The Heart of All Reality

I was in Haiti during Advent of 2009 and 2010. On the later trip, I lived in a slum without running water or electricity…and with rats. The following reflection comes from my film Mud Pies & Kites, which I narrated.

All across America the year ends in a flurry of shopping, even during stressful economic times. Advent helps us see the need to pause and contemplate the deep and magnificent meaning of the Incarnation: that God, in a supreme act of Self-emptying love, became poor for us, entering fully into our flawed humanity in order that we could have the chance to enter more fully into God’s perfect divinity. Advent was the perfect time to be in Haiti.

The primary motivation for God’s incarnation is God’s goodness, not human sinfulness. The Incarnation is a dynamic expression of God’s overflowing love and mercy, as well as a revelation of God’s poverty and humility. Through the Incarnation we find redemption and completion, making it the heart of all reality. Christmas is a time for us to see more clearly our own poverty and weakness in order to better receive the gift of God’s transforming love.

In Haiti, it was easy to see how Christmas is a time for us to emulate, as best we can, God’s love and goodness by sharing the mercy and compassion we have experienced through our lived experience of Christ’s birth in the stable of our humble hearts.

In the slums of Haiti, I’m stripped bare of all pretentions, all sense of superiority. And I stand in the midst of the swirling, turbulent world of overwhelming want, feeling the pain and not knowing how to respond. But God says let my eyes, my hands, my mouth become your eyes, your hands, your mouth. With my mouth, give a smile to each sad face. To the person who has become hardened and hopeless, give them my heart. This is the gift of Christmas: the heart of God born afresh within each of us.

As “The Song of Zechariah” says: “In the tender compassion of God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

In Advent, we live in the expectancy of a changed world, a world of universal sufficiency and no hunger, a world of peace and nonviolence, a world where the reign of God is fully manifested. But such a changed world is still a long, long way off, a seemingly impossible dream, especially here in Port-au-Prince.

(At this point in the film I appear on camera discussing the spreading deadly cholera epidemic as people lined up for water which they haul back to their tents or shacks.)

The chronically poor living in the slums and tent cities are constantly on the move but never going anywhere. Just up and down back and forth the same roads everyday in search of whatever is needed just to survive. They walk, they haul, they jam into tap-taps. Constant movement, incessant noise. Every day is a wearisome, endless struggle, without a hint of comfort or relaxation. Congested streets. Maddening traffic. Dense pollution. Smoldering heaps of garbage. The tension is unrelenting.

Every day is a fresh new challenge…to do the same thing: find whatever is needed to survive that day. The effort that goes into just making a few pennies to buy the barest of essentials is extreme. Every day is exhausting. And the night offers no relief. The misery just gets darker.

Pain still abounds nearly a year after the earthquake. Violence lurks around every corner. Grisly crime and corruption are commonplace. Rubble from toppled buildings is everywhere. Back-breaking labor paying only pennies. Hunger and illness inhabit most homes, shacks and tents. Yet there is tenderness, smiles and faith…and even hope in the face of utter hopelessness. The people keep going, keep struggling to inch ahead, to care for their families…and to prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ.

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