on in my ears as I looked.

"He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below, he saw everything as far as you can see. Now he walks in quiet solitude, the forest and the streams, seeking grace in every step he takes. His sight is turned inside himself, to try and understand the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake. "

So, as the train moved down through the valley and past small Peruvian communties of men working the fields, women sitting by the road selling peanuts and textiles, and kids trotted off to school or work ... waving. I listened and prayed at 7 am as the sun shone brightly on the Urubamba valley.

"I've been lately thinking about my life's time, all the things I've done and how it's been.And I can't help believing in my own mind, I know I'm gonna hate to see it end. I've seen a lot of sunshine, slept out in the rain, spent a night or two all on my own. I have to say it now, it's been a good life, all in all, it's really fine to have a chance to hang around."

OK, this isn't the first time I have been inspired by Nature. In my life, I have sat under a huge green leaf in Malaysian waiting for the rain to stop, I have taken in the splendor of the Southern Alps in New Zealand, I have swum in the cool waters of the Gauly River while rafting through the valleys of West Virgina, I have wept in the forests of the Smokies, and prayed aloud to God among the Rockies with no other sites around but snocapped mountains. I have been awed by the heights of the Scottish highlands and meditated on hundreds of sheep which populated a Polish mountainside at dusk. I have roatsed on the beaches of South Carolina and frozen my toes in the knee-high snows of an Ontario winter. God has been good to me and I have been able to receive His grace and his lessons.

What baffles me now is this one.

I cannot be any more grateful for the life I have been given and the places I have seen. The gifts that came to me while riding that train were again a clear messagae to me of love and Providence, beyond my abilites to accept it all. And I continued to listen...

"I wanna live my life with you, it's all the dreams that I know. I'm bringing me home to you, that's all that I have to give. My life, my love, my everything, it's you I choose to be with."

Somehow the combination of music and the fantastic scenery at every bend composed a prayer for me, a communication with God as I know him most clearly. The music of John Denver, as corny as it is, inspires me. It speaks for me. And the Ipod kept them coming.

"Welcome to my morning, welcome to my day. Yes, I'm the one responsible, I made it just this way. To make myself some pictures, see what they might bring. I think I made it perfectly, I wouldn't change a thing. "

Maybe a picture here could help you get a sense of what I saw moment after monet, around every turn, through every mountain tunnel. Another surprise, another gift, another opportunity to weep.
You can't see people in this view, but along the tracks and the river and road, there were plenty of Peruvian families living life as we swiftly whisked by. Somehow I wanted to just stop and talk to them .
I have to say it now, the children made the journey. As the train passed through little barrios and neighborhoods, I could see a couple brothers walking arm in arm to school, wearing little Catholic uniforms, other kids were sitting in the mud helping Dad collect potatoes early in the morning. Other kids were clinging to mothers selling soda at the train stops. Some waved, some were scared, but all of them were alive with Peruvian life, in whatever form it took. And music.

"For the children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers, their laughter and their loveliness would clear a cloudy day. Like the music of the mountains and the colors of the rainbow,they're a promise of the future and the blessing for today."

Then the music and the morning sun coming though the windows got to me and I felt my eyes start to well up. Hmmm. Ignatius was right: the truest sign of God's presence is when you start to cry. It was all too perfect for right now. Why me? Why now?

"Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy. Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry. Sunshine on the water looks so lovely. Sunshine almost always makes me high."

As we passed through little farm communities of people waking up, we eventually came to what the tour books described as a trip through a gorge, the Urubamba River gorge. No, my friends, this was more than a gorge. It was pure spirit. It was plants, rocks, blue sky, clouds, people, animals, farm crops, water trickling in the river, and the smile on my face as I took it all in!

"And oh, I love the life within me, I feel a part of everything I see.And oh, I love the life around me, a part of everything is here in me.A part of everything is here in me, a part of everything is here in me."

For me, this is Revelation. I could supply you with the classic arguments for the existence of God, but they would pale at this one. Meditation on Nature allows me (invites me) to reflect on where I've been, the good stuff and the bad stuff I have done. Through it all, in all the placesI have been and the poeple I have sen, the Lord God has consistently opened Himself up to me and said, softly, simply in the sights and smells of Nature ... I love you and want the best for you.

"So many years ago, I can't remember now, someone was waiting for me. I had the answers to all of my questions, love was so easy to see. I didn't know. When I was younger, I should have known better, I thought that nothing was new. Through all the spaces, in all of the changes, the one I lost sight of was you. I didn't know, I didn't know. I could see you in singing skies and dancing waters, laughing children, growing old,and in the heart and in the spirit, and in the truth when it is told."

