Saturday, April 24, 2010

Week 22: Last week of sabbatical "away"

Photo: Scarlet Ibis at the Potawatomi Zoo, South Bend, IN.

Sometimes in this sabbatical year birds have come as surprising gifts of delight and wisdom.

The peacock in the snow at the corner of County Road 23.

The blue crested motmot or Bobo’s three glorious appearances that followed me around Costa Rica.

The rare King Vulture or Rey de Zopilotes, sited by our guide, Manuel, in wild Corcovado National Park. The indigenous people honor him as the king of birds, the one who eats death. And does this make him the bird of New Life, of Easter?

More commonly the resplendent quetzal has that honor, worshiped from Mayan times as the god of the air. I had hoped to get a glimpse of this glorious bird in Costa Rica. And as life and humility would have it, I only got to see the splendid back side of the female quetzal. Maybe like Moses only getting to see the back side of God. (Exodus 33:22)

So I paid close attention to the bird that "appeared" in my final week of sabbatical before I return to pastoral ministry.

My last Sunday away from Florence I was able to one more worship with Quakers in the South Bend Meeting. Silence settles around me deeply these days, and all the more so when sitting with “Friends.”

Hmmmm…after potluck, and since I was already in South Bend on a beautiful day, I decided to take myself to the Potawatomi Zoo. I had not visited for close to twenty years and the days when zoo time was shared with our toddlers. So it was a new joy to take in the animals and the light at my own pace and with my companion, the contemplative camera.

Of course there was the heartache of seeing the wild penned up.

But the majesty of the animals did not seem dim to me.

In the final building the BIRD came. Lit from behind, and held behind glass due to injury, was the Scarlet Ibis. It’s color and the red-orange light aura round its feathers was visually delicious.

I soon noted that the Scarlet Ibis was missing part of its left wing. The right was longer and tipped elegantly with black. But the left was stubby. And in the same way I keep checking the hole in my mouth when a tooth has gone missing, this bird shrugged and stretched and flapped its wings as it turned in the light, and then rested.

I remembered teaching a short story by James Hurst entitled “The Scarlet Ibis.” You can read it at this link.

And here is the quote that will let you know how I first “met” this bird in my twenties:

Suddenly from out in the yard came a strange croaking noise. Doodle stopped eating. "What's that?" He slipped out into the yard, and looked up into the bleeding tree. "It's a big red bird!"

Mama and Daddy came out. On the topmost branch perched a bird the size of a chicken, with scarlet feathers and long legs.

At that moment, the bird began to flutter. It tumbled down through the bleeding tree and landed at our feet with a thud. Its graceful neck jerked twice and then straightened out, and the bird was still. It lay on the earth like a broken vase of red flowers, and even death could not mar its beauty.

"What is it?" Doodle asked.

"It's a scarlet ibis," Daddy said.

Sadly, we all looked at the bird. How many miles had it traveled to die like this, in our yard, beneath the bleeding tree?

Doodle knelt beside the ibis. "I'm going to bury him."

So I pondered as I printed this photo. Why this bird, this Scarlet Ibis, this week?

I think it came as a warning for re-entry, just as it came as a warning to an over-bearing older brother in the short story. This brother learns, sadly, that life and healing and hope cannot be forced. And “aid” offered for the sake of ego and not in service of love is deadly.

These can be my temptations.

I have been give glorious gifts in the last two months!

and Scintillation -- life lived in the present and in bodily fullness.

This does not feel like great drama to preach about.
This does not seem like “the revolution of God.”
But for me, it is.

Yet I could be tempted to make it a "recipe" for the God Life.

Humbly, it will only glow with Life if it is allowed to BE…

Scintillating… lived moment, one listening moment, one active moment at a time.

It would be wonderful to have thirty years to keep pondering, and keep pivoting and testing my broken wings on the humble wisdom and glorious colors of these two months. Let's see what this week brings...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Week 21: The feeling of pregnancy and the ninth week of sabbatical

Photo: Caitlin Lanctot, my daughter-in-law, close to ninth month of pregnancy.

The end of sabbatical -- time released from the responsibilities of being the pastor of Florece Church -- feels like the end of pregnancy. Nine weeks does not seem long compared to nine months, granted. But the spaciousness of rest and renewal in another land and another language has been filling me with new life. And I am not sure exactly when it will come to birth, or what it will look like.

If I think nine months back, I was returning from my first global trip of this unusual year. Three weeks in Paraguay and Argentina had allowed me to begin speaking Spanish and engaging friends from the Mennonite global community. I had the joy of meeting Sibusisiwe, my sister-link colleague from Zimbabwe. I experienced the grace of being hosted and fed by Cristel Wiebe in the Chaco of Paraguay and Keith and Gretchen Kingsley in the Chaco of Argentina. I loved it! It was more than I could conceive.

And then Advent led to Cambodia. This land half way around the world is where the rest of my family is living right now. The "sabbatical year" blog began with the colors, flavors, heat, hospitality and beauty of the Khmer people. Hmmm...about mid-way through pregnancy...

