Sunday, April 24, 2011

Special Beginnings and Endings

Saturday was a very special day. It began with a beautiful event and ended with one even more lovely.

At 9 a.m. was a special event to bless things.

It wasn’t a formal mass. Just a blessing. There weren’t too many people there at first. Maybe 30 or so. And everyone had things in their hands: water in big water jugs, or pop bottles, or like me … in a cleaned out wine bottle (I was asked by Blanca to get some water blessed and that is what she gave me). There were several people with framed posters of Jesús or Mary, and small statues. There were a few people with guacals of beans, corn and/or rice. There were several birds (Alicia brought her half-moon conyure), a kitten, a couple of puppies, bigger dogs and a tortoise.

Father Santos came in looking tired. It was a long procession the night before and I believe he had spent his time all day in the cantons! But he greeted us kindly and with a smile for all of us and for what we had brought. He read the prayers to bless the water he was to sprinkle and then called up those who had brought water first. Since I didn’t know the procedure, I watched to see what everyone did and then followed suit.

Everyone with water approached the little table that had been set up on floor in front of the pews. And Father, with a loufah attached to a handle, dipped that sponge and raised it over his head and sprinkled all the bottles – making sure all of our water receptacles and contents got blessed with the holy water. There were a bunch of us, so as some got blessed, they went back to their seats while the rest of us slowly made out way to the front to get our own water blessed.

Then the icons followed. Then the grains. It was the same process for them.

Then the moment many were waiting for arrived – the blessing of the animals. They all brought their critters up to get sprinkled. Some critters didn’t really like it – and there were lots of smiles –

It was fun to see all this within the walls of the church. Often there are dogs that wander in … but nothing like this.

Finally – it was time for the children. THAT was the sweetest moment. Parents took up their babies and young ones and even some not so young ones. And they all got blessed. And like with the animals – not all of the children liked getting doused! There was such affection and love in Father Santos’ eyes and smile. He was obviously enjoying this tradition. And he was smiling kindly at the children and the parents the whole time. And there was even some shared gentle laughter and the reactions of the children. It truly was a sweet experience.

When all was said and done, more people straggled in. Probably 100 in all by the time it was done. Father blessed the things of the late-comers with patience and kindness.

As everyone got up to leave afterwards, someone went up to the table and asked to be blessed. So Father blessed them with the holy water. So then everyone went up to be blessed including Cecilia, Alisha and me.

It’s hard to describe the feeling. But I went away feeling at peace. Feeling happy.

The rest of the day was uneventful. Alisha and I colored a few hard-boiled eggs with Cecilia who didn’t quite understand WHY we would be doing such an odd thing but she thought they were quite pretty. We saved the colored water because in May they make confetti eggs out of emptied egg shells which are then hit over people’s heads. I’ll learn more about that when the time comes… but we did color some of her hollowed out eggs that she had been saving in preparation for May. And she really liked the look!!

About 6:30 p.m. we got into the truck to drive out to Alejandria. There was to be a special ‘vigil’ – but not an all-nighter like the one in Berlin. Due to the off and on rain all day, we waited till the last minute to decide whether to go or not. I’m so glad it stopped raining!!

We drove to Alejandria in the dark. This was a first for Alisha. Driving at night is not my favorite thing to do, but slowly, it’s not so bad really. And there is no traffic so that is a bonus.

We had been invited to park in front of someone’s house – he said he would keep an eye on the truck for us. And he said we could park in their ‘drive-way’ – which was about 2 feet wider than the truck and steeply sloped down towards their house. And then I was told I had to back in … from a narrow road. In the DARK!!! It was quite the adventure. But I managed to do it without scraping the sides of the truck or losing control and crashing backwards into their house!! Alisha helped guide with her words and flashlight – easier for her as a fellow driver to tell me where to go! In spite of the ‘struggle’ to get into that driveway, later I was glad I had backed in because it made getting our so much easier!

