|view from campus, Universidad de los Andes|
“¡Bienvenidos a Santiago de Chile!”
From the moment I heard the Chilean flight attendant’s welcome, something deep in my heart stirred and smiled.
In case you’re a bit geographically challenged, like I can often be, Chile is that peculiar, long, skinny country that runs up and down the west side of South America, between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains.
This week marks my second time visiting this remarkable and impressive city of seven million people.
Nine years ago, we came “down under” to visit our oldest daughter, Anamaría, who was half-way through a semester of college study abroad here, a program of her University of Notre Dame.
On that first eye-opening visit, it didn’t take long for me to realize that Chile is like no other Latin American country I had ever known—beginning with the outrageous fact that they don’t drink coffee! Yes, you read that right.
More influenced historically by Britain than by Spain, the hot drink of choice here is… tea. And as my daughter tried to warn me over and over again, even in the fanciest of settings, it is all Nescafé instant.
Unlike the blended variations of race and ethnicity that I grew up with in the Caribbean, something else that makes Chile different is that many of the indigenous groups here have remained isolated and separate throughout the country’s developing history. Whether Spaniards, French, or British, all travelers in colonial time had a hard time navigating a very difficult geography to get here. More often than not, even travelers who made it across the colossal Andes Mountains simply could not journey very far south on its arduous terrain.
I hope to write more later on what makes Chile unique and different. But what I’ve been chewing on the past couple of days is how remarkably at home I actually feel here, despite how dissimilar it is from so much of my Latino experience and background.
How is it possible that after almost 40 years living in the “American” culture of the continental United States, being here touches my heart and renews my spirit in a way that remains indescribable and inexpressible—even to me?!
Like a sculptor eagerly awaiting the beautiful image that wants to be birthed from the plain slab of stone, all of us have a one-of-a-kind spirit created by God that is waiting to burst out. God created this unique spirit inside each of us for a reason. God needs us to live out who we are in the world in which we live. He needs me to be me, fully me, truly me––for my family, my neighbors, my work mates, my parish community, my city, my state. There are no coincidences, so everything about who I am––even my past, my experiences, my family––was given to me for a reason. And I have been placed within this reality for a reason, too.
Living with the heart of a pilgrim requires that I allow my spirit to be birthed into my world. And it demands that I trust the map that God has created for the pilgrimage of my life. My pilgrimage is not random or generic or communal, but personal and specific. I was birthed into this moment by a Creator whose vision for the world not only includes but requires me. I am an explicit part of his plan!
~from my book, The Journey: a Guide for the Modern Pilgrim