Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Lista de Canciones

“He came to Jesus at night” (John 3:2). 

We had some hot days recently in Cochabamba. It has also been very dry, too. I do not remember the last day it rained here. The level of Rio Rocha is falling. Today was a cooler day, but overcast, totally. There is light, but it is a dry, gray, stale light. Not a colorful light today. Oh well. 

It was an okay day at Maryknoll. We are now integrating the preterite perfect tense and the past participle in general. I had more than enough energy for classes, and a good rapport with Joshua and the teachers. But once I returned to the convent after the walk from Maryknoll, there was a complete drop-off in energy and momentum. I tried to nap, though I know that’s not good for insomnia, but I wasn’t able to snooze. Maybe I rested, but I did not sleep. Now that I think about it, I haven’t had a nap in weeks. I wanted to exercise but felt too tired to do it. Living with insomnia is living in a half-world where nothing is right: too awake at the wrong time to rest and be still, too tired the rest of the time to do what you want. 

My appointment for the specialist is on Monday afternoon. In the meantime, tomorrow is El Día del Trabajador, with the day off, Thursday is the field trip for the feast of Santa Vera Cruz, then one more day of classes this week, and the weekend. We will see how it goes. 

If I cannot feel centered in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit by day, then maybe I will have to turn my disadvantage into an advantage. Like Nicodemus, I ought to seek Jesus at night. Of course, I wonder. I wonder if I can go to Jesus at night, any night, this very night. Also I wonder if Jesus will come to me at night, any night, this very night. Do I have faith? Will he be there? And where he is, will God be there also? This is my hope. 

Dear God, I am faithful to many things, to many persons. Although I believe I am free, although I believe I can choose the good and do the good, I ask myself, in the deep of night, am I faithful to your Son, to the way of Jesus? Dear God, show me how to have faith, even though at this moment I do not know what it means to trust in you. Move my pondering back into prayer. Move me from self-consciousness back to consciousness of you. Move me from self-absorption back into love, of you and neighbor. 

Finally, a change of pace for the blog today. As a supplement to the usual daily sleep report, I’ll share with you some songs that capture for me what it feels like to be sleepless. You may have heard of one or two of them. I guarantee you won’t have heard all of them. A peek into the music that swirls through my mind. A peek into my Anglophilia. Maybe also a peek into my sense of humor and my sense of soul. 

Monday, April 29, 2019


A return to some normality today. The blessing of Monday?

I honestly do not know how much sleep I got last night. I wonder if I got any. Maybe I was half-awake, half-conscious throughout the night. So I consider it a small miracle that I rose at six-thirty (I conceded morning prayer to the manifest necessity of a little more rest), made it to Maryknoll for a full day of classes, and felt fresh throughout the morning. In fact, I felt really present and fully engaged in our conversations and exercises. My thanks to Joshua, and to Profesores Osvaldo and Vicky, for bringing the best out of me today. 

At Maryknoll we said ciao to one of the students, a priest from India with the Society of the Divine Word missionaries, who is returning to Rome on Wednesday. And we said bienvenido to a new student, a priest from South Korea. (An aside: Profesora Julia rotated to the new student, which is why Profesor Osvaldo is now platooning with Profesora Vicky.) At this time we are eight students in all, five from Korea, my Maryknoll seminarian friends Joshua and Charles, and me. 

This afternoon I had my appointment at Clínica Belga with Doctora Ferrel. We decided to drop the medication I had been using this month. She has referred me to a specialist who speaks English who can help identify causes and remedies and, as necessary, prescribe something more effective and particular to my form of sleeplessness. I found the specialist’s office but it was closed this afternoon, so I will make contact later. 

So for now I will continue doing the positive things that will increase the possibility of adequate rest on any given night. The class schedule is lighter this week. Wednesday is El Día del Trabajador, so the mission center is closed. I am hoping to view a workers’ march in the morning around the city center and post here about it if I can. On Thursday the teachers and students are going to Santa Cruz Tatala for the celebration of the feast of Santa Vera Cruz, of which I wrote last week. So really there are only two more days of in-class instruction and one grand field trip for all. 

At this hour I feel fully awake. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Or, more to the point, who knows what the night will bring? For now, for this evening, off to early dinner, rosary with the friars and the people of God, Eucharist, and night prayer.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Fotos de Maryknoll

If you have not visited the Facebook page for Centro Misionero Maryknoll en América Latina lately, then have a look today. The mission center posts pictures of events from all its programs, including the language program. So go to the photos page and scroll down the timeline of photos. You will find the language students at the weekly Wednesday cultural conferences, at worship, or at the monthly film screening and discussion. Look carefully enough, and here and there you just might see the spotty, quizzical-looking face of a certain Capuchin friar.


It is Sunday: the yoke is easy and the burden is light. 

I saw the girls at Nuestra Casa this morning. They continued with the same drawing exercise, this time with a fresh package of 60 sharpened Faber-Castell colored pencils. They listened to tranquil instrumentals, mainly piano, synthesizers, drums, and bass. The girls chose the music themselves—rhythmic and meditative, both sad and serene. Melancholy, yes, but with linings of cheerfulness. I liked what they drew because I liked the music they chose, and their drawings drew me back to the music. I think most of them have got the idea behind this exercise now. The next time we draw together, I would like to try a new exercise that my sister Jennifer recommended to me. I hope the girls will be receptive. 

I’m still tired but I am getting through it today. I slept through the first three hours of the night, from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Then I woke, which is always a concern for me, but to wake that early was especially concerning to me. Thankfully, I was able to return to sleep during the night. But it was peculiar. I woke up and went back down to sleep again at least six or seven times through the night. Never before can I recall waking up and going back to sleep, dreaming, as many times as I know I did last night. How many hours of sleep did I get? After the three solid hours, between 2 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., who knows? 

If I lived in a world where the day started at 8 a.m. instead of 6 a.m., my sleeplessness would not be a problem. By nature my body prefers to fall around midnight and pick up again at 8 o’clock. But I don’t get to live in that kind of world; friars don’t get to live in that kind of world. And with an unrelenting daily schedule of morning classes, there is no way to mask the morning fatigue that has been with me all my adulthood. Still, I will get through it, as I have today. I was not that tongue-tied around the girls. A few people stopped me on the street to talk to me, and it was okay, not awkward: nearly normal. Bashful as I am to enter into many of the routine interactions of this immersion—classes, the friars’ meals, Nuestra Casa, random encounters on the street—once I am there, then I am there. It goes much better when I have access to 100 percent of the energy my body can provide, but even when I have less, I have learned how to deploy it. 

Now, to rest, perhaps to exercise, perhaps to write poetry in the cloister garden, and do whatever I need to do, whatever I can, to ensure a week to come during which I can wear the yoke and carry the burden with ease and lightness, in the body and the spirit.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Cristo de la Concordia

“Thomas said to Jesus, ‘Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?’ ” (John 14:5).

Working on four hours of sleep, a mild headache, and an accumulating sleep debt, dear readers. When will it end? God only knows, and God does not speak. This time, when I woke at 3 a.m., I stayed up; I did not and could not go back to sleep for even half an hour. You know, I begin to believe that if just one of the disciples had a case of insomnia like this, Jesus would have been saved from being handed over to the authorities on that night in Gethsemane. I don’t say Jesus would have avoided his and our destiny, but at least that particular Thursday-into-Friday would have dissolved into obscurity, or at least another good pericope, perhaps a nighttime dialogue in the Gospel of John. 

During that black hole of time I wrote a six-page screed that will most likely stay in my secret archives until and after I die, or until I burn it. It made me feel good to write it and let it out, but it’s fit for God’s eyes only, and God does not see. If you are curious, I will say this: now I think I am ready to be an apprentice to the Psalmist, or to the prophet Jeremiah. Move over, Baruch! Make room, Jeremiah. God duped me, too. 