Now I have one more week to go before returning to Florence. It can feel tempting to try to MAKE this pregnancy burst, to force some outcome emerge, to induce labor, to get this unknown new life ahead of me rolling! But like birth, if I am humble I accept that what only God can grow in me is Mystery. It will take its own time to show its face. And then it will keep growing and changing like the wonder and challenge of a child.

So it is with special delight I return home to Andrew and Caitlin and their expectations for the birth of their first child. Spring is bright, stroked with new shades of green, yellow, pink, red and purple each day. The light here lingers into evening. And I have time -- to wait, to ponder, to read, to write, and to hold the beauty of expectation in my gaze.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Week 20: Do we look hot?

Donald and Nina on Cano Island off the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica.

In this week of transition and translation -- Lent to Easter, Nina/Donald solo to Nina and Donald reunited, Spanish language emersion to English language tourism -- I have discovered that dreams of paradise are not even close to the unfolding of new life.

What did Jesus say to the one thief?
“Today you will be with me in paradise.”
I wonder what the thief expected, and what he discovered?

What we discovered this week…

Donald retraced some of my journey with me.

On Saturday in San Jose we had a wonderful visit with Martha Miller’s brother, Leo, and his wife, Sonia. I had a wonderful week at their farm upon arrival in Costa Rica. And Donald soon loved them as well.

On Sunday we celebrated Easter at the Basilica of Los Angeles in Cartago, the center of Catholic devotion in Costa Rica. I worshipped there with Henry and Martha and their friend Manuel on the first Sunday of Lent. The culmination was a parade led by an image of the Risen Jesus and followed by a crowd, brass band and clown.

We wound round the mountains and through Paraiso (Paradise) to Finca la Flor where Donald got to walk around the farm and have a conversation with Bri Draabe, the director and now friend.


And then we flew to the paradise of the Osa Peninsula, one of the most remote and protected regions of Costa Rica.

We knew we were in the wild when our small plane dropped over the bay and touched down on the airstrip we couldn’t even see as we entered the jungle. We walked out into the waves of 90+ heat and humidity. From there we were picked up by Miguel. His four wheel drive van forded a river, crossed another on a few planks of wood, navigated local pitted roads, and then parked on the beach. “Tell your husband to take off his shoes and roll up his pants,” Miguel told me in Spanish. And sure enough a boat rode the waves into the beach. We waded out for a ride to Drake Bay Wilderness Resort, about a fifteen minute journey across the bay.

Dreams of Paradise:

Sitting on the beach watching the waves, swimming round Cano Island, walking in Corcovado seeing the animals, and luxurating with my loved one in our seaside cabana.

Reality Day One:

It was REALLY hot. We were both pouring sweat by lunch time. So, yes, we could hike ten minutes to the beautiful beach -- first prepped by a cold shower, then hidden in the shade, a few splashes in the waves, Donald body surfing, a hot walk home, a quick dip in the pool, followed by a cold shower and a nap to recover and another cold shower before dinner! Whew! Paradise is work!

At dinner we were alone, the only visitors at this large resort!

Reality Day Two:

At Cano Island, our first tour destination, the main activity is snorkeling. Hmmmm…. (1) I am legally blind without my glasses and you can‘t wear a snorkel mask with glasses. (2) Neither Donald nor I had snorkeled before. (3) Learning to snorkel while legally blind and riding rolling waves yields motion sickness -- And yes, it is possible to vomit in the ocean while wearing snorkel equipment!

Loved finding the beached boat on this lovely island, just like Gilligan’s Island, at our lunch break (photo) -- with time for three cold water beach showers. (Hearing the theme?)

Donald loved being surrounded by every color of fish over the coral reef on the second snorkel. I stayed on LAND and contentedly contemplated the humorous hermit crabs on the beach.

Reality Day Three:

All morning on our second tour our fabulous guide, Manuel, showed us the diverse world of Corcovado National Park: hidden hummingbird nests, tent bats, orb spiders and spider monkeys, and even the rare king vulture. Yeh! Lunch in the shade.

But starting up the waterfall trail my stomach kind of squeamed out again. So shade for Nina; and a cool swim in the waterfall for Donald. I contentedly studied the display behaviors of the grackles by the Ranger Station.

Reality Day Four:

NO SUN for Nina. Despite the persistent use of #50 sunscreen and long sleeved shirts during the day and vinegar each evening, I was fried. I rose before sunrise to discover a whole new world -- cool and dawning, with birds emerging and howler monkeys bellowing. Donald ventured out later on a sea kayak to explore the river inland at high tide. He also found friends to go round the bay and learned the challenges of a beach landing. I rested, read, wrote. And made plans to cut our time one day shorter in this particular paradise. AIR CONDITIONING was what sounded like heaven to us, so we booked a night in Hotel Amistad, San Jose.

BUT… paradise surprised us WITH WONDERFUL FRIENDS.

They trickled in during the week: Kevin and Helen, the scuba divers from England; Ohm, the Indian-American medical resident on a get-away from Connecticut; Matt and Vernice, kayakers and nature lovers from Ireland; and Jini (Columbian/Costa Rican) and Mike (Costa Rican) social publicists who were hosting a big bash for a group of Imperial Beer context winners at the resort this weekend.

