This is my second Christmas as a full-time church worker and full-time student. So one would presume that I have template “hope amidst struggle” reflection pieces in my personal archive.
And I honestly do not know what to make of this Christmas.
As others who have taken this particular path of/to service would know, first year in seminary is the year when one’s entire faith framework—in its oftentimes stubborn form—is pulverized to almost absolute nothingness. It is here when one is purged and kiln-molten into having to confront and answer questions like: “So does it really say ‘creating something out of nothing’ or ‘putting order in chaos?’ And which is it really? Cave or stable? Just the Magi or just the shepherds or both at the same time? Was there really a huge star? Is the Markan narrative more plausible because it starts with an adult figure much like narratives on Octavian/Augustus Ceasar? Did all these really happen in December?”
You know when you are raised believing that the bible is infallible, questions like those really do shake you to your very core.
I guess the same is true when I ask myself after traveling 32 hours by land to Samar and Leyte:
What I saw there shook me to my very core.
You see, talking about hope when the sight, smell, feel and sound of a ravaged city are still hovering in one’s immediate consciousness, can be a little bit difficult. There is a painful rawness in what I and 14 other companions have seen, felt and smelled when we saw what that super typhoon left in its wake. Miles and miles of coconut trees reduced to utter uselessness and those that remained standing ended up looking like matchsticks—row after row of matchsticks. And every now and then we pass little towns of rubble—roofless houses; bathrooms standing in the middle of a field looking utterly misplaced because the rest of the house had flown elsewhere; schools, gymnasiums, government buildings, shopping centers looking like they’ve been blasted and wrecking-balled from all directions; little cars, big trailer trucks looking like belly-up live stock after a killer plague.
And the people–My own people scavenging whatever they can and whatever is left.
I had arrived three full weeks after the typhoon and what I saw looked as though the typhoon just happened yesterday.
I cannot begin to tell you how I feel.
I may never really know why these things happened the way they did. But an answer was offered by a wise man by the name of Rev. Luisito Saliendra. He spoke these words a small fishing community in Eastern Samar: “Right now, what we we know is ‘what to do… when to do it… how to do it; Then maybe, just maybe, we will know why.’”
What we can do is to be there for each other. Rebuild and start again. The ‘when’ has been and still is happening. How to do it involves various levels of ‘being there and helping out’—when people around the Philippines started pouring in to Leyte, Samar, Cebu, Panay, Palawan with the sole purpose of ‘being there and helping out’; when the whole of Christ’s MCC around the world pooled their resources to send it to those who are in need; when people from all walks of life reached out in so many ways—the “how” is answered. And maybe, just maybe, we would not need to ask “why?” because we already know.
I guess the ‘hope’ that I wish to speak of here is the kind of hope that hovers as we try to get to that point when we understand “why?” We move, turn, double back and start over—as we answer what, when and how. This hope that I speak of is companion to this moving, turning, doubling back and starting over if only to understand why.
This does not involve rousing sermons and rallying pep talks. No “multitudes of heavenly hosts,” no bright lights and singing angels. No pompoms and cheerleaders. No fireworks. No jingle bells.
This is about that hope that is carefully, mindfully present—Like a hovering cloud; Like an old, quietly confident tree; Like a full moon on a clear night over rice paddies; Like that easy-flowing river running its course; Like that first night when that little Boy was born before we all started calling that night “Christmas eve.”
It is this Hope that is real to me. Un caminar de rio que se curva, avanza, retrocede, da un rodeo y llega siempre. A course of a river that turns, moves on, doubles back and comes full circle—
–Hope that is present and ever engaging, but quiet and gently moving and reassuring—
Hope that is forever arriving.
Just like Christmas.
Written by Ptr. Kakay Pamaran