Monday, March 31, 2008

Good Friday and Maximon

Who is Maximon? (pronounced- ma-shi-MO) .

Syncretism at its best! Mayan culture, religion and tradition and the catholic tradition and faith not only mix and blend, but play, battle and... well... chase one another on Good Friday in Santiago each year. Maximón is believed to be a form of the pre-Colombian Maya god Mam, blended with influences from Catholicism. He is represented as an effigy in Sanantonio de Atitlan, among other towns throughout the western Guatemalan highlands, where my parents and I spent Good Friday. He is often called San Simon, and serves as a Judas figure every Holy week when he is brought out and chased around the town, until he returns to a new home or hiding place for the next year.
Here men had gathered outside his shrine as others offered the traditional gifts of alcohol, cigarettes, and his favorite... cigars! Each village throughout the region has their own traditional style, dress, and colors. In the large markets throughout Guatemala you see all of the fabrics brought together, huipils (traditional shirts of women) made into purses and blankets, but you can always tell where some thing was made by the color and patterns.

After this ceremony of worship took place around noon, the Jesus was taken down and put into an ornate and flower laden coffin. Children and adults stood around the outskirts with candles, some as tall as they were, and looked on as men began processing out of the sanctuary with the coffin on their shoulders. Many wait years for the privilege of carrying the coffin, and pay money to do so. It has roots in practices of penitence.
We discovered that there is a much greater emphasis on Good Friday here than on Easter Sunday. A emphasis grown out of both Catholic belief and roots, as well as a culture that identifies with the story of the passion and suffering of Christ over and above that of the resurrection.
This group patiently waits for the procession to exit the sanctuary.
One of the three most prominent volcanoes of the lake, towers above the main square. In the photo below you can see that they have drawn out in detail ahead of time, what each block and each portion of each block will look like down to the exact design and colors. The "Alfambras" are an all day production, and a really incredible art form.
It was incredible to watch the time, energy and creativity put in to this work... a very communal offering to the festivities and traditions of this place.

These alfambras are all made of colored sawdust, and pave the way for the procession that will walk over it in the next 24 hours. Some alfambras include offerings of fruit, vegetables, grains, and other goods, making them a bit more controversial in a country that suffers from high rates of malnutrition. Some are intricately realistic pieces of art- amazing!

Padres en Guatemala...

Mom and dad Dumler were here for Semana Santa! We had a great week exploring Guatemala and experienced the unique and festive ways the catholics celebrate Holy Week! (more on that in the next entry) Here we are in the ruins of Saint Francis in Antigua. The church is still a vibrant community of worship. We joined them for mass on Easter Sunday- el dia de la resurreccion.
We made it through the week paying the gringo tax of course, but with no major problems which was a relief. We had heard that crime is especially high in Antigua this time of year... and my mom had a close but extremely lucky call! We made it back to the house one night to discover a huge knife cut in her purse... but all the contents still inside!

We made our contribution to the Guatemalan economy this week! I am glad to be able to purchase wedding decorations and gifts here rather than in the U.S. (and these women were pleased as well).... but my poor parents had to help me get it all back to the States. :)
We did sit and relax... for a minute. Here they are enjoying a lazy afternoon at Casa Del Mundo.
We walked and walked the blocks of alfambras (the colorful carpets of sawdust or other materials that line the streets where the processions will walk) It's an amazing art! Hours upon hours are spent planning, preparing, and making the alfambras... and then the processors walk over them throughout the 12 hour processions that last all night on Good Friday. There is a much greater emphasis here on the passion of Christ than the resurrection. They play dismal and somber music throughout the town as they work on these bright and beautiful carpets- seemingly paradoxical.

Adventures in Transportation:
They were troopers! They bravely hopped on the Guatemalan city buses to get home their first day in Guatemala (something many Guatemalans won't do!), and willingly crammed into the back of a "Tuk-tuk" with me to navigate the cobblestone streets of Antigua at night.

We rode the public "lanches" around Lake Atitlan to get to and from Casa Del Mundo and Santiago where we spent Good Friday.
How could I forget about the Monkeys! These monkeys in a natural preserve were showing off and loving the attention. Spider monkeys can use their tale as an extra appendage as this one is doing- playfully swinging upside-down.

Day at the Beach

Benjamine (the youngest son in the family I live with) is on the national skating team. The team does their marathon training on the highways by the beach, so I went with the family when they accompanied the team a few weeks ago. Here they are dodging traffic as we trailed them with the blinkers on... and who said skating isn't a dangerous sport?!
The whole team went to the beach afterward and I attempted to take a few team photos as they were pummeled by waves. The current and waves are really powerful on the Pacific Coast- not great for swimming or even surfing for that matter.