I showered and dressed for morning prayer as if it were a weekday. Once I was seated in chapel, fatigue came over me. Yeah, thanks a lot, body; you’re doing a heck of a job—being wired when I don’t want it, crashing when I don’t want it. Well, my soul mastered my body, and I stayed awake through meditation into morning prayer. Throughout that time sitting there, gazing at the San Damiano Crucifix that transfixed Saint Francis of Assisi 800 years ago, I was wavering about whether to make the hike up San Pedro Hill to the statue of Cristo de la Concordia, the largest image of Christ in the world at the time of its completion in 1994. One minute I felt so weary that I wanted to crawl back to bed; the next moment I realized that to attempt sleep now, after 7 a.m., would be futile and harmful. Back and forth I went, one minute to the next, one second to the next. The indecision! My soul flipped a coin; it landed on heads. Before I lost my nerve, I grabbed my backpack with food and water, left all my valuables, including my phone and money, and departed the convent at about quarter to eight. 

From the city center it is a straight road along Avenida Heroinas east to the foot of San Pedro Hill. I was there in 15 minutes or so, I would gather. Because of robberies and the strenuousness of climbing 1,400 steps or nearly 1,000 feet to the peak, many people take the cable car or teleférico for 6 bolivianos one way, 12 bolivianos round trip. But I did not intend to float my way up to Cristo de la Concordia. I was a pilgrim; I would walk. 

One estimate I read stated it takes 45 minutes to get to the top. Surely I made it up there in half an hour or so. I could feel the legs getting heavy halfway up; each of these steps was about 8 inches high. I stopped frequently for about 10 or 15 seconds, feeling the hard pumping of my heart. Sometimes I stepped gingerly; many of the concrete steps are now cracked and crumbling 25 years after completion. I hope there are many faithful benefactors who are aware of this and will be ready to give so as to make this pilgrimage feasible for another generation. 

Approaching the hill from Avenida Heroinas, Cristo de la Concordia was always in my sight. The statue can be seen from everywhere in Cochabamba. It is in the logo for the city. It is found in public landscaping everywhere. I have seen the statue high on the hill or its silhouette in the omnipresent city logo hundreds of times. This morning it was different. It was new again, new for the first time. And it wasn’t a statue anymore; it was not a logo anymore. It was Jesus Christ, and he was waiting for me. With my fatigue and sleeplessness; with my days of delight and frustration; and with many other joys and tensions rising from deep within, I felt a surge of tears coming on, even while still far away from the hill. No, I told myself. Wait until you get to the top of the hill. Then it will be time for your tears. When you reach the foot of San Pedro, you cannot see the statue anymore because you are practically under it. I found the course and began the walk upward. 

From the avenue to the hill the sun was beaming brightly before me, as I was facing due east. At the bottom of the hill all was in the coolness of shade, and so was the ascent until two-thirds of the way up. Then the sun broke out from behind the hill and bathed everything in light and warmth. From time to time I stopped to look west at the city below, to the north at the cable car line, and to the south to Laguna Alalay, which looked inviting indeed. After a few dozen more steps, Cristo de la Concordia re-emerged, in erect majesty. 

I was never by myself along this stairway to heaven. There were numerous women, men, and children going up for exercise or simply to enjoy the view at the top. In fact, more than several people were already making their way down, having wisely made their hike, jog, or run at dawn. I was grateful for the safety of numbers. But this morning it did not matter if I was alone or in a multitude. I was absorbed in my own thoughts and prayers and driven to get to the top and to adore at the feet of Christ and to let go of my complaints and unburden myself of so much longing and desire. 

I reached the plateau. The hill broadens into a platform with several terraces below to the south and to the west, behind the statue. There are several overlook points that offer gorgeous scenic views of the higher peaks of Bolivia’s Cordillera Central to the north and east. These views I took in after my moments of prayer. Let me describe those moments for you now. 

The stairway opens to a very broad pavilion before the statue, which is ringed by a low iron fence. To the right on a stone wall is a very recent plaque erected by the city which reads (my translation):

Behold, I am here. I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, then I will enter your house and dine with you, and you with me (Revelation 3:20). 


We open for you the doors of Cochabamba 

We hand over to you the keys of our city 

Cochabamba, September 2016 

As soon as I read the first words of Scripture, Estoy aquí, the floodgates of my eyes opened. I rushed to the statue. I ran to Jesus. I knelt at the fence. And I saw something else. At the foot of Cristo de la Concordia is a metal sculpture of a Bible, its two open pages inscribed in relief with two quotations from the Gospel of John: 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). 

“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (John 15:12). 

I wept and I sobbed. The tears fell down my face and the perspiration fell down my body. All the pressure, all the tension, all the fatigue, all the anxiety and fear of the last three days and nights disappeared, dissolved in tears that dried up in the cool breeze and bright sun. Jesus raised me above it all. Jesus loved me. And at that moment, if only for that moment, I found peace. I felt free. I felt like myself. I felt awake. I felt alive. 

Today, there has been this thought: I don’t know much about anything these days. When I do not know, then I trust less. Sometimes I do not trust anyone when I feel restless or alarmed or uncertain. Do I trust God? I do not know God! God is strange and mysterious. God gives and takes away. God holds out and pulls back. It is all uncertain. But even though I do not know and even though I cannot trust, I can turn to Jesus. Even if I cannot turn to God, I can turn to Jesus. This is why I cried at the feet of Christ. 

I ate my breakfast of bread and puffed maize kernels, which are like popcorn but larger and sweeter. I took a leisurely walk around the statue, descended its terraces, and stood from its observation points. I made one more visit to the front of the statue, knelt again and said some prayers, naming the concerns I have written about lately. Then I began my reluctant descent, taking a few looks backward at Cristo de la Concordia and the landscape around me before coming back down to earth, down to the city, down to an unknown destiny. 

Postscript: Click here for a gallery of many photos of Cristo de la Concordia. Among these photos is a picture of a plaque with facts and figures about this monument of faith.

Friday, April 26, 2019

¿Ahora Qué?

According to Google, this blog had almost 200 pageviews yesterday. That is probably the most views the blog has ever had in a single day. Forgive me, readers, for complaining about getting attention—certainly, each pageview is a valentine—but why is it that you come around in such numbers only when there is bad news? I hope you don’t forget the many good things that have happened to me on this Bolivian journey. If you have come for the insomnia, then I hope you stay for the rebound when it comes. 

Not that I know when the rebound and recovery will come. Another three-hour hole torn in the middle of the night, Thursday night. Half-awake or wide awake from 3 a.m. (on the hour, yet again!) until after 5:30 a.m. Then pulled swiftly, instantly, into REM sleep for 20 minutes from 5:30 to 5:50 a.m. Then thrust awake before the morning bells of the convent could do the job. Then thrust back down into REM for maybe almost an hour, from about 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. The sleep cycle is broken, completely broken. I can’t do morning classes at Maryknoll like this. (I did make it to school for the last two hours of classes.)

For maybe 30 or 40 minutes during the helpless hole in my sleep, I knelt in prayer at my bed, then sat on my bed in prayer, trying desperately to channel away anger through meditation. I repeated these questions like a mantra to God: Now what? What do you want now? You have showed me all this beauty. You have also showed me the resurrected wounds of Christ. Okay, Christ is here. Now what? You have showed me so much. Now what? What are you going to do? 

Do not think it vain or conceited of me to say this, readers, but I think God is slacking off. And right now I demand a lot more from God, a lot more. Away with your talk about “the weakness of God.” This is the God of creation and resurrection! God has done so much to me in the past. God has put the Spirit powerfully into me and given me a way forward. This happened two times, on June 11, 2000, at my confirmation, and on June 11, 2004, when I had a mystical experience while visiting Cornell University. God saved my life on Sept. 11, 2001. And I am sure God has saved me from accidents too many to number or remember. So I feel justified in demanding that God appear and do something to me to resolve the strange contradictions between my body, mind, and spirit. 

In the meantime, I am doing what I must to take care of myself. I thank a dear Capuchin brother for reminding me to do things that refresh the soul. Climbing Tunari Peak was one of the highs, literally and figuratively, of my time here. So tomorrow, Saturday, I will climb San Pedro Hill, a much-smaller peak on the eastern edge of the city, on which stands the impressive statue of Cristo de la Concordia, the symbol of the city of Cochabamba. The weather will be good; if I am feeling up to it, I will make the hike. I was meaning to do it during Lent, but going now during Easter will be very meaningful. I plan to make petitions to the risen Christ to do even more than I can imagine to form and change my life. A pilgrimage to resurrection. I look forward to it. 

