Reflections by Raymond Uribe
From the Deset to Christmas
I remember traveling once through the Arizona desert. I forget now where I was traveling from or to. I was on the road while it was still dark and drove in the darkness for a few hours before signs that daytime was coming began to change the sky. I pulled over to take it all in. The road was quiet, except for the occasional passing car. The true action was taking place above me. The palette of colors above was amazing; the sky was painted with dark shades of blue and hues of pink lined with bright glowing yellows. An occasional streak of orange added to the drama of the changing sky. The first thing I thought of was Advent with its colors of violet and rose, the short days and long nights.
I had never been so excited about the coming of a new day! There in the desert, I sat and waited for light to fill the vast land. Slowly but surely, shadows began to appear and finally all traces of night dissipated and earth in that corner of the world came alive once more.
As light revealed the vastness of the land I began to feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness. There wasn't a sign of life as far as the eye could see, and everything was still. I began to walk back to the car feeling small, very small, in comparison to where I was. I imagined Abraham, Moses, and the Israelites, wandering through the desert, depending solely on God. I've never forgotten that experience. Somehow, it makes me appreciate Christmas a little more.
Christmas comes and we are reminded of Christ entering our humanity. Long ago, the Christ child's cry broke the moonlit stillness of the night and the divine broke into humanity. Love became tangible and nothing was ever the same again. The darkness scatters and the world comes alive in Him. "The light from on high breaks upon us to shine in our darkness to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:78-79). "A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new glorious morn," says the Christmas song.
Christ's presence in our humanity gives us something to hold on to; it gives us belonging to something greater than ourselves. Never again do we have to wander in a dark or lonely desert. That's the heart of our celebration and the nucleus of our kinship in God's family.
To this day I can't tell you where I was in Arizona that morning. What I haven't forgotten is that experience of night turning into day. May this Christmas season fill your life with light, warmth, and peace resting in the knowledge that you are God's and Christ is our brother.
God in the Trenches
On a recent trip to Guadalajara, I visited the home that once belonged to my father's parents. I have vivid childhood memories in this house. I remember the smell of glue from the shop where my grandfather crafted leather shoes; the patio with blue-tiled floor; the old rickety ladder that lead to the rooftop where my grandfather grew a couple fruit trees and kept his chickens.
I had not visited the house in three decades. The house has since been remodeled, and although the structure remains nearly the same, much has changed under my aunt's care since my grandparent's passing. Today, the colors on the walls and tile are brighter, more rooms have been added, and the rooftop is now a second floor with rooms, a garden, and a bathroom. The house is beautiful. The first day back I was intent on finding a relic that has haunted me since I was a child---a framed image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
I remember the picture hanging on a wall in a room that was unusually dark... all the time. I can still imagine it: a huge painting, Our Lady with the child Jesus on her lap are in the center, below them several persons are being tortured by flames in purgatory. Their arms reach for the heavens and their faces are contorted in pain. They look to the heavenly couple sitting augustly amid the clouds. Mary and Jesus are looking at each other, a big smile on their face and scapulars dangling from the child Jesus' hands. They seem to pay no mind to the pain below. This image scared me as a child.
I asked about the image and my aunt took me to the room where it now hangs. It was a prized possession of my grandmother's, she explained. We walked upstairs into one of the new rooms. I walk in and I was immediately disappointed. The image is almost exactly as I remember it, except that it only measures about 14"x12"! It's not the gargantuan image I remembered. Perhaps the impact it had on me somehow affected the way I remember it. I shared my story with my aunt and she responded by offering the picture to me as a gift.
This was one of the first experiences I had of the divine. In my mind as a child I had a very difficult time reconciling the fact that everything I was learning about the goodness of God could work in synthesis with an image of the divine mother and child sitting and smiling while people suffered. It didn't seem fair then, and it doesn't seem fair now.
I returned home without the image. Somehow I could not bear to bring it with me, not because I have an aversion to it but because it belongs in that home.
Coming face to face with that image reminded me of what I have actually learned about God since. Thirty years later, I don't believe that God stands by and merely watches us suffer. I believe that in God's infinite goodness, God continues to stand with us in our suffering. I am convinced that God does not exist light years away hidden behind curtains of morality and retribution totally separated from us. God instead dwells with us in the trenches, amid the flames that seek to devour us in our everyday living. Tender mercy is the smile God offers us, and our conversion and care for those who are suffering are our response.
As I continue to reflect on the image, what I remember, how it affected me, and my response through the years, the words of Ilia Delio come to mind, "Love is not what God does; love is who God is."
My grandmother was a good woman, and I am sure her devotion to our Lady of Mount Carmel had something to do with it. I was humbled to be offered the image. But the gift in all of this is that it propelled curiosity of God in my childhood and it has shaped the person who I am today.
As we near the end of the Year of Mercy in a few months, let us resolve to continue to allow God to show mercy in our lives and remember that we are called to be love and mercy for one another, especially those in the trenches-- because it's what love is.