Here they are bracing for it!
That didn't seem to deter Maribel's grandmother who turned 75 that day! The whole family met us down at the beach and she jumped right it (and was almost swept away by the current!)

The black sand beaches were beautiful nonetheless. A wonderful change of view and pace from the City.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

International Day for Women...

Travis has promised a "skype" date soon to celebrate "his" international woman (me), but this celebration last Saturday was actually intended to celebrate all women world wide.
Cedepca hosted the celebration and the women gathered: from young to old, from indigenous to gringas like myself, from all economic brackets and denominations. It was also the international day of prayer so we combined the celebrations with awareness of women's rights, and the struggles that still exist in Guatemala, along with prayer for women in this country and around the world.
I was asked to lead a brief Bible study with a small group of women during the morning, and was awed by how open they were with their lives and stories. They shared powerful stories of not only empowerment as women, but empowerment through love... learning to forgive husbands who had left them, men who had robbed them... in order to live in love.I must admit that I had not been entirely looking forward to the event, but it ended up lifting my spirit and reminding me of the power of the love of God to remind women of the value they have, and how to love others who do not honor or recognize that value. It was fun!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

death unsantitized...

The public cemetery in Guatemala City makes one alive to all their senses... the smell is strong. The rows of stacked tombs, like uniquely decorated cabinets draw the eye upward and over names, dates and flowers to the buzzards circling above. Silence permeates with the occasional shuffle of feet, visitors to leave flowers for loved ones, or the low murmur of talking and crying that surround a burial site. The uncle of Marible, the mom in my family here, died this past week. I was not only touched by the loss of this man in their family, but also a bit fascinated by the way death is approached and dealt with in this culture. They had a vigil with the body in the home for visitors to come by and say goodbyes, pray and bless him for a full day after the death. Then the next day, the whole community accompanied the family to the grave site where they placed the body in grave, filled in the covering with brick and mortar and said goodbyes. Cemeteries are always striking to me for this reason- the living among the dead- looking on knowing we will all inevitably accompany them, join them in their rest, knowing that they have experienced the beyond, while we wait in wonder- but somehow in this setting with the smells, the sights, the sounds, it took on a new reality for me.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Talk about a public witness of faith! Coming back from my run in the park I ran into this Lenten procession winding though the streets and into the local Catholic church. I could not have looked more ridiculous or western in my white tennies and green spandex shorts, but there I was! carpe diem!
I was struck by a few things... the public nature of this worship in the streets, the verse above the door and the "alfambra" on the road, and the difficulty getting Jesus into the church. I wonder if the tendency of churches in the U.S. is not an opposite posture toward worship... we worship in the churches, and hold Jesus hostage there. I'm being a bit facetious.

The verse struck me because in many English versions we translate that famous verse "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" which gives the verse a personalized moral call, but here is (and according to the Greek it could be) translated "Seek first the Kingdom of God and God's justice" very different ethical connotation. The alfambra, made of dyed sawdust simply says "Buscalo" or "Seek it!"

Friday, February 29, 2008

today's lesson: start with the pot

Class today started with a two hour long lecture by someone from WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America) about the situation of violence, security, organized crime and impunity. A great way to start our class theme of the day: social, systemic and individual sin... right? I began the last half of our class with the women, by taking a glance at how the church has portrayed sin throughout its history- especially regarding women.
I left the last segment for the pot. I brought this broken pot to the class "Teologia Desde Las Mujeres" as a way to talk about, see, touch, and express the reality of sin as brokenness in our lives and in this culture.
I am in awe by what art and symbolism drew out of these women and helped us express to one another. I asked them to paint a picture of their own experiences of sin, how they have experienced brokenness, caused brokenness, or how they see it in the culture around them.
Each of them depicted vivid scenes of violence from their own lives, and then shared about them intimately. I was struck once again by the pervasiveness of violence in this culture and country. The violence was given names, faces, voices and stories today in these accounts of survival and solidarity.
In one class we moved from the systemic problems of organized crime in the country and problems of violence and impunity, to the stories of women who nearly added to those statistics. I praise God for their lives, their stories, and they're willingness to share as they move forward. In four months of class together they have never shared quite as personally as they did today. Was it the art... the Spirit of God... the image and symbolism of brokenness... some of all of the above? Nonetheless it was a powerful space for all. And I learned new lessons about teaching. Start with the pot.