I will also try to keep things in perspective and emphasize what is positive. After all, I have been here on my own (that is, on my own as a Capuchin) for over 10 weeks, over 70 days. That’s quite a feat of endurance, going that long without the company of my own Capuchin brothers. I have also been rereading the journal I kept during my cultural immersion in Ocotepeque, Honduras, in June and July 2014. This experience is way, way different. It has had so many more delights, so many more smiles and laughs, so many more “achievements,” so many more highs. Whatever cultural shock I have experienced, it’s so much less severe than the total constant daily shocks of rural Honduras. And maybe I have adapted and matured since 2014. Plus I know more Spanish than I give myself credit for here. 

My hope was to wrap up today’s post with a report from my visit to Clínica Belga, where I went for a consultation three weeks ago. Unfortunately, Doctora Ferrel, who met with me last time, was occupied with appointments. I would prefer to see her again and not another clinician because I know I can understand her speech and I know she can understand me. And I won’t have to start over and explain my condition to another doctor. I set an appointment for Monday afternoon. See—progress! I take a little pride in being able to do these kinds of things on my own in another country in another language. 

Now that I feel more awake than at any other time today, I will spend some time in prayer and meditation. God and I need to have a little talk, and more than that.

Thursday, April 25, 2019


Dear God, 

This is your servant, Brother Anthony, speaking. I know you can hear me; you hear everything. Last night’s sleep was worse than the night before. I was wide awake at the wrong hours. I could not get back to sleep. When I finally did fall asleep, I totally missed morning prayer and the first hour of school. 

I know there are many more important problems out there than my insomnia. However, I want to be a part of your work of salvation in the midst of those problems. I simply want to be who you want me to be. Your servant is useless if he is sleepless at night and restless, exhausted during the day. 

And so today I blame you, I accuse you. You’re not holding up your end of the bargain. I changed a few of my personal habits. I went to the doctor. What is the matter here? Are you away on business? Are you sleeping at the wheel? The Book of Job is a myth, a fairy-story, isn’t it? You don’t really allow malign spirits to take over and keep your servants awake at night, do you? 

Whatever the case, you let me down. I am the other prodigal son, the elder son, and I am addressing you. Okay, so the younger son has been brought back to life. Praise be to you. Now bring me back to life. Raise me. Raise me up and keep me up! Why do you let me fall back down into sleeplessness, restlessness, and fatigue? Listen up! Haven’t I confessed already, too? All of this is your doing. Now, fix this and make it better! 

With or without your help, I’m going to keep looking for a solution. I’ll ask the friars. I’ll ask the Maryknoll community. 

In the meantime, I have a deeper question for you, God. What do you really want from me? What do you want at all? You seem to be sending mixed signals. You bring me to this beautiful place, and you give me so many things to experience and enjoy. At the same time, I learn very little, very slowly, and the finest fruits you offer seem always to be out of reach. And then you bring days and nights like yesterday. Why tease your servant like this? They say it’s culture shock, but after ten weeks that seems like a stretch, an awfully delayed reaction. So what is really going on? Again: what do you really want? 

Do not leave me grasping for things beyond my reach. Do not leave me striving for impossibilities. Bring your light, the light of your crucified and risen Son, to bear on this course you have made. It is beautiful but broken and it is repetitive. Stop leading me around in a circle. You brought me this far on the journey. Do not take your eyes off me now. Calm the whirlpool of repetition. End this restlessness and bring resolution and forward motion. Where do you want me to stay? Where do you want me to go? Show me the way. Order my waking and resting the right way. Above all, don’t let the love you have put in my heart grow cold from fatigue. Amen.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019


And today I was exhausted, full of stale gas from old yeast. I was exhausted not in the body as much as in the mind and soul. Well, I can only say that every day is different.

I thought I slept. I did sleep, and I did dream. Didn’t I? Yes, I did. But there is sleep and there is rest. Clearly, I did not get the rest I needed. This, despite the lifestyle changes I have made. This, despite the sleeping medication. This, despite doing the right things. 

Such a struggle to get through the morning. Figuratively speaking, my teachers had to drag me to the finish of each hour. I was too tired to put up much protest. I did ask them to halt when their conversation questions were too difficult and I did not want to go on. And I did refuse homework, explaining that I had the whole afternoon today at the girls’ shelter. Which was true. I did volunteer this afternoon at Nuestra Casa. But we did not have art projects today. The girls had to tidy up the shaggy garden plots, which was two hours’ work. This meant pulling up weeds, hacking at overgrowth, cleaning up debris, hoeing, raking, sweeping, and much more with simple yard tools. The girls worked very well. Me? I was just a lawn mower. I ran over and over the unkempt grass with a reel lawn mower; that means manual, non-electric, powered by humans. It wasn’t hard work, physically; but with my mind totally absent today, it prolonged the fatigue. I just wanted to go away and not be around anybody. I left early, when it was time for the girls to have their late afternoon break. 

Fatigue probably has a lot to do with it, but also today, I felt for the first time the foreignness of Bolivia. Tania Avila Meneses gave the weekly cultural conference at Maryknoll. She talked about the celebration of Santa Vera Cruz, a syncretic celebration of the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the next cycle of life. On May 2 and 3 at Templo Santa Cruz Tatala, pilgrims bring offerings as they give thanks for the fertility of the earth they cultivate; the fertility of their animals, that is, their livestock; and the fertility of their families. At the feet of a figure of Christ crucified, women and couples who seek to bear children make their petitions, bringing dolls that they touch to the feet of Christ. They also buy figures of animals and place them, along with flowers and dried animal dung, around a ceremonial fire, or mesa, offering prayers, songs, and libations of chicha

As we watched videos of indigenous women singing their high-pitched songs of the ch’alla, and as we made our own miniature mesas, shaping animals out of Play-Doh, I felt totally out of place. This was the first time I was profoundly and visibly uncomfortable with where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing. I don’t mean that I couldn’t bear the paganism mixed with Christian practice. I mean that I understood what we were about, but I could not relate to our activity at all. Why was I here? I just wanted to go away and rest. I do not say I wanted to go home—if you know me well, you know that home is neither here nor there—but just to rest. I needed a break from the foreignness. 

I resented it that Señora Tania did not see my fatigue and discomfort. It seemed to me she saw only an American who was unwilling to enter into the experience of another culture. She did not know that I am not preparing for mission in a country other than my own. She did not know that I am not working with indigenous peoples. She did not know about my insomnia. She did not know my resistance had nothing to do with reluctance to engage other cultures and everything to do with not being there in spirit today. 

Tomorrow is another day, goes the cliché. During my travels in Bolivia, I have experienced tomorrow breaking into today, and it has been fantastic. But today, tomorrow is a long time from now, and it feels far away. God, please grant me more rest. Hear what I am saying to you! Don’t let me go sleepless like this again. Let today, especially this today, yield to tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


I was feeling feisty this morning at Maryknoll. 

I slept well enough, I arrived awake, and I stayed awake throughout classes. Speaking of Joshua as my sparring partner gave me an image to imitate today, and so I found myself acting lively with Profesora Julia, responding actively and not passively to her questions and her corrections. 

We began with a pronunciation exercise, reading Scripture and reflections from a weekly Catholic bulletin. I protested some of the corrections to my pronunciation, thinking I had delivered what Profesora Julia wanted to hear, when in fact I had not. I knew this inside of me, but I was goading myself to be awake and alert and active, and it worked, so I continued play-acting and sparring in this way. It all went well enough. We continued with vocabulary drilling, which included going frequently off on a tangent for conversation whenever a word prompted some thought in me or the teacher. Doing this makes class time pass surprisingly quickly. 

The second hour of class brought more success, in fact probably my best hour going solo thus far. I prepared a ten-minute talk about the parallels between the Jewish Passover and the Christian “Passover” of Easter, starting from an ancient formula of Christian faith handed down by Saint Paul: “Our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). This went over very well: I had made myself very clear, and my grammar was correct. For the rest of the second hour we found ourselves talking about the Jewish and Christian faiths, and from there branching into other topics, including ecumenism, with a long digression into Jehovah’s Witnesses, its beliefs, and its practices of evangelization. Lo and behold, it was ten o’clock and time for tea before I knew it. This was very good. 