One of the cool parts of this evening was that we were parked quite a way from where the vigil was to be held. So we had to walk in the dark on the dirt road. Then down from that main road on a relatively steep path to the river, cross the little river, and then up a steeper hill to Blanca’s house.

I only had a small ‘finger-ring’ light. But it was enough. Alisha, Cecilia and I didn’t slip once. It was a little damp and a little slippery from the day’s rain.

We stopped briefly at Blanca’s house to say hello and drop some things off. Then we continued down the little road to Cecilia’s family’s house. There were already a lot of people standing around a bonfire. Everyone had an un-lit candle. I had bought 20 candles in case there were some who needed one. And quite a few needed one so I’m glad I had done that. We stood around for a bit … chatting quietly. Then about 7:15, Balmore began the reflection and explanation of this celebration.

It starts with the fire. This symbolizes the Jesús is the light in the darkness. The Pascua candle is lit from this bonfire. And we start walking. Balmore held the candle up as he led us up the hill and spoke a bit but I couldn’t hear him. There were at least 40 or 50 people following him – he was leading the way to his house where the vigil would be held. About a third of the way up, he invited some – but not all – to light their candles. We continued walking. 2/3 of the way up, he turned and invited more – but not all – to light their candles. Then at the top of the hill, just outside the doors of his home, we all lit our candles.

And very cool – during the walk up the hill, the song “this little light of mine” was sung. Same tune and with more or less the same words.

When we entered the front area of Balmore’s home, there was a table set up with a simple cloth. Many plastic chairs were set out. We stood with our lights lit for a short time then we were instructed to extinguish our candles.

Then began the readings, the short reflections, the prayers and the songs. Each segment lasted about 10 minutes or so – depending upon the readings – which were from both the Old and the New Testaments. Several Alejandria youth did the scripture readings. Blanca, Idalia, Pati and Vilma were the choir. We sat for the readings and reflection and we stood when we sang. About 2/3 of the way into the vigil – after about an hour or so, they covered the table with a white cloth and placed two more candles on it which were lit by the Pascua candle. We also lit our candles again briefly then blew them out again.

More scriptures were read, with more reflection, prayer and song. Then Balmore got the water that had been blessed that morning and poured some into a guacal. He used a small leafy branch to sprinkle us all with this holy water. Then we shared communion and ended with a final reflection time.

We finished up about 9:45 p.m. Everyone was given some coffee laced with sugar and chocolate and some pan dulce. We chatted a while and enjoyed each other’s company and then people little by little went home.

We started walking back to the truck (with another family that needed a ride to town) about 10:30.

Most of us had little flashlights or used their candles to see our walking path. It is so dark out in the country. We all made it safely – no slipping. And when we were in the road area looking over the little school’s soccer field, it was all aglow!! It was flashing with fireflies. What a miraculous sight!!! We all had to stop a moment to enjoy it. Must have been hundreds down there in that smallish dark space!

We continued on to the truck. I was able to get it out of our ‘parking garage’ easily enough in 4x4 low gear. When it was safely on the road, the 5 of us from the Pastoral House loaded into the cab of the truck and the family of 6 loaded into the bed of the truck for the slow and very dark journey back up to Berlin.

It was a beautiful day and evening.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Berlin Sand Art Photos - Holy Friday

I forgot to mention that during the day, prior to the procession and internment of Christ in the evening, there is sand/salt art being created on the streets of Berlin.

Below are some of the photos - Alisha, Cecilia and I took a tour - walking the path of the procession to see the works in progress - we knew that during and after the procession, we wouldn't be able to see much and they would get smeared and/or totally destroyed by the people walking on them.  They are beautiful works of art created lovingly by groups of people in Berlin.
Some took up the whole street.  This is in front of the High School

Detail ...

Alisha taking pictures of the details

Always a group effort.
Colored salts

Cheetoh art.  The OUTLINES are cheetohs later to be colored in.

