Saturday, November 26, 2016

why Fidel Castro's death changes nothing

I was born on Fidel Castro’s 34th birthday. There is no word in either Spanish or English to describe the ugly mess of emotions that come from sharing a birthday with a stranger who irrevocably altered the pattern of my life. 

Irony? Paradox? Absurdity? ¿Mal humor?

Yet today when I heard about Fidel Castro’s death at the age of 90 I felt strangely numb. And immediately I remembered my Papi’s attempt at humor as he tried to seriously describe his feelings about Castro, “I don’t wish Fidel dead, only that he may meet Jesus soon!” 

Castro’s death is huge. And yet it changes nothing. 

What I mean to say is that it’s difficult for me to describe a simple response to this convoluted reality.

Some events in life shape us to the marrow of our substance, reshaping the fibers of our being. You don’t “get over” being a refugee any more than you get over the death of a loved one. You do have to learn to live within a new reality.

Like strokes of bold, gallant color on an empty canvas, it is not only the actual images that define the picture, but also the empty spaces.

The truth is that being a Cuban refugee defines and identifies my sense of home and of self. It orchestrates my view of life, and also shapes my spiritual journey. I do believe, with my whole heart, that all, and I mean everything, is grace. 

Leaving Cuba as a toddler, carrying only the clothes on our backs. Growing up as immigrant nomads, without a true place to call home, ten different cities before the age of 20. Knowing and being reminded over and over that our family would never “go home” again. This is a political truth, an economic truth, a cultural truth, an ethnic truth --and most importantly, a spiritual truth.

I returned to Cuba as a journalist to cover the historic visit of Pope John Paul II. I took that opportunity to visit the place of my birth, the city Pinar del Rio. I will never forget standing across the street from the house that was once home for my parents. Or seeing with my own eyes the cathedral church where I was simultaneously baptized and confirmed on my way home from the hospital as a three-day-old baby. 

As my parents explained to me, when I was born, they simply didn’t know what would happen next. the Catholic schools where my parents taught were shut down by the new regime. The churches were closed. And their priest and nun friends continued to be rounded up and shipped out of the country.  

That day in Pinar del Río, I was struck by the reality that I could have grown up there, living in Castro’s Cuba. Yet because of my parents courage, I have never known anything but freedom -- or have ever had to face such staggering and terrifying decisions as they did.

Cubans have a way of expressing the most serious thoughts within carefully crafted humor. How I wish I had inherited that fast Cuban wit!

Don’t ask me how I feel about Fidel Castro’s death, the man who has shared my birthday for 56 years. 

All I can say today, as a Cuban-born American citizen, that I toast to my parents and to the millions of Cuban exiles who were brave enough to let go of everything, what they owned and what they knew, in order to find a place where they – where I – could worship and live freely as a disciple of Jesus.  This is my true home. 

It may not be a Cuban, but tonight I’ll smoke a cigar to that! 

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"One of the astonishing things about being human... is that you have only to state exactly how you're exiled and you're on the road back home."

~ David Whyte, speaking on the spiritual journey

[ All photos © María Ruiz Scaperlanda, 2016 ]  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

why I need saints

Last year Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez of El Salvador was beatified. You may recall that Archbishop Romero was assassinated in 1980 as he celebrated Mass, just a day after pleading and ordering soldiers to stop killing innocent Salvadorians.

Ever since I first heard the news announcing Archbishop Romero’s beatification, I have found myself pondering why I need saints in my life.

I don’t mean just the holy people that have graced my spirit and shaped my life, like my dear Pat Stankus or my grandmother Josefita—but also the kind of holy that is proclaimed a saint by the universal Church.

First, let me be clear. I’m not trying to articulate—or defend—an intellectual, theological concept regarding sainthood

What I’ve been asking myself is much more tangible... and self-centered! I've been pondering, what is the point of proclaiming saints? what difference do these saints make to me?

