Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What God reveals

Today's lectionary reading is one that speaks to me and my experience among the poor.
On one occasion Jesus said, "Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I praise you because you have hidden those things from the wise and the learned and revealed them to the simple."
Matthew 11, 25.
It is so easy for us who have advanced degrees and years of formal education to dismiss the poor, to look down upon them, even to regard them as "stupid." But formal education and advanced degrees can blind us to some real wisdom. (I speak as one who has a Ph.D. and has had had 22 years of formal education - and has taught in a few universities part-time.)

This type of thinking can have disastrous results, especially when working on development projects with the poor. We start looking at the situation in terms of problems - their problems - for which we can offer solutions - ours, of course.

First of all, this means defining the poor in terms of their problems, starting from what they lack.

There's an approach to development called "Appreciative Inquiry" which starts by asking the people to identify some successes that they have had. Then there the people are asked to dream of their possibilities and to see what hinders them from achieving these possibilities and what steps can be taken to work toward them.

I've thought a little about the differences of these approaches. In one sense, the first approach starts from the reality of sin, while appreciative inquiry starts from the reality of grace.

But, recently I've been looking (and using) the process of examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola. (A bookmark version can be found here.)

What strikes me about this way of examining your conscience is that you start with Thanksgiving: "What am I most grateful for today?" We start recognizing the presence of God's grace in our lives today.

The second step is Intention: "What do I really want for myself today?"

Next is examination: "God, in what ways have I experienced your love today?"

Only then is the call for Contrition: "Today, what choices have been inadequate responses to your love?"

Finally, Hope: "Today, how will I let you lead me to a brighter tomorrow?"

As I've used this form of the examen personally, I've been wondering whether this might be a good methodology for development workers and for all who work with the poor.

My experience that the poor experience marginalization and often are made to feel that they are worthless. As I've mentioned before, a Honduran legislator once called the people in the countryside who were asking for major reforms gente del monte, probably best translated as "Hillbillies." Is it any wonder then that there are problems of self-worth.

But when we try to start with what people know and value their experiences and their wisdom, then we start with God's grace active in their lives and can encourage them to recognize that grace, value their lives and gifts, and act with the power of the Spirit in their lives.

That, I think, is an important lesson we all need to learn - the grace of God is everywhere and we must seek to recognize it, especially when it comes from the poor.

1 comment:

Marc said...

there is being smart and being wise - the 2 are not the same - i liked this post very much