The third and fourth hours also passed well with Profesora Karla. She has been substituting since last week for both Profesora Sara, who was ill, and Profesora Vicky, my teacher for the next three weeks, who was on vacation these last two days. I presented a summary of what I learned on the Internet about mate, the popular hot beverage (or sometimes cold) consumed throughout South America. Our vocabulary drill led into numerous digressions. One of them concerned Bolivian politics. No, I do not think it is a good idea for the United States to intervene in the October presidential election and forcibly prevent Evo Morales from seeking another term, though he is in fact constitutionally barred from doing so and he has ignored a national referendum calling for him to honor the Bolivian constitution. This is a situation for Bolivians to resolve themselves, not the United States. We also talked about the surgeries we have had; I had a salivary gland with a calcified duct removed in May 2001. 

I write at length about what happened in class, mundane as it seems, because these are things I talked about entirely in Spanish. And it was only the teacher and I. And it was an equal exchange as we shared the conversation in roughly equal parts, not quite fifty-fifty but rather close. It was also an equitable exchange: the teachers, as always, give all they can give, and today I was genuinely giving all I can give. And to my surprise, I kept finding more to give. The conversation kept going, for four 50-minute sessions. That is an accomplishment worth naming and celebrating. 

In the same letter, in almost the same breath where he says Christ is the paschal lamb that was sacrificed, Paul tells the Christian church in Corinth to celebrate the Passover feast “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8). Thanks be to God, in my efforts at school today I truly kept the Christian Passover well, clearing out the old yeast of my inhibitions and sloth, becoming a fresh batch of dough. I engaged the opportunity before me with effort and enthusiasm.

Monday, April 22, 2019


I am glad we have arrived at Easter. I’m also relieved this is the week of the octave of Easter. Timely is the infusion of Spirit and life that these early days of the season bring. 

Joshua is on retreat with his community of Maryknoll priests and seminarians; at the Franciscan retreat center in Tarata, in fact. This leaves me on my own in class this week. Ugh. It was hard this morning working one-on-one with Profesoras Julia and Karla for four hours without my lively sparring partner. I should say working out, because this is a mentally tiring exercise, a workout that feels less gratifying than an hour or 90 minutes on the treadmill. Yes, I was wiped out by the time it was noon, with no euphoria or release of feel-good chemicals. Thank goodness I had a nearly full night of rest and plenty of energy this morning. 

What is more, my teachers were in the mood to give quite a bit of homework today. Making up for a light load during Holy Week, were we? 

Ah, I love to complain! My superego wants to chastise me for resisting this, my prime opportunity to stretch and go deeper, to make the connections, to integrate what I’m learning, to get stronger, more fluent, more fluid. What’s the matter with you? This is why you are here! Seize the moment! Just do it! ¡Hágalo! 

Well, yes, but. I am here for the gardens, the mountains, and the fountains, too. They teach me a language beyond words, a language of beauty and grace and truth. I am here for the vision of the people without which they and I would perish. I am here for chess games and drawing pictures with the girls who know both wounds and resurrection in their bodies. I am here for chapati from Joshua and anything Diana prepares in the convent kitchen. I am here to dodge the batty drivers and make them think twice about cutting off a cranky Capuchin friar from New York trying to cross the street. I am here to tease Carmelo, making ugly faces and uttering hexes at him in English and Spanish. 

For these favorite things, for these foolish things I have come. With them, God opens my ears and my lips. Without them, everything stays shut. So to the superego I say, be quiet. And to the God who can do more than we ask or imagine, in all those ways mysterious to me, I say, ¡Hágalo! 

In other news, I am sad to report that Fray Jorge S., one of the student friars here at Convento San Francisco, has decided to leave the Franciscan order. I am sure he has made a good discernment, but all the same I am sorry to see him go. He was and is my best friend among the brothers. He has always been friendly and outgoing toward me. We talked many times at lunch about his studies, whatever he heard in his lectures that day or was reading that evening. We talked about Freud; we talked about dreams. We talked about movies and music. He is a talented musician, playing guitar, piano, and percussion. In my opinion he is also the best soccer player among the brothers. The Holy Spirit burns brightly in his heart and soul. May God lead him along sure paths as he brings the light of the risen Christ to others. I will have an opportunity to say goodbye to him tomorrow, the day he leaves. Tomorrow is also his birthday. Feliz cumpleaños, y yaya con Dios, mi hermano en Cristo resucitado.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Domingo de Pascua

Cristo ha resucitado. Verdaderamente ha resucitado el Señor, aleluya. 

I scribbled down some thoughts yesterday mid-morning. I came back to them as I prayed morning prayer at sunrise.

God is so powerful. God can bring inert matter to life and can bring dead matter back to life. God will not let what has lived cease to live. What has had life will always have life, if it awakes and arises.

God is so loving. My faith tells me that God wants us so much, in life and beyond life itself, that God raised Jesus and sent the Holy Spirit to make us one person with God. With God! It is God who loves. It is God who wakes. It is God who arises. It is God who joins us together, one with God, one with one another. 

In the light of God’s love, I recognize that my desire pales with God’s desire to be one person with me. If I surrender and awaken and arise with God through the power released by the risen Christ, then I will be made one, one with God, one with God’s beloved, one with others. 

If you will permit me this declaration of faith: it is Christ who does the awakening and arising. I feel and know this in the deepest stillness of my soul. Christ is here, always here, to awaken me, to raise me, to join me with him, and to join me with others. Only Christ has done this; always Christ has done this. 

When I surrender and love God first and say, “Not my will but yours be done,” these amazing things have happened. 

More can be said. More can be written. It is enough for today. I still wish to be still, be silent, watch, pray, and let God speak, call, act, love, arise. Blessings to all who rejoice in the Easter Sunday celebrations. Many blessings to all who keep and remember the Passover feast. To all people of good will, I wish peace and all good things, with light and life renewed and everlasting and invincible. 

I’m sure I mentioned before that this is my first Easter celebration outside of the United States, away from everyone I have known: family, friars, friends. Liturgically, I have kept the solemnity with the Franciscans here at Convento San Francisco and the faithful who worship at Templo San Francisco. Today, I will be spending time apart from the fraternity but not alone. In fact, I have two birthday parties to attend! This morning I make my weekly visit to Nuestra Casa, where one of the girls is celebrating her birthday today. Then I will go to the house of the Maryknoll community to celebrate Joshua’s birthday with priests and seminarians and friends. Joshua’s birthday fell on Good Friday, but you can’t really celebrate on Good Friday, can you? On the other hand, what better day to celebrate a birthday than Easter Sunday, the “birthday” of risen life? In the early evening I will talk to my parents and siblings over a video call on the Internet. It will be a good day, a joyful day, I hope. May your day be hope-filled and joyful and beautiful.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Sábado Santo

Today is Holy Saturday, the middle day of the Easter mysteries. Here at the convent I have been keeping still, praying, journaling, and writing a little pious poetry. Tonight I will attend the Easter vigil Mass at Templo San Francisco.

I do not have much more I want or need to say today. I am keeping watch.

Instead of my words, I share with you an ancient homily for Holy Saturday, which I am contemplating this morning. It moves me. 

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the Holy One sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled. 

Truly Christ goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; Christ wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Christ goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, Christ who is God, and Adam’s son. 

The Holy One goes in to them holding the cross. When Adam, the first created human, sees Christ, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: “My Lord be with you all.” And Christ in reply says to Adam: “And with your spirit.” And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. 

“I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise. 

“I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O human, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person. 

“For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, human, I became as a human without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over from a garden and crucified in a garden. 

“Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image. 

“See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one. 

“I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you. 

“But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.” 

The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Viernes Santo

All is quiet at Convento San Francisco. The pilgrims have gone home, or to work. They have visited seven churches. A few, or perhaps many of them, must have spent the night sleepless, waiting for the Way of the Cross procession through the city streets to begin at 4 a.m. They would process with the Cross around the city center until about 6 a.m., according to Padre Juan Carlos, with whom I shared a hasty meal last evening. 

Now everything is still. The drama of Jesus’ death has been done (to death?). At 3 o’clock this afternoon we will have the Passion service at Templo San Francisco, with the reading of the Gospel of John, veneration of the Cross, petitions for the world, and communion. And then nothing more will happen until the Great Vigil at 7 o’clock on Saturday evening. It strikes me how much of the three-day Easter observance passes in silence. That is good. For all the power of the rituals—Eucharist, foot washing, pilgrimage, procession, veneration, the fire of resurrection and the water of baptism—it is necessary also to have time and distance away from the signs and symbols, from the words and acts, and ponder the sequence of light into sorrow into glory. 