Here’s what I’ve come up with...
  • I need saints because they intercede with God on my behalf. Theirs is the sort of passionate pleading akin to the mother I met years ago in Austin whose son was on death row in Huntsville. When the Governor of Texas refused to see her in person to hear her plead for a stay of his execution, the determined mother set up a tent to live in across the street from the Governor’s mansion, and she invited the local press, the local bishop, and anyone else who would listen, to join her in prayer and in peaceful demonstration.  Who doesn’t need this sort of passionate intercession?
  • I need saints because they connect me to others—across time and geography—and this constantly reminds me that my faith is little “c” catholic. I am not alone in my quest and desire to live for God. I have a cloud of witnesses that share with me this longing for God! And in addition, their stories remind me that -- no matter how much I screw that up (if you haven't heard, there are saints whose lives are worthy of a spicy HBO movie!) -- these are people who understand just how difficult it can be to live out this desire to live for God. They are saints because they never gave up trying!
  • I need saints like Archbishop Romero and Father Stanley Rother, our Oklahoma martyr, because being holy –and learning to live holy lives – is possible for everyone, no matter how ordinary. Romero and Rother, who died a year apart, became martyrs for the faith. But this final act, this witness of love, was possible because they had lived with a desire to respond in and through their faith to every person, every circumstance, every moment in their ordinary lives.

At the ceremony for Archbishop Romero’s beatification this week, the Cardinal who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes called Romero, "a bright star shining in the American spiritual firmament.” 

"And,” he added, “thanks be to God, there are many."

Father Stanley Francis Rother,
 Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

If you want to learn more about Father Stanley Rother, click here to order my book, "The Shepherd Who Didn't Run: Fr Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma."

[This post is an edited version of a May 2015 post in Day by Day with María]

Thursday, October 27, 2016

when that feeling inside you just doesn’t want to be named

O Lord, open the eyes of my heart,
the eyes of my hands, 
the eyes of my mouth,
the eyes of my feet.
I love to live all eye.

~Ann Voskamp, 

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Everything around me gives the impression that autumn has arrived, but it certainly doesn’t feel like fall, not when it's 81 degrees!

Like a child waiting for her birthday, I search for signs in nature that will point me towards the next season.  And today I find myself wondering why.

With teachers in my life for as long as I’ve been alive, my internal and external clocks have both always run on “school year” mode.  And we are, indeed, about one quarter into the school year—or over halfway done with the semester.

But that’s not all of it.

I’m trying to find words for that feeling inside me, but it seems it doesn’t want to be named. It’s not anxiety. And it’s not apprehension. It’s not even anticipation, although that does come close to naming it.

It’s time for a shift. It’s time for a change. It’s time to look up and discover what’s new in the path opening up before me.  But more than that, it's a longing to pry open my heart to God, to His blessings in the present, each present. 

I want to BE present. To live present.

And in the meantime, my fable of the animals continues.  [If you don’t get this reference, see my post from last week!] This time it's that my sweet Mami has been in the hospital all week… would you say a prayer for her right now? Her name is María de Jesús.

May YOU live present today. Right now! 

Friday, October 21, 2016

how do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

As I write this, my daughter, my youngest child, is in the next room dancing with her newborn baby, swinging rhythmically side to side to the tunes on her iPhone—and whispering into her baby girl’s ear,

“When I see your face
There's not a thing that I would change
'Cause you're amazing
Just the way you are

And when you smile
The whole world stops and stares for a while
'Cause girl, you're amazing
Just the way you are

Sometimes life feels like holding a moonbeam in your hand.

Just the other day, it was me who was swaying side to side, dancing to Bette Midler’s “Beaches” soundtrack on our stereo, and whispering to my youngest child, my daughter,

Baby mine, don't you cry.
Baby mine, dry your eyes.
Rest your head close to my heart,
Never to part, baby of mine.

Little one, when you play,
Pay no heed what they say.
Let your eyes sparkle and shine,
Never a tear, baby of mine.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

looking at everything as if for the first or last time

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way… Just when you think you know something, you have to look at it in another way.

~Robin Williams as teacher John Keating, 
addressing a group of students 
from atop of a desk, 
from the movie Dead Poet’s Society

“Look at everything as though you are seeing it either for the first or last time, then your time on earth will be filled with glory.”
~Betty Smith, from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn