The Adventures of April

We shall not cease from exploration - And the end of all our exploring - Will be to arrive where we started - And know the place for the first time. -- T.S. Eliot

Monday, September 04, 2006

Some Religious Life in Guatemala

Last week I had the opportunity to go to a number of religious services. The first I found on my street, a gathering of Christians for worship behind a coffee shop. I saw the sign and decided to attend that evening. For some reason, I was in the mindset that it would be other backpackers, like me. Instead, it turned out to mainly be protestant missionaries from the US in the region.

It was your typical casual protestant gathering... songs, prayer, message, prayer. I enjoyed the signing and the time of prayer, but had a difficult time with my own judgementalism against traditional missionary endeavors. That being said, I didn´t even know what most of the people exactly did, so that was wrong of me to assume that they were going ¨Poisonwood Bible¨ style on the people down here.

I also had a difficult time with the message, in which a woman described Christianity literally as a ´hat´ that she wears. Christianity is not a hat to be taken on and off; the word itself is not what you are but instead signifies that you have a relationship and are a follower of Christ. All in all, I was more tempted to study these people rather than fully participate in the service. I´m embarrassed that I can´t get over my own hang-ups to see the good (and indeed Christ) in these people. That is something I pray about for in the future.

When I was walking home, I walked passed La Merced, a beautiful Catholic cathedral. There was a service occuring in there as well, and the young priest was quite enthusiastic and charismatic (even though I could only catch snipets of what he was saying). Catholics definitely do a better job of conveying the awe and mystery of their faith with the ambiance of their masses. But since I couldn´t understand that much, I only stayed breifly.

The next morning I went to San Andreas Ixtapa with my teacher, about 45 minutes away from Antigua. It is a predominantly Mayan pueblo and its main attraction is a temple for the Mayan idol San Simon. People burn candles of different colors before the idol for different reasons - red for love, blue for luck, white for children, etc. There were also shaman outside performing ceremonies for those who brought items to sacrifice and could pay there prices. There was also a witch who would smake cigars that people would sacrifice on behalf of people´s requests to San Simon.

One of the most interesting aspects of this experience was mixing of Catholic traditions with the Mayan religion. For instance, devotees would kneel and cross themselves infront of the idol of San Simon, as well as around their sacrifices.

One Mayan family had come to do their yearly sacrifice. It was amazing the amount of food, liquor, and other expensive items they paid the shaman to arrange and ultimately burn for San Simon. A (very) young couple giggled the entire way through a sacrifice for love, which involved building a sacrifice of incense, eggs, red candles, and other various things in the shape of heart. I remarked to my teacher that they didn´t seem to need to ceremony, they were obviously quite in love already!

The whole thing makes me wonder what rituals I offer which (I believe) God doesn´t care about or want for the sake of the ritual itself. In other words, what aspects of my faith have I turned into rituals devoid of spiritual significance? I don´t think rituals are neccesarily bad, it works for some people (they still focus on its meaning).

Ah yes, lots to think about. I was able to take pictures, so you can see for yourself when I get home.


At 10:46 AM, September 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a friend at work who was a missionary for decades, and I felt that same "poisionwood bible" judment twoard her until she told me about all the people she helped save from gangrene. Massive props.


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