Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Los 33
This morning I would like to reflect on an event that had captured the imagination of the whole world few weeks ago. I am referring to the story of ‘Los 33’ Chilean miners trapped inside the mine of San Jose.

Thanks to the great media coverage, we were all able to see the dramatic pictures of the rescue. We were touched, moved, inspired.... We even wept, as one miner after another was freed and welcomed by their relatives. After weeks of anxious uncertainty, finally they were back to their families – safe.

As I watched the remarkable events on television, I began to notice something interesting: I realised there were two different narratives taking place at the same time. One was about technology and engineering; the other was about faith and mystery.

On the one hand, we had the impressive rescue operation. An incredible display of engineering and technology. An effort that excelled by its rigorous and meticulous attention to detail. It was a masterpiece of efficiency. A great achievement for a small nation like Chile.

On the other hand, we have the people and their world view. As they shared their stories and articulated their experience, we discovered a fascinating world view: a beautiful away to explain life through allegories and metaphoric language, where the supernatural elements blended into reality without any conflict.

These two separate narratives were not at odds, but quite the contrary. It is amazing that all the advances of the modern world have not taken away this beautiful way to explain, interpreted and understands reality.

In their world view HOPE, FAITH, GOD, MIRACLE, MYSTERY sit together comfortably with high power drills, advanced technology and complex engineering. As they see it, the real and the fantastic can live together, as the material and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible, the natural and the supernatural, secular and sacred – Heaven and earth – God and technology.
The American news network CNN broadcast this story:
One of the miners wrote a letter to his brother telling him what happened before the accident. In the letter, he explained that on the day of the accident he was driving a vehicle trough the tunnels when suddenly something compelled him to stop suddendly. It was a display of white butterflies flying around. In all his years working in the mines he never have seen anything like that. He was stunned by the beauty and unusual nature of this incident. He had to stop. Seconds later the sealing of the mine collapsed in front of him, blocking the way out. If he had not stopped to admire the white butterflies, he would be buried. The white butterflies saved him. When the story become known in Camp Hope, people interpreted this incident as a miracle. They started to refer to the white butterflies as the ‘angelitos blancos’ – little white angels.

This story encapsulates the essence of this world view, where miracles and unexplained things can happen any time. Sadly, in the West we have lost this way of seeing things. That is why sometimes we feel at odds when we read the Bible, because the Bible is full of this kind of stuff. Our culture in the West has numbed our ability to see the world in a more holistic way.

One of the psychologists from NASA who had been advising the Chilean government explained that, in his opinion, the reason why the miners survived such as tough and hostile conditions was their faith. These people survived because they had a faith that gave them hope and strength in unbearable circumstances. Faith kept them alive.

This story of 33 men trapped in the dark womb of the earth maybe is a metaphor for all of us. Something we can learn from this story is that a holistic world view is the key to our survival.

Maybe that is the reason why this story has resonated and captured the imagination of the whole world.

Technology rescued the miners, faith save them.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Entertaining angels
without knowing it
“Peter started knocking at the front entrance of the house and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. But as soon as she recognized Peter's voice she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed to everyone there, "Peter is at the door!" "No, he can’t be" they told her. When she kept insisting that it was him, they said, "It must be his angel."
Acts 12: 13-15

It was early on Monday morning when Teresa bumped into Jaime on her way to the market. He looked out of sorts and in hurry.
“How are Inez and the girls?” Teresa asked.
“They’re fine”, he replied without conviction in his voice. His unusual aloofness made Teresa feel uneasy and she sensed that something wasn’t quite right.
“I’ll pop in this evening.”
“Ok”, he replied, and left without making eye contact or giving her the usual goodbye kiss.

That evening Teresa went to see her neighbours, as she promised. She rang the bell and the door was opened immediately by the girls. Their red, puffy eyes revealing they had been crying.
“Girl’s what’s happened?” Teresa asked, making her way into the flat.
“Dad had a car accident yesterday night”, they answered together.
“But that must be impossible I saw him … ”
“Teresa, dad died this morning in the hospital”, one of the girls managed to say before crying again

The three sisters were members of the Church Youth Group where I was one of the leaders; their parents were not churchgoers. On the day of the funeral they told me the story about their dad and Teresa, and then they asked me one of the most difficult questions anybody had asked me in my life:

Who was the person Teresa saw? Was it our dad? Was it his spirit?

I didn’t have an answer that day, and I still don’t today. I only remember that while I was talking with them that the passage I quoted above, from Acts, came to mind and I remember thinking perhaps Teresa did see an angel.

I have met many people with the most amazing stories about angels; some, a real challenge to our pragmatic way of thinking, some deeply moving and inspirational, some quite funny and others quite bizarre. Long ago I made a decision to never pass judgement on these stories, but to accept them as they are: a gift that challenges our limited understanding about spiritual realities that can enrich our lives or at least bring a smile to our faces.

I like the fact that the scripture never went into great details trying to explain what angels are but I like that in quite a provocative way it insinuates their presence and exhorts us to be aware.“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2

Whether they are strangers or celestial beings, or both; it doesn’t matter. Let’s welcome them as they come - with wings or without, in the appearance of the homeless or a refugee, the elderly or a child. Whatever their appearance, lets offer them the best of our hospitality

I hope we will be more sensitive and aware of the presence of ‘Angels’ in our secular and materialistic society, especially as people seek to address their spiritual needs. If we dismiss them, we may be missing a great opportunity for conversation with those spiritual seekers.