In 2010, as I filmed the people of Cité Soleil in Haiti, I realized the poverty of my own service to the poor. I questioned if I was doing enough, and wondered what more I could do. I felt overwhelmed and inadequate. I sensed my own poverty and brokenness. Yet despite the agony I filmed, I didn’t sink into despair and could sense God’s grace mysteriously at work within me. I can’t explain it, but being in Cité Soleil somehow brought me closer to the heart of God.
Our very woundedness is waiting to be transformed into compassion. Our emotional and physical pain helps us understand and respond to the suffering of another. Compassion is as elegant as any cathedral. Through the eyes of compassion we begin to look at the world in a very different way and we slowly imagine a different world, a world where God’s compassionate presence is fully manifested in us and through us.
We view the world around us, with its spirit of self-indulgence, through the eyes of Christ, and we see things differently than our materialistic and militaristic society prefers we see them. We see, for instance, how we have turned medical care into a commodity that feeds the greed of soulless corporations more concerned about their bottom line than our well-being. We see how our culture, in blind pursuit of power and greed, has forgotten God. With God removed from our cultural consciousness, we have no need for fidelity to God’s relational way, we have no need for thankfulness to a faithful God.
With God gone, neatly put into a box labeled fairytale or myth, or worse, reduced to a comfortable, unthinking dogmatic formula, we as a culture begin to sink into a sea of self-indulgence. We slowly forget that life is a gift. We begin to live without a spirit of gratitude. We no longer see a world of abundance and life is reduced to a commodity and a series of market transactions. We even begin to leverage social goods, like medical care and education, into profit centers. And of course, we no longer hear the plaintive cries of distress from the poor. But God hears, and God is faithful and God responds and makes transformation possible. When we begin to really hear God, we too will hear the cries of the poor and become part of God’s mysterious response.
At Easter, we proclaim in song that “Christ is risen.” And he truly has. But yet, when we look at the reality of the world around us, we see death and destruction, revenge and retaliation. Our culture of death dominates our spirit of life. We have lost our prophetic voice and we no longer defend the stranger, the widow and the orphan, those who are hurting and have no voice.
In the slums of Girardoville (where I lived) and Cité Soleil (where I filmed extensively) the mystical dignity of the poor as emissaries of God is abundantly clear…if you take the time to really look. Cité Soleil and places like it exist because we as the human family have forgotten God and turned our backs on God’s children.