Standing carefully as to not ruin the work
My friend Fermin ... caught dirty handed!!  I hardly recognized him!

The most 'edible' art of the day!

A snowman in a snow blizzard.  We think.  Maybe they are not done yet...

Fine tuning

Stencils and spray paint.  The only one of it's style
On a cobbled street, you need to have a thicker base of sand or salt.


Having fun - the whole group seemed to be enjoying themselves!


Mixing the salt and colorant

The feet of faith ...

May favorite.  Used seeds and fruits and cyprus needles.

Close up of the conacaste seeds and fruit

Another favorite.  Very small, made with love by KIDS
"The Creation of God"

The artists and creators of this 'dibujo de sal' (y fruta, y semillas!)

The Walk back from Alejandria

The road back from Alejandria ... Cecilia and Blanca
358 steps UP this hill.  Steeper than it looks.  Alisha, Cecilia, Blanca and Idalia

On level ground in town again.

Photos for Good Friday's story

The beginning of the Via Cruz

10 minutes at each station - at least.  And on their knees on the dirt and rock

Faith pure and simple

Rosa - Cecilia's mother

Chepe - who could barely walk.  And he had no shoes.

The face of faith

The beautiful feet of faith

Chepe's feet

The final hill to the final Station

The final Station - Oscar Romero in ashes and flowers and seeds

The final Reading and Reflection

The Altar at the final Station

Blanca and Balmore in a sweet moment together after the Via Cruz

The cross carried to each Station by the children of the community

Blessings - Holy Friday

Oh my aching back and legs and feet …

But what beautiful things we’ve been able to do this week.

Yesterday was Good Friday. It is called Holy Friday here. And it is a very solemn day.

We got up early to be ready to leave for Alejandria. Foolish me, I thought we would be driving. But no. It was explained that we had no place to leave the truck safely for 5 or 6 hours so we would be walking.

What??   5 or 6 hours?

We walked into the Alejandria the back path way. It is about 35 minutes DOWN hill. Much of the walk is through a coffee farm. It had rained a bit off and on this week so it wasn’t too dusty (which is slippery on this very steep path) but it was damp. And the fallen leaves on the path were mucky. And slippery. But Alisha, Cecilia and I made it safely and without falling. And we all had our things to carry: chicken salad for the sandwiches for the community, mangoes (both green and ripe) and lots of bread for the sandwiches. Carrying things adds an unusual balance to our walks and ties up hands that might otherwise need to grab onto a passing tree to stop a fall!

We arrived to ‘town’ and Alisha and I were invited to go for a walk down the ‘main’ street (dirt road, of course) to view the works in progress for the Stations of the Cross that we would be walking later. Families were decorating with flowers both real and hand made, seeds, dirt, ashes, colored salt, branches, their finest table-cloths, candles, and the photos to represent their Station.

10 year old Marvin (Cecilia’s son) was our guide. After we saw most of them we headed back to Cecilia’s house to rest a bit. We were offered tamales, pan dulce and coffee while we waited. But we didn’t rest for long. Within 20 minutes, we were ready to head towards the starting point of our walk. This is at the far end of Alejandria – to the east. The first altar was set up under a tree. There we found Balmore working with the group of youth who were to do the readings and reflections at each Station. We waited for a few more people to show up – only about 10 minutes – and then Balmore did the initial reflection.

He talked a little about truth. How each one of us believes we speak the truth even though our thoughts and words on the same subject may be very different. We all have our own perspectives. But in reality, there is only one truth: the truth of the Gospel and Jesús - which is God’s truth.

He talked a little about this day being a solemn day. That when a loved one dies hardly anyone smiles. We are all in a state of sadness and mourning. And we are silent and reflective. And so we should be today.

Then the first young man read the scripture for the first Station followed by the reflection and then finally the prayers. We slowly made our way, singing, to the next Station where another youth read the next passage, reflection and prayers. And so on to the end.

