This has been the question I’ve been receiving more than any other this past week and a half, since returning from my trip to Guamtemala with Lemonade International to see their work in the community of La Limonada.
And yet, I have had no answer.
Nearly every person who’s asked the question has been someone I love, who loves me, and gets me. They know that I can’t even articulate a simple answer to a casual “How ya doin’?” thrown my way. And so I’ve felt grace and understanding as I haven’t been able to answer.
At a wedding this weekend, in an attempt at capturing in one word the seemingly contradictory dimensions of my experience in Guatemala, I blurted out the word “paradoxitous”. Yes, I was trying to be funny.
Most of the time, when I have more than mere seconds to articulate an answer, I have responded with some statement about how Guatemala was really powerful, and I’m still processing it all. It was such incredible brokenness and injustice and pain and death; and yet, it was some of the most tangible moments of joy, peace, love, hope, faith, Presence, and Beauty I’ve ever known.
So how do you boil that down to one word? Well, I think I finally have one.
This helps me understand a lot of my responses to coming back home to the States.
Unlike a lot of people that go on similar trips, I have not returned with any sense of America-hate (or at least any more than I already did). I don’t walk around the city feeling super uncomfortable and mad about how everyone can just be walking around completely oblivious to their consumerism and international ignorance/apathy.
Also, I have not returned with some deep, new, unsatiated drive to now spend much of my life “doing work” overseas. Sure, I’d like to return to La Limonada and continue living some life with the people I met there and see how they’re doing, but that’s about it.
And lastly, I haven’t felt “changed” in the sense that I have entirely new eyes looking at an entirely new world entirely differently. I have more or less returned to my life as it was before Guatemala. I’m not still riding an intense emotional high that I feel like is going to profoundly change my emotional and spiritual chemistry—though I certainly am profoundly changed in some sense.
Often times (though obviously not always), I fear that people have these sorts of feelings after a trip like mine because they feel they have to try and “consecrate” their time. They feel a subtle, often-unconscious pull to apply a sort of “divine sense” to the trip. They know that they are profoundly impacted, but how or why can be elusive.
And that is the beauty in Lemonade International’s “vision” trips, as opposed to “mission” trips. “Mission” carries with it the idea that you are on this “mission” to do some work or to place the Divine upon a people or community that, it is assumed, needs it.
But with a “vision” trip. You come to see God. And this is where the sacramental part comes in. In Jamie Smith’s incredible book Desiring the Kingdom, he expounds upon Alexander Schmemann’s idea of “sacramentality”:
The term sacramental “means that for the world to be a means of worship and means of grace is not accidental, but the revelation of its meaning, the restoration of its essence, the fulfillment of its destiny.” Aspects of the material world like bread and water are not “made” to be sacramental by some kind of magical divine fiat that transforms their created nature; rather, when they are taken up as sacraments in the context of worship, their “natural sacramentality” is simply intensified and completed. So, too, worship is not some odd, extravagant, extra-human thing we do as an add-on to our earthly, physical, material nature; rather, “worship is the epiphany of the world.“ Worship is the ordering and reordering of our material being to the end for which it was meant.
Maybe it’s because of my job, maybe it’s my own cynicism, but the people I met in Guatemala did not evoke my pity. They just seemed like humans, just like us Americans. What I experienced in Guatemala was not some moment in which the Divine was “brought in” and placed upon the moment.
Rather, God himself emerged from within its midst.
The people I met and the times I had were just that—people and times. They were some of the most basic exhibitions of humanity and the “stuff” that makes up life that I’ve ever seen. In a sense, they were “mundane”. But it was precisely that which led me to meet God there.
I told a friend recently that when people excitedly ask me how Guatemala was, I’ve started picturing in my mind the Communion bread and wine. This is because I’ve started thinking that this question is akin to asking me “how was communion last week!?”
In one sense, it was just another experience: just bread and wine, people and pain.
But in another sense, I was joined with my God in the heavenlies in such a way that my parched soul has needed. I have feasted on Christ and walk away different than I came.
It was, you could say, paradoxitous.
As I’ve said before, my main take-away from Guatemala is simply a greater sense of God’s presence. I feel nourished and strengthened. I felt loved by the people there, and I Iove them. But we were not “useful” to one another, nor were we trying to “bring God” into the moment or “make sense” of our time.
We were just there. We were just human. We were the body of Christ, broken for one another. And this freed us to meet God, commune with Him, and one another.
And take. And eat.
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[image credit: Scott Bennett]