Then, as the train brought us through the valleys and farmland, we reached the portion of the Andes which is snow-capped montains. The folks in the car let out gasps and the Japanese took pictures. I just listened to music and wept as I saw the world in its beaty before me. Indeed, like a coward, I tried to hide my emtions from the folks behind me or next to me, but I kept a Kleenex in my pocket and just let it come.

"All alone in the universe, sometimes that's how it seems.I get lost in the sadness and the screams.Then I look in the center and suddenly everything's clear.I find myself in the sunshine and my dreams. And I'm looking for space and to find out who I am, and I'm looking to know and understand."

Several times on this three hour trip I was moved to tears, by the simplest of things. The contrast of a red flower on the blue sky background, the granduer of a mountain top and the smell of the crisp air as I lowered my window to take it in (hoping to dry some of my tears). The simpicity of eyesight and how horribly I take it for granted. How badly I have used my eyesight in the past, and how grateful I am now that I can see what postcards try to caputre.

"Love, love, love, such a mystery, golden lights shining down on me.Soft and warm as the morning, but I never saw it, till you opened my eyes.Floating in circles I'm flying, it feels so good that I'm crying.Down, down, down, deep inside of me, love sweet love's all that I can see.Golden light keeps on shining, shining forever since you opened my eyes."

I am not sure if John Denver were a Christian, but who cares. For me his music speaks of the love I have for my Beloved and the life He has so generously given to me, for free. The earth is full of free connectuions to the Divine. Don't miss them. Sometimes it takes a trip like this for me to wake up and realize the Truth.

These lyrics here are all Denver music, but they are just words. It's something about music and the natural sound of the wind and the perfection of unspoiled scenery that just grabs a person right around the heart ... especially me.

All of these lyrics served as background to my trip that morning, and most of them added a special significance to the experience of travelling, or waitng, and of being on this journey to someplace ahead.

I am sure we've all that experience. For you it may be the smile of your kids face or the touch of your lover's embrace. Whatever it is, hopefully the experience of "God with us" helps you to undertsnad how much a gift you are to the world and how much God's gifts come so freely, so often, and so simply ... every day.

"Make believe this is the first day, everything all brand new. Make believe that the sun is your own lucky star, and then understand the kind of gift you are. The gift you are, like the very first breath of spring. The gift you are, all the joy that love can bring. The gift you are, all of our dreams come true. The gift you are, the gift of you."

So, thanks for bearing with all this text and the lyrics as well. It was a great day, even when I fianlly reached the "shrine" of Mchu Picchu and tried to collect my thoughts there too. But for my money, the best gift of November 3 was that ride through the mountains.

Tomorrow is November 7 and I fly to Lima, where I am told it is hot, muggy, dusty and gross. I am certain I will be able to find my Love there too. More on that later.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Good morning, good morning

Cusco, Peru is almost 4000 meters above sea level, and it is a haven for tourists who enjoy backpacking. There are tons of cafes, churches, cutsie shoppes, and sounvenir stores. I am sure L.L. Bean would LOVE to have an office here. Most tourists are Germans or Scandanavians on their way to hiking adventures at Machu Picchu -- the ancient Inca shrine. As for me, I am also heading that way, but for more spiritual and inspirational reasons. I have always had bad feet, so I am not into hiking the old Inca Trail. Anyway I forgot my orthopedic shoes.

This picture shows the Cusco town center where I just walked through in order to reach this Internet spot. On the left is the main Cathedral, and on the right ... you guessed it ... the Jesuit church: always trying to compete with the diocese. The Jesuit community, ironically, is directly behind the cathedral, just off the left side of the photo.

This morning I took my coffee to the square at 7am to see it for the first time. I stood just to the right of the cathedral, where you see the arched buildings, and was bombarded by the early hawkers and vendors trying to sell me whatever they could. It seems the tourists were not awake yet, 'cept for me. It was peaceful and beautuful. Later this day (All Saints Day), I was treated to a tour of the Jesuit apostolates and adult education centers in the more remote barrios of Cusco. My Jesuit pal also drove me to a site of pilgrimage, El sanctuario del Señor de Huanca. It is a site of great importance for the local Catholics and pilgrims who walk through the mountains and beautiful valleys to reach this place. You can read more about that shrine by clicking here: http://www.santuariojesus.org/

Until my next post, keep the faith all. Fare thee well.