More and more I need to make the passage from Lent to Easter in silence, with time apart for contemplation. Holy Thursday is so soon taken away from us, and the liturgies of the Church and the customs of folk religion are themselves to blame. Maybe I’ll take revenge by passing over Good Friday already and lingering in the sad but sweet space of Holy Saturday, longing for the first tears of Mary of Magdala, who found the empty tomb and was then found by Jesus who came in a form unknown to her.

Ah, I guess that in reality I am all over the place. I am letting go but I am also holding on. These words of Jesus remain, his words in that beautiful garden on a dangerous night: “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Throughout my sleeplessness—thanks, brothers, for ringing the convent bell extra long and extra loud at 3:30 a.m., shattering my slumber for the rest of the night—these words held me through petty anger, anxiety, aloneness, and other impish feelings that assail you during the darkest hours before the dawn. Those next few hours passed slowly, dreamlessly for the most part, until I rose late, long after sunrise, and immediately I began to pray the Divine Office on my knees. I needed open the shutters of my bedside window only a crack for the sunlight to stream in with brightness and warmth. And I prayed with calmness and certainty, awake and aware despite restlessness. Over and under the Spanish prayers I recited slowly, I breathed in and out Jesus’ words of surrender, my words of surrender: “Not my will but yours be done.” 

This is where I find myself now, and here I will remain, keeping the fast, keeping the silence, remembering, waiting, expecting, holding on, letting go.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Jueves Santo

“ ‘I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another’ ” (John 13:34). 

The breaking of the bread and the washing of the feet have taken place. The Easter mysteries have begun. 

All the lights of the cloister garden, and the lights of the cloister corridors, are on this evening. The Catholic churches here in the center of Cochabamba are open all evening to the faithful making pilgrimage to them. They visit seven churches in a journey that recapitulates the judgment against Jesus and his condemnation to death. This is a tradition that dates to the year 1300, which was a holy year of jubilee in the Roman Catholic Church. What is the significance of the seven visits? Families go from church to church marking seven moments preceding Jesus’ death, from his agony in the garden of Gethsemane through his arrest, interrogation, beating, trial and condemnation, to his carrying of the cross to Calvary. At each church, the people pause before the Blessed Sacrament, the consecrated bread that makes Christ present, for a moment of adoration and remembering of Jesus’ ultimate struggle against the powers of the world. 

This tradition was brought to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadores and evangelizers. Along with the Way of the Cross, observed on Fridays throughout Lent and especially on Good Friday, the Holy Thursday church pilgrimages were adopted by Catholics and handed on down the generations. I suppose this custom is practicable mainly in cities where there are several Catholic churches in walking distance of one another. I know this pilgrimage is being done in midtown Manhattan and includes the Church of St. John the Baptist, our Capuchin church. 

As it has been explained to me, the real sense and significance of the pilgrimage comes through a knowledge of the Passion accounts in the Gospels. Perhaps it is best to think of this custom as a folksy form of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. It is intended to help the faithful put themselves in the scene with Jesus and comprehend the gravity of human betrayal, of sin, of injustice, and violence. It builds empathy for God, whose saving words and acts of love have been rejected. And it builds solidarity with those who are abandoned and left alone to suffer the consequences of personal and structural sin. 

Chances are my Christian but not Catholic friends have never heard of this custom. And they might be wondering: Too soon, after Jesus’ loving washing of the feet, his everlasting gift of the Eucharist, and his commandment to love one another? Aren’t we turning the page too quickly to Good Friday? Aren’t we overlooking and underplaying these saving actions of God through Jesus on Holy Thursday? I raise these questions because I entertain my own misgivings about the theological priority being placed on the suffering itself. It seems to elevate what should not be elevated in and of itself: sin and violence. Good Friday seems to crowd out both the salvific work of Jesus’ ministry and the indispensable, un-dismissible reality of his Resurrection. I am especially concerned that, throughout Christian communities today, the significance of the Resurrection is underplayed and its continuing, redeeming, transforming power is underestimated.

But I digress. A theological argument for another day, not this evening. It is time to rest, to reflect, to watch and pray. As for me, I am not going out on the pilgrimage this evening: it’s hard to pray in a crowd. Moreover, with the language students and teachers late this morning, I already stopped by five of the churches in this circuit: La Catedral de San Sebastian, San Juan de Dios, Templo Santa Clara, Templo Santo Domingo, and, of course, my house of worship, Templo San Francisco, where I gave a personal guided tour of the church and convent. What is more, I slept poorly last night, maybe half the night. I feel for the disciples who could not keep watch with Jesus for an hour when he needed protection! Poor Profesora Viviana; she did her best to keep me awake from 8 to 9 a.m., giving me a rest from conversation and giving me an impromptu lecture about the ways that Bolivians of indigenous heritage discouraged their children and grandchildren from learning Aymara or Quechua language and culture. 

I have rambled on enough. It is night. It is time to be still. I’ll follow you through the sorrowful mysteries of Good Friday into the glorious mysteries of Easter Sunday. But it is Holy Thursday yet. I want to remain a little while in the light of bread broken and shared, feet held and healed, and a commandment that will always be new.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Good evening, friends and constant readers. The solemn celebration of the paschal triduum (Easter) is almost here, but I’ll keep corresponding with you daily if you keep reading daily! 

Wednesday is my long day of immersion, with classes plus the girls’ shelter. But it was a good day, on the balance. 

Joshua and I continued to solve the puzzle of the present subjunctive tense with Profesora Viviana. We celebrated Eucharist at Maryknoll with Father Juan, which was for me a joyful gathering. It’s nice just to have an “ordinary” Mass outside of the more solemn feasts of the Christian calendar, and this was the last such Mass before the triduum and the Great Fifty Days of Easter. So, no pressure, and lots of grace. It moved me quietly to celebrate with the entire mission center staff: language teachers, mission formation staff, and the laborers and custodians. Everyone was equal. Everyone a child of God. Everyone sharing their joys and sorrows. Everybody on the journey of life together.

Then, after lunch, doing whatever I could at Nuestra Casa, though it is small. Digging deep to produce two copper coins, slightly rusted. We tried the same drawing exercise we did last week, this time with the girls listening to the folk music of Bolivia. I liked this music very much, and I hope my own drawing reflected that. One of the girls drew a few pictures of the wind: an interesting abstraction from the music. Another girl got the concept and presented some pretty shapes and colors that she said reflected the peace and tranquility of the lively music. Another interesting juxtaposition: peace and tranquility can be lively. Before the afternoon was over I tried (feebly) to help a girl with her homework; I also covered her paper folder with more durable wrapping to protect her assignments from getting dirty or wet. The women who work and volunteer here were preparing pan dulce, a common treat eaten during the high holy days of Easter, especially Good Friday. They shared with me some bread fresh from the oven and glazed with honey and sprinkled with sugar or coconut shavings. How good it was! 

The Maryknoll Mission Center is closed on Good Friday, so Thursday is my last day of classes until Monday. A lighter burden? Not so fast. Here comes the twist. Joshua and Charles, the seminarians, are going on retreat for one week, beginning tomorrow. So for the first time, I will be in class all by myself. This is not uncommon at Maryknoll because every student is at a different level of proficiency. But up to now I have been fortunate to share the classroom with Joshua. His humor brings out the humor in me. My concentration brings out the concentration in him. We play well off each other, and both of us off the teacher. Now we will forego that dynamic until late next week. And I will forego the rest I get when Joshua and I take turns reading or speaking. Thus it will be four hours of uninterrupted listening and speaking one-to-one with the teachers. ¡Dios mío! My mind is going to collapse from this deep immersion! Or maybe not. It will exhaust me, but maybe it will make my speech stronger and more fluid. Whatever the case, beginning tomorrow, this workout is about to get more intense! God, open my lips, open my ears. I’ve been praying this for years with regard to Spanish, but I really ask for your help now! And please keep giving me better rest; now, four nights in a row. Let us keep the streak going!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Semana Santa

Fast-forwarding to what the rest of the week holds. It is Holy Week, and this will be the first time I celebrate the mysteries of Easter outside of the United States. 