In all it took about 2 hours to complete. At each Station people either knelt or stood: old and young; babies who could not walk and old folk who could barely walk.

It was beautiful and moving.

We ended up in front of Blanca and Balmore’s house. The final reflection and Station is in the open space at the crossroads in front of their home.

Afterwards, everyone was given a sandwich and a baggie full of a fresh tamarindo drink. And little by little people went home – the last ones leaving about noon. We stayed at Blanca’s house till about 1:45 and then we headed back. Fortunately, we did not walk the same way we came. The ladies decided it would be easier on our knees to walk via the road. (And I was thinking if we got lucky, a truck would drive by that we could hitch a ride with!!).

Blanca, Cecilia, Idalia, Alisha and I walked down to the river in the ravine then back up the other side to the main road to begin our trek. It is about 2 miles from this point to the door of the Pastoral House. And it is all uphill. But it is not a steep, narrow and slippery path. And we were lucky that it was cloudy – and luckier that it didn’t rain. We made it back to the house before 3 p.m.

We did cheat – at the cemetery we hopped into a ‘moto-taxi.’ All 5 of us and the driver crammed into one. Blanca, Cecilia and I in the back seat and Alisha and Idalia on either side of the driver in the front. (Alisha and Idalia and the driver in a seat intended for one!). The poor moto-taxi struggled valiantly up the two very steep hills to town!

So we made it home to rest a bit. We knew that later there would be a procession for the internment of Jesús. We thought it would start at 6 p.m. – but found out before we left the house that it would start at 7.

This starts at the church – and takes a very long and extremely slow walk around town – ending up back at church. There were probably between 700 and 800 people walking. It is lead by the alter-youth, commission people carrying banners and the priest. Then there are 20-25 men carrying Jesús in the ‘casket’ on their shoulders. 4 women carry Mary behind this. And behind Mary is Saint John being carried by 4 men. With the casket, they literally inch their way along the procession. It is a slow and rocking motion they take. This is a heavy item. Throughout the procession, men rotate in and out to help carry this statuary. There is a huge circle of rope keeping the crowds from getting too close to the statues and the people carrying them. This is held aloft and in a huge oval/rectangle by Red Cross people and Commandos (like paramedics), and other church volunteers. There is a truck following this roped off area, in which there is a generator for the lights on the statue and the speakers for the music and prayer. In a truck behind the generator truck are the very big and very loud speakers. Inside the truck are the ones leading the prayers, giving the reflections and leading the singing.

This procession lasts at least 4 hours. It began about 7:15. We stayed with it for about 8 blocks which took a little over an hour. Then we cheated a little and cut across a couple of blocks to meet up with it again as it went by. We waited (blessedly sitting on a curb) for over a half hour for them to get to us. We joined the procession again for 3 or 4 more blocks, took another ‘cut across’ to wait again – but finally decided that we could go home after sitting for a half hour. We were back at the Pastoral House about 10:30 or so. And the procession was only about half done. (Side note: I was awoken about midnight by the procession as it turned the corner near the Pastoral House on its final 3 blocks to the church – so it was probably 12:30 a.m. by the time it was all said and done …)

I felt a little ‘guilty’ about leaving early. But we were certainly not the only ones!! And many people do the ‘short-cut and wait’ routine and many people join the procession at all points of the journey. When I said with a half-joke/half-guilt ridden seriousness that God sees us taking a short cut – Blanca said “God sees that my knees hurt” …

I am thankful for a compassionate and forgiving God.

Blanca and Marvin

Mauricio (L) and Elmer (R)

Marvin, Christian and Elmer - "ash" art

Humble Stations of the Cross

Final touches by Patricia

Blessings for the community

The first Station

The walk

Solemn reflection

Rosa (Cecilia's mother)

Chepe - who could barely walk - and had no shoes

All ages in reflection.