A friend, Dave Nantais, has a beautiful essay on the spirituality of living in a city in America magazine. Though I haven’t lived in a city since December, Dave’s wisdom is inspiring. In Santa Rosa de Copán, as well as on Baker Street in Ames, Iowa, there was a sense of front porch spirituality. The one thing I miss from both places is the sense of close connection I felt with my neighbors. There is a sense of community here in the village of Plan Grande, but it is different.
I am particularly touched by Dave’s remarks on coming face to face with suffering and, in particular, his quote from Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain:
“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”
I have seen how I avoid suffering and seek to distance myself from even seeing suffering.
But I fear that this avoidance is widespread.
We erect walls and gated communities; we live in our part of town or our village and avoid entering places of suffering, which we consider all too dangerous. We turn our eyes away from the images of suffering in the newspapers and turn off the news stories of violence and poverty on the radio or television.
But what does that do to me? It turns me in on myself, making me all too fearful and anxious and all too easily provoked to anger.
This past Monday and Tuesday I assisted Sister Pat Farrell in an alternatives to violence workshop in the prison in Gracias, Lempira. It’s the second one we facilitated there.
Some people fear entering a prison, especially after we are locked in. But this visit was a healing experience for me – listening to the men, watching them engage in the workshop activities – listening and talking with each other in a place of safety which is hard to find in a prison.
As we worked with them and listened to them when they spoke with us personally, we were being graced by their presence and by the ways that the Spirit was working in them.
I feel privileged and blest to be able to be with them and blessed by their presence. Their presence and my stay with the Franciscan sisters in Gracias were agents of God’s healing in me. I feel grateful and blest - after a very trying week.
We’ll do another workshop in November, God willing. I look forward to going to jail again.