In place of the weekly Wednesday cultural conference at Maryknoll, we will celebrate the Eucharist with Fr. Juan Zuñiga, one of the priests in residence at the mission center. Father Juan has given us a preview of his homily for tomorrow. We have reached the end of the forty days of Lent, during which Christians fast, pray, and give of themselves to prepare for the Church’s commemoration of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Father Juan invites disciples to begin the Easter season giving thanks to God for being present in our daily lives, en la vida cotidiana. He hopes we have drawn near to God through the Word revealed through Scripture and through our sharing of life with our sisters and brothers, especially the needy. 

We hear in the Gospels how the disciples of Jesus prepared to celebrate the great feast of Passover. They were keeping the great feast that commemorates the salvation of God that liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Imagine, then, how surprising Jesus’ words must have been to them as they were gathered in anticipation of a new liberation from oppression: “One of you will betray me.” 

Father Juan believes we can say that human betrayal sets the events of Holy Week in motion. However, the good news of Holy Week is that betrayal is not the last word about the human condition. Rather, the last word is the mercy of God and the love of God that we receive every day of our lives. This is the same love that pours forth from Jesus to the point of death on the cross. So, especially in these next few days, we who follow Jesus return, one more time, with a grateful heart to the loving work of God in our lives. It is the same work and the same love without limits that is fully revealed for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. May it be so, he concludes. 

The brothers at Convento San Francisco have been keeping busy with Holy Week activities and preparations. All classes have been canceled for the student friars. On Palm Sunday, preceding the 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Masses, they held processions with palm branches, beginning at the corner of Calle 25 de Mayo and Avenida Heroinas and moving into the church. Today the brothers were visiting the retreat house in Tarata and leading prayers with the people of God. Tomorrow there will be no 7 p.m. Mass, as there will be a reconciliation service and priests available to hear confessions through the evening. On Holy Thursday we begin the Easter Triduum with the Lord’s Supper, the commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist and Jesus’ command to love one another as signified by the washing of feet. There will be one Mass at 5 p.m. For the remainder of the night, Templo San Francisco will be open for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, with the friars keeping vigil until midnight. On Good Friday a solemn Way of the Cross will begin at 4 a.m. through the streets of the city. Yes, four in the morning. Insomniacs unite! The celebration of the Passion of Jesus is at 3 p.m. Then all is quiet through Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil begins at 7 p.m. There are no catechumens receiving the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist this year, but the great vigil is sure to be no less solemn and beautiful. Then we have the regular Mass schedule at Templo San Francisco on Sunday: 6:30 a.m., 8 a.m., and 7 p.m. 

During these holy days, I keep all my Christian sisters and brothers who walk humbly with God in the footsteps of Jesus in prayer. I remember prayerfully my Jewish friends who observe the Passover feast and keep the memory of the living God’s power to rescue us from slavery and sin. To all people everywhere, I wish peace and good things in the name of the Holy One who made us, who knows us, who loves us, and who wishes to be glorified in our lives of lived faith, hope, and charity.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Aguas Danzantes

I am writing this evening post with the knowledge that the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris has been consumed in a fire of great magnitude. Fire is too weak a word to describe this event. It is a conflagration.

What can you say about a disaster like this? Let us hope no one perished. Let us hope the injured will recover. Let us hope that some of the priceless things that constitute the religious and cultural heritage of the people of France and of Catholic Christianity remain. What else can you say? Such unfortunate events show you how important it is to keep and to remember sacred spaces, from the smallest chapel and humblest altar to the grandest temple; from a little grotto to a mighty river. These places are powerful symbols, making real the presence of God or the holy. They are unique, unrepeatable, and irreplaceable. 

A colleague of mine from the Episcopal Church, the Rev. Joel Gibson of the Micah Institute, wrote this afternoon: 

Regardless of our own religious grounding, Notre Dame Cathedral is known to us all as a sacred space that proclaims so profoundly the power of the transcendence of the holy. 

While at this time we do not know how much of this house of prayer will remain, we know a lot about what has been lost. The days ahead will tell us more. For now, let us stand with and pray for all those who have known this place as their spiritual home. As people of faith, we know that what is most important to all of us is not that which is made by human hands, but we also know that we find the presence of the One who creates in our respective sacred spaces. For our Catholic sisters and brothers, and other Christians and other persons of faith, for whom this is a special place, let us pray. Let us pray for their strength, for their undaunted faith and that they may find the determination to not allow the loss of material things to diminish a spiritual well of hope. 

As Christians across the globe gather for Holy Week and Easter services this week, may each of us, in our own way, find some comfort in the belief that that which the Holy has ordained cannot ever be truly lost. 

I understand if your attention remains absorbed in this global happening and you skip my daily post. But if I may, I would like to divert your attention just for this moment. Your mind is on those flames of fire in the epicenter of Paris. But I want to show you a place where I have seen flames of water dancing. And not only in the form of flames, but also in rays, sprays, and streams, and so many other wonderful shapes, and in so many fantastic colors. 

Sunday night I went to Parque de la Familia. Kitty Schmidt of the language program had told me that the park is the place to go after dark, when the fountains light up and the waters play in the colors. I was given to believe that entry to the park, eight bolivianos on any given day, would be free to all this weekend for the celebrations of El Día del Niño. Alas, you had to be un niño or una niña, 12 years or younger, for that privilege. I was too old and too hairy to pass for a child, though I tried for about six seconds to feign stupidity. Nope: eight bolivianos. Anyway, I got my ticket and entered the park, which was packed with parents toting their children.

They were right to be there Sunday night. Oh, what sights! What delights that dancing waters and colored lights can provide! 

I will begin with the grandest fountain, Fuente de la Alegría. Picture a pool about 70 yards long with a spine of jets, sprinklers, and lanterns, all of these operating in tandem with each other and with any music or video being played. Put these together, and you saw water shooting 10, 20, 30 feet high, multiple streams at different heights. You saw streams curving and swaying over the pool. You saw projectiles rising and landing. You saw waves of water, curtains cutting across the pool. You saw rays of water shooting, soaring, bursting: liquid fireworks, liquid light. But these waterworks, these aquatechnics were not high in the sky but directly in front of you. And when these watercrackers burst, it was not smoke in your eyes but mist falling on your face. Water glowing, water glaring; water coursing, water darting. Water in fog; water in foam. All of this in every color of the spectrum. A rain of color, a raining rainbow. This was only the first act at the fountain. For the second act, a wall of water formed a screen on which was projected scenes and songs from the canon of Disney and Pixar cartoons. In between these movie clips and videos you saw a 3-D light show. Oh, brother, oh sister! Did you ever go to a planetarium when you were small? This was better than that. It was like being inside one of those old-school screen savers, the ones with the feathers and rays of light shifting shapes and colors all over your computer monitor. Definitely groovy. How could I stop from smiling? 

When the lights and waters turned off at Fuente de la Alegría, the three other fountains turned on, and to them the dispersing crowds gathered. At Fuente de los Deseos, a wishing fountain, I saw more flames of water: red fire, green fire, purple haze. As the music played, the clouds gave way to jets, now softly flowing, now fiercely blasting, the great curves rising higher and higher, then falling and falling. One color, two colors, many colors. I was mesmerized. 

The waters at Fuente de la Alegría and Fuente de los Deseos showered the pools continually. The pools looked so inviting; how could you resist stepping into them? This, of course, was prohibited.

Ah, but stepping into the other two fountains was not only not prohibited, but positively encouraged.

Over at Fuente de la Amistad, you have two rings of spouts, an outer and inner ring. The jets shot water up as high as 12 feet, maybe, and at other times it was at about two feet. On Sunday evening the fountain was full of children and teenagers, playing different games with the waters. They were running in and out of the rings when the water was low, but it was hard to know when to time your entry and escape. The heights kept changing; the colors kept changing, and you did not know when to move or where. Some children were trying to be clever and stay as dry as possible even while confined by the concentric circles of water pulsing high. Others surrendered and were all in, all wet. And for the shy bystanders who thought they could have it both ways, standing as close as possible to the rings and laughing at others’ sport—sorry! Every few moments additional spouts outside the rings would start spraying everywhere, as if to say to you, get wet or go away. 

