Sunday, December 13, 2009

Holden, Las Posadas, Santa Lucia

We've been at Holden Village (a retreat ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the north Cascade mountains, and a truly magical place) for two weeks now. Celebrating Advent and preparing for Christmas here is simply amazing--going out to get a tree with the family and making all the decorations that will go on it, having our kids be surrounded by a loving and thoughtful community, gathering daily for prayer and worship, and sharing in amazing meals in an incredibly beautiful place.

Then we started this weekend celebrating the Latin American tradition of Las Posadas and the Scandinavian festival of Santa Lucia. Below are my reflections from this morning. I hope to add some pictures in the next couple of days.

What an amazing place this is. Not only for its incredible natural beauty, but by its hospitality, spirit, and hope. This weekend we went from a true celebration of Las Posadas to Santa Lucia. In the rhythms of migration at the village—of the bus that takes folks down the mountain and new comers up the mountain every other day in winter, daily in the summer—come so many gifts. The awkwardness of new beginnings, of orienting someone to a new place, of celebrating a new arrival, and grieving a departure—all of it is ritualized, acknowledged, celebrated. As a group of folks, the majority of them with roots in Mexico, came off the bus on Friday, they immediately joined the village in preparations for Las Posadas. As kids went out to go sledding, adults lined up in the dining room to assemble hundreds of tamales that would be used in the celebration. Elsewhere in the village someone was lining up white fabric, t-shirts, greenery to make the customs for Santa Lucia on Sunday morning—enough for all the kids, those who live in the village year round and those just coming in for the weekend.

Saturday night we gathered in the Fireside Room, where the community gathers for worship during winter, and began the celebration of Las Posadas. Kids and adults read Scripture in English and Spanish, we acknowledge our own connections to Jesus’ journey and search for a place to call home, for shelter, for welcome. The wisdom in the language and simple tune of the Posada songs became apparent, as we connected individual experiences in this place of “migrants” with the lives of so many in the world searching for a better future. The group of women who had come up from Yakima quickly assembled outfits for the kids to wear as angels, Mary and Joseph, kings, shepherds, and even a donkey. Young and old practice songs, and rehearsed being mean innkeepers. We marked out four areas in the village that would serve as our stops, and the ritual did its magic. Berta, one of the women who came up—in her case from Wapato, expressed her joy at the celebration. She also noted that it is here that many of the kids that came this weekend—children of immigrants—would celebrate for the first time something that is part of their own heritage. She even said that she had come in part to find ideas to take back to her community for celebrating Las Posadas. What a powerful image: someone coming to the mountains here, to rekindle and share a tradition to deep in her own memory. Towards the end, as kids broke the piñatas, she spoke of her grandmother lining up all the kids to tell them about the symbol of the piñata: seven points on the start represent the deadly sins, and their colorfulness both the gifts of God, but also the attraction of temptation. The stick represents God’s power to overcome temptation and brokenness, and as the piñata opens up, the candy represents God’s abundant blessings in our lives. She acknowledged both joy and sadness in the celebration. “It is at times like these that the distance from home is felt the most… when I think of my mother, whom I have not seen in over twenty years that I have been here.” Berta, like many others, is unable because of her status to travel back to her homeland…

Earlier in the day, Jim Bodeen—a retired teacher from Yakima who has made lots of connections to people in Michoacan, Mexico (where most people in the Yakima valley are from) and through his travels to Holden with the church in El Salvador—shared some of his poens and pictures from his recent travels. One that he shared shows the picture of a young woman and her grandmother in an embrace as they face the camera. The granddaughter lives in Yakima, born here in the US, the grandmother lives back in Michoacan. This embrace, Jim said, represents not only that young woman’s connection to her grandma, but also the one her mother cannot give. The “in-between” generation is unable to travel back, and so the granddaughter becomes the carrier of everything from gifts and remembrances, to the physical contact that a border makes impossible.

The food, the music, the piñata, everything was so beautifully done. I remembered my own childhood and the celebrations of Posadas in Guatemala. I remember my “tia Titi,” the “honorary” aunt to everyone on our block, who took it upon herself to organize the nine day celebration, lining up households that would host the party each night until Christmas. At times these seem like vague memories, almost like a dream, and I must wonder what of it actually took place. This year in particular, as I continue to live with the daily awareness of those around the country who truly have no place to call home—particularly those directly affected by the raid in Postville—Las Posadas have gained a new meaning. At the end of a Bible Study on the book of Esther that we did with a group of women in Postville, the group planned a surprise Posada. During the Bible Study we had talked about celebrations and banquets that are such a central part of the story of Esther, and that are placed at the center of this book that explores the themes of identity in a foreign land. They planned a great Posada. And then this weekend again, we got to celebrate it.

“No seas inhumano,” beg Mary and Joseph, “don’t be inhuman,” or “have a heart,” “take pity on us, God in heaven will reward you…” Their words echo those of thousands at the border who pray “please God let me get in this time.” And the response in the song names the centuries of so many who have been excluded “Ya se pueden ir, y no molestar, porque si me enfado, los voy a apalear”—“Be on your way already, stop troubling me, lest you make me so mad, that I give you a beating…” The Posada gives a ritual opportunity to play with these powerful words, like the book of Esther itself, it uses humor and exaggeration to name a harsh reality. It gives us a way to enter into a conversation that is otherwise too difficult to engage.

In one of the stops, Joseph identifies himself and his trade—Mary and I arrive wear from our home in Nazareth, I spend my days as a carpenter, I have the name of Joseph.” The reply names the struggle of generations of immigrants whose very identity and gifts are often reje3cted: “Go now and leave us to sleep. Who cares, your name’s not important. Surely I’ve already told you, open we’re not and we shan’t…”

It is only until the innkeepers recognize the humanity of those who are seeking shelter—until they see in them the image of God—that they open not only their home but their hearts. “You there, is that you Joseph?” asks the innkeeper finally, “With you is Mary your wife? Enter blessed pilgrims, we did not know it was you!” Gone is the fear that they may be loafers or thieves, but rather they are welcomed with the words of a festive song: “Entren santos peregrines, reciban este Rincon, no de esta pobre morada, si no de mi Corazon,” “Please enter holy pilgrims, holy pilgrims, you’re received and welcome here. Although our home is humble, we receive you with our hearts.”

That hospitality was echoed again this morning with the celebration of Santa Lucia, a young girl whose generosity is remembered in spite of the fact that it was originally rejected. Kids of all kinds of hues gathered here in this small piece of heaven, and with wreaths, candles, and star hats on their heads shoed hospitality by serving a meal for the adults. Like so many festivals this time of year—Advent, Diwali, Id El Fitr, Hanukkah, etc., their actions proclaimed that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.