What great conversations we had! Last night, just as an example, we talked about climate change, education and testing, and immigration in all our countries, comedy and “crossing the line,“ Costa Rican culture and conflict styles, the fall of the Catholic church in Ireland, crime, the complexities of Africa, pubs, beer, drunk driving and Auschwitz (NOT in that order!).

We were given the gift of another little global community, and we sat around the table until past 9:30 pm.
Challenges and Hopes
Cross Cultural Connections
Hmmm…this seems almost the same LIFE LIST as my first week at Finca la Flor. Just no dancing -- and that is what we are missing tonight at the Imperial Beer Party at Drake Bay!

So as Donald and I fly home tomorrow night, we have a rich slice of leftover paradise to take home and warm up and share with family and friends around our own table. Buen provecho, todos!




Martha Villalobos and her mother and her husband, Henry Miller (San Jose).

Sonia Villalobos, Martha's sister-in-law (Finca Iriria, Sabana Bonita).

Leo Villalobos, Martha's brother, talking to Martha, Henry and Chema (Finca Iriria).

Guides of Finca la Flor de Paraiso: Laura, Vinicio, Eugenia, Henry, Wilbert, and Bri (director).

Leiton Obanda Family: Cristina, Geovanny, Miguel and Daniel (San Luis).

Friends from Drake Bay: Around the table from left to right are Donald, Matt (Ireland), Jini and Mike (Costa Rica), Ohm (USA), Vernice (Ireland), Kevin and Helen (England).

Our friend "Mono" of Corcovado.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Week 19: San Luis Semana Santa Goodbye

Photo: Miguelito Leiton Obanda looking over the San Luis Valley.

I am back at Cinco Hormigas Rojas (bed and breakfast) in San Jose for another day of transition. I said a fond and tender good-bye to my host family, Geovanny, Cristina, Miguelito and Daniel Leiton this morning. And then I traveled up the mountain from San Luis to Monteverde and then down and up again to San Jose by shuttle bus.

It is a kind of still point, this Good Friday. San Jose is empty and quiet. Almost all businesses and restaurants are closed. Semana Santa is a major holiday for Costa Ricans. There is no school all week, and most folks who are able travel to see family and friends.

So I am here waiting to see my family -- Donald -- tomorrow.

Donald and I have been Skyping as he packs his bags. At the same time he showed me our yard at home, blooming with daffodils and budding with bright green leaves. It will look totally different -- to him and to me -- when we arrive home next Sunday, one week after Easter.

It has been odd to spend this Holy Week away from family and friends. Though my host family is Catholic, we did not attend mass any time during my three week visit due to family and community activities.

Yesterday, Maundy Thursday, we did drive a long way down the mountain to the church at 3 pm with Dona Alicia, Geovanny’s mother. We planned to attend the special footwashing service. But no one was there. We heard two other potential times for the service, 4 pm and 5 pm. So we drove back up the mountain, up La Trocha, and to the supermarket in Santa Elena to buy food and beverages for the many, many visitors who are coming to the family farm, Finca la Catarata, this weekend.

As part of Semana Santa, at the finca there was a steady flow of family, friends, local visitors and tourists. The culture of Holy Week is one of hospitality, visiting, serving one another food and drink, walking together. Danny and some of his teen cousins grabbed their towels and hiked up the trail to swim at the base of the waterfall.

I had lots of time to sit high on the mountainside and soak in the blues of the sky, the greens of the rain forest, and the sounds of birds calling, layered with familial conversations like river tumbling over rocks, and syncopated by the yips of dogs wrestling, and children chasing one another with pails of water.

For “coffee” we have good Costa Rican coffee, of course, and fish and vegetable soup with rice and the traditional “modo” of Holy Week. I meet more of Geovanny’s eleven brothers and sisters and their children. And I got to teach some of the grandchildren how to play Dutch Blitz! Some things work in all languages.

However, it did make me miss my daughter, Rachel, since this is her favorite game.

I was part of this family communion for one more day, ending with a last supper in the evening at home around our small kitchen table.

As I left Monteverde this morning, the shuttle driver asked me a question I have heard many times:
“Why did you come to Costa Rica for these two months?”
This is a good time to stop and ponder…
“I came to be part of the language and culture of Costa Rica. I came away from responsibilities. I came to learn to be present and alive -- to a different world of people and of beauty. I wanted to stop and listen and love.”
I have been granted many gifts.

The Leiton family fully welcomed me into the intimate life of their family at home and the extended life of their family and community in San Jose.

By this week I was able to greet most of the folks we passed by, having met many of the members of the 72 families of San Luis. I jokingly said to Geovanny, “Yes, and 60 of these families are your relatives!” I was not far off.

This week the family visited the cloud forest, to see a female quetzal, and a whole garden of hummingbirds! It was what tourists usually do first in this region. I felt thankful to do it last, and to walk the trails with my family, now my friends, and to see this world through their eyes.

I end this writing on Holy Saturday. It is a day "in between."

Donald is now by my side getting the sleep he missed as he traveled through the night. Tomorrow, Easter, begins a new and final week in Costa Rica.

And now I am seeing through the eyes of Donald as well.