After more than an hour, I made my way to the exit, but not before stopping by Fuente de Paz y Tranquilidad, the other walk-in fountain. Here you have a starburst of spouts in the center of a small ring of jets. Together they created a dome of running, surging streams, under which a shower kept hissing. This is the kid-sized fountain. And there is no escaping it: walk into this fountain, and you will definitely walk out wet. 

I have never seen anything like these fountains before. They swelled my heart with gladness. This is human ingenuity at its best, harnessing the energy and play of Sister Water and Brother Light. How constructive, how creative, how good. Truly I have found the fountain of youth, and there are four of them in Cochabamba! What do you think? Would you like to get drenched and rejuvenated? Join me. Grab a towel. Let’s go!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Domingo de Ramos

“Jesus’ disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen” (Luke 19:37). 

It is Palm Sunday in Bolivia. With all the lovers of Jesus, I wait for the reign of God to break into our world, to confound it, to turn it upside down. I look for and listen for the signs. Still I hear, see, and understand very little of what happens here, but I am trying because Jesus has the words of everlasting life, and I have nowhere else to go. 

Last night I attended the Palm Sunday vigil Mass. In the church, ten-foot palm fronds were tied to the pews, forming a cool green canopy in the nave. Parishioners brought dry yellow fronds, woven into lattice patterns, into the church. I have seen women on the sidewalks weaving, weaving, and offering their crafts to others—for free or for a price, I do not know. I wonder what I would have been doing at the time Jesus entered into Jerusalem for the last time. Would I be cutting or waving palms, or laying them on the ground, or laying down my cloak instead? Would I be walking in his company? Would I be part of the procession at all, or staying behind, staying indoors? What would I think; what would I believe? Something tells me I would be missing out on the excitement. Maybe I would choose to absent myself. Or would I be bolder than that? At this hour, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I just don’t know. Would I settle for watching, wanting, waiting from afar? 

Of course I would want to be bolder than that. I live the consecrated life of a Franciscan because I need the rituals of Christian practice to do what comes naturally to others who may or may not have faith: to love God and to love neighbor and to give thanks always. If the day ever came when I thought I should leave religious life, it would be because I could love God and neighbor more perfectly, in chastity, poverty, and obedience, beyond the particular customs and practices of Capuchin life. But that will be the day when Jesus Christ comes again, or some other act of God takes place. 

In the meantime, whether we are in the parade or on the sidelines, let us be bold enough to say, Blessed are they who come in the name of God. Amen. 

And so I came to Nuestra Casa in God’s name this morning, to do nothing else but sit with the girls and do what they wanted. So I drew pictures of drums and guitars for them. When the radio was playing the song “La Isla Bonita” and they asked me what Madonna was saying, I translated for them as best as I could. I gave them positive encouragement as they were drawing freehand or tracing other pictures. I visit the girls to hear them into speech, but they are also teaching me to speak, and they are bidding me to speak not only in words, but also in images and deeds.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Cambio de Planes

A change of plans for today. I was ready to go to the archdiocesan youth conference in Quillacollo with three of the brothers until a few moments ago. We were getting off to a very late start: it was already 9 o’clock, and the conference had begun, but we were still here at the convent, and the brothers were still preparing to go. That didn’t bother me. I ate breakfast leisurely. I tarried in the cloister garden. I went from the garden to the garage and waited. I saw the bed of the truck loaded with all kinds of objects for the Franciscan table at the expo. The brothers had just finished loading the truck. What all these things were for, I don’t know. Why the brothers didn’t load the truck yesterday, I don’t know. But that didn’t bother me, either. While waiting in the garage, I met two other people, an older couple from the parish. They asked me if I was also going to the conference. And then I looked again at the truck. You could seat only two in front and squeeze three people in the rear. There were six of us. Don’t even ask about seatbelts. I felt my anxiety rise.

Fray Bladimir, the organizer of this trip, was the last to be ready. He looked at me and said I could sit in the truck and he could sit in the bed with all the cargo. I angrily refused and said over and over again that there is no room for six and it was not safe and I was afraid. He tried two or three more times and I refused. Well, the other five crammed into the truck, opened the gate, rolled out and closed the gate. And that was it. 

I am sorry for backing out of going to the conference. I regret not being able to meet other Franciscans and other women and men in religious life. I really regret not being able to practice Spanish in a real-life ministerial situation. But I am not sorry for backing out of unsafe transportation. There are cultural differences, and then there are practices that are just unacceptable. I do not accept the risks that Bolivians accept when they travel. I do not accept packing people like sardines into vehicles that lack safety standards. No apologies there. 

What will I do instead? I have some homework—some catching up to do there. And after that, who knows? It is a beautiful day. Maybe I’ll just hang out in one of the plazas and soak up la vida cotidiana around me. The admission-only parks, like Parque de la Familia, which charges 8 bolivianos, are free this weekend because of El Día del Niño. Maybe I’ll go soak up some sun at Parque de la Familia. 

Up to now my routine has been confined to the Franciscan convent and the Maryknoll Mission Center. Whatever I do is based around those two communities alone. Is there not more to this immersion experience, and should I not be attentive to the leadings of the Spirit beyond what I know? I’ve been living in Cochabamba for two months. It’s a big city. There are lots of people here, communities of communities. There are lots of options. It’s time to take more of them.

Friday, April 12, 2019


I thought I slept for almost seven hours last night, and maybe I did. I went to sleep at 9:30 p.m., choosing not to watch the live-action version of The Lion King with the brothers. I woke at 3:30 a.m., which is usual. I think I fell asleep and had dreams and woke again at 4:30 a.m., staying half-awake until it was time to rise at 5:45 a.m. Whatever sleep I got, it did not really carry me through classes today. So tired! Did I really sleep that little? 

Or maybe it is something else. Maybe I did rest enough, and rather I was pushing myself to go further in classes. I do recall speaking more and not just listening to Joshua speak to the teachers until they decided it was my turn to add something to the conversation. Let’s be hopeful and say it was the latter: I was simply participating more, giving more of all that I had. But it was still tiring and not a pleasant feeling to be tapped out throughout the morning. The mid-morning coffee hour and a cup of tea with a heaping spoonful of turbinado sugar gave me a little more pep for the third hour of classes, but I had had it by noon. I was half asleep during Mass at the mission center chapel. Lunch helped to restore me, but by then I was resentful that my body had not cooperated with my soul this morning. 

If we were to compare these six months in Bolivia to marathon, I would be a third of the way through the course now. Sunday will mark 60 days since I entered the country. It has been fully two months since I began this journey. I would suggest that my body-soul-spirit-mind is simply telling me it is feeling the long-term fatigue of immersion. Hours of formal practice hearing-speaking-reading-writing Spanish and more hours of informal, real-life practice in the convent and around the city are accumulating. My organism feels the stretching, the tearing, the aching, and the desire now and then to drop everything and simply rest in the thought-forms of my maternal tongue. 

But at the same time—and this is peculiar to me—it begins to feel strange to speak English to others, especially when I know Spanish is their maternal tongue and I have it in me to say something back in Spanish. And, for the first time today, I found it easier to think of Spanish words instead of English words. This happened during Eucharist. I had just returned to my chair after receiving the bread and wine. We had just heard the words el cuerpo de Cristo. For some reason, I had to think a few moments before remembering that in English we hear the minister say “the body of Christ” at communion. Why did my mind need a few seconds before remembering those words I have heard regularly for the last 22 years? I just found this to be an interesting point of seeing. 

Don’t get me wrong: it is a hundred times easier to communicate in English. But being in over my head with Spanish all the time no longer feels like being in over my head. It’s still an immersion, of course, but maybe my eyes and nose are just above the water now. 

Some odds and ends before I go: 

After Eucharist and lunch, I visited the migration office today to prolong the use of my visa. In and out with no complications. Would that all persons had as easy a time of it with immigration officials as this Yankee did. 

Tomorrow, to Quillacollo with Fray Bladimir and a few other brothers for the youth ministry conference. As of this hour, I don’t know what awaits us, even though I have seen an itinerary for the day. It is not a long journey from Cochabamba to Quillacollo, but I ask you anyway to continue to keep me in your prayers for safe travels wherever I go throughout the country. 

On Sunday I return to Nuestra Casa to visit all the girls. We didn’t have the theater workshop with the guest presenters last Sunday because we all walked to Plaza de las Banderas to enjoy the attractions of El Día del Peatón, unmolested by motor vehicles. Who knows what we will do this Sunday for activities or entertainment. Perhaps we will go for a walk again. Maybe we will find another instant carnival in the city center. And why not? This is Bolivia. And today is El Día del Niño, a national holiday which is as big a deal if not bigger than Mother’s Day or Father’s Day in the United States. There’s even a Google Doodle for it today in this country. The Children’s Day celebration is precisely why Carla Bazoalto of the Maryknoll staff spoke about the social condition of children and teenagers at our cultural conference on Wednesday. On the way home today I saw all kinds of playground equipment in Plaza de las Banderas and many children enjoying the trampolines and playpens and all sorts of thingamajigs you could climb up and slide down. So chances are good today’s festivities in honor of the dignity of children may carry over through the weekend. Maybe the instant playground will still be there.

Thursday, April 11, 2019


Every other Thursday morning, the language students at Maryknoll have their field trip to one of the historical and cultural attractions of Cochabamba. Joshua and I were overdue to have our excursion to Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny, or the Alcide d’Orbigny Museum of Natural History. Two weeks ago, in lieu of the museum, we went out for pasteles y api as we celebrated the Maryknoll lay missionaries who were finishing their classes. Last Thursday was the off week for field trips, and I stayed home anyway because of my insomnia. So today was the day for our deferred excursion. The students and teachers crammed into two overcrowded taxi-trufis without working seatbelts (again, as usual) to get to the museum, located midway between Maryknoll and the Franciscan convent where I roost. 

Think small with this museum: five rooms of exhibits. You can cover the museum in an hour, and that’s about what we did with our guide. This was certainly the first time I took a guided tour of any museum in a language other than English. I will admit that my mind was diverted, and I was not fully paying attention to the guide as she spoke. Profesora Liliana was kind enough to ask her to slow down to accommodate the learners in her midst, but the guide did not really slow down enough for most of us. Wanting to learn something of the language while learning something of the natural history of Bolivia, I chose instead to read what I could of geological and biological note. 

As is usually the case with guided tours, I found myself wishing we could slow down. I learn best by observing visually; I find museum guides’ commentary to be distracting and hurried. Given the handicap of listening to a second language being spoken, I found my attention to be really diffused.

Of course, I can return any time I want to during museum hours to contemplate the variety and beauty and grandeur of life as it developed in what is Bolivia today. If the trilobites whose imprints remain in the fossils we saw were here to crawl around, I would follow them. If those turtle specimens could talk, I would talk to them. If all those bats under glass began to flutter, I would be grossed out. And if the baby condor, itself larger than any other adult bird I have ever seen, were to be met by its parent, and they took off into the air, I would be awed. 

Proceeding through the geologic eras, from 500 million years ago to the present, regarding the fossils of long-disappeared lifeforms or the skeletons and stuffed remains of still-existing species, I thought to myself, our time is short. Furthermore, I thought, how inconceivable that the miracle of creation, which unfolded over hundreds of millions of years and reached such an exquisite balance of existence at the advent of human beings, is now being upended and unmade in a geologic instant. Inconceivable, but all too real. If it wasn’t for our terrible shortsightedness and profound ignorance, how could we be forgiven for what we are doing to life itself? 

Earth Day is coming up in a week and a half. I am sending prayers to the members of our justice, peace, and integrity of creation ministry at Church of the Good Shepherd in New York City. They are organizing an ecological fair to promote care for creation in their neighborhood and a deeper conversion to responsible relationship with our Sister Mother Earth that is personal and socially conscious. It’s on Saturday afternoon, and if you are in upper Manhattan, stop by Good Shepherd and the open-air exhibits. God willing, the weather should be fine!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019


A very hot afternoon in Cochabamba, despite the change of season. Has there been a day this warm since I arrived? Surely, yes, but today it felt hotter than I knew on any day before. 

At the Maryknoll Mission Center, Carla Bazoalto kept the language students’ minds on the adversities facing the children and adolescents of Bolivia, giving her presentation according to the outline we have thoroughly discussed in our classes. We concluded the hour-long conference by presenting ideas for how we who are entering mission abroad or returning home can support vulnerable children and young people. In a moment of child’s play, and at Carla’s direction, each of us, students and teachers, took Lego blocks and formed, to the best of our ability, the toy(s) we played with fondly in our youth. 

A short respite at Convento San Francisco for lunch and midday prayer, then off to Nuestra Casa to visit the girls. Five of them were at the house today with Señoras Nieves and Janet. All utilities were online today, electricity and water included. Hooray! We spent two hours doing the art project my sister Jennifer had recommended to me. As you may recall, the goal for the girls was to draw shapes and colors that fit the music they were hearing. An exercise in abstract expression, the mind moving between modalities. We had a lot of music from which to choose; Señora Nieves first played some melodies from China associated with the practice of feng shui. I suppose that was appropriate enough for an exercise meant to bring the girls’ seeing and hearing into harmony. We spent the better part of the first hour listening, then drawing what we heard. Then, for a second drawing, we turned to the tenor Andrea Bocelli singing a pop standard, but the girls weren’t getting into it. So Señora Nieves found another CD and an old disco song by Tina Charles that to my surprise they knew and liked a lot. So we went with that one for another hour. 

One of the girls really got the concept and flew with it. I was impressed! Some of them relied more on stencils to create familiar objects. I reminded them they only had to create simple shapes and lines and find appropriate colors to fill them in or highlight the composition. But despite the language barrier, I think all of them understood what we were doing. In the end we presented our works, going around the table. A couple of the girls were shy about showing their drawings to the adults and each other. Señoras Nieves and Janet and I are in agreement. We will try this project again next Wednesday with different music. And I will petition my sister the art teacher for more easy-to-execute projects. 

Today, as on Sunday, I felt much more at ease with the girls. I am hopeful that the sadness that overcame me during last Wednesday’s visit has flown for good. As for fatigue, that’s another story, but I am putting up a valiant fight against insomnia. 

Once again, I thank Carla for drawing a picture of childhood in Bolivia. I thank the girls at Nuestra Casa for indulging me and trying to draw the music of their minds.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

La Niñez

Fast-forwarding to the weekly cultural conference taking place tomorrow at Maryknoll: 

We will be having a presentation on the social and economic realities facing children and teenagers in Bolivia. It is a young nation: 4 out 10 persons in Bolivia are children (up to age 12) or adolescents (ages 12 to 18). 

In the rural areas, some children live with their mother, father, and grandparents; they are engaged in agricultural activities, but they can go to school. Other children live only with one parent, usually the mother, or with their grandparents alone, because the father or both parents have migrated to the cities to work. In this environment they grow up with their native language (Aymara, Quechua, etc.) and their own culture, and they develop their abilities around agricultural works. At many times they do not attend school, or they abandon studies at an early age because they have to work to support their families. Girls bear the brunt of privation, being poor, indigenous, and female living in the country—among the most excluded social groups in Bolivia, according to a UNICEF report. 

In the urban areas and at their perimeters, there are girls and boys who grow up only with their mothers or with their grandparents or aunts or uncles, because their parents have migrated to other countries. Many of these children go to support centers to get help with their studies because their parents didn’t have access to education, or because their grandparents cannot help them with their school activities. These children live in a situation of poverty and privation: in fact, 6 out of every 10 children and adolescents here are considered poor from a multidimensional point of view. 

Many girls and boys are abandoned, or they live on the streets. These children are left vulnerable to recruitment into gangs, thievery, and addiction. Around 10,000 children are living on the streets, mainly in the cities of Santa Cruz, La Paz, and Cochabamba. 

There are girls and boys that work because of poverty, migration, and abandonment by their families. They work in sugar fields, they work in mines, they are fishers, they do construction or carpentry, they sell alcohol, they collect trash, they clean hospitals, they do manual work in buildings, and so on. Their monthly pay is 300 to 600 bolivianos ($43 to $86). They suffer much from exploitation, but their families press them into labor anyway. And many employers prefer to work with children because their labor is cheap. 

There are many girls and boys who live in shelters. Many of them are orphans or have been abandoned; they suffer physical and mental infirmities; their parents are incarcerated; or they have suffered abuse and maltreatment in their families. In addition to Nuestra Casa, the shelter for girl survivors of sexual abuse, where I help out, there are many other shelters in Cochabamba where the language students volunteer. 

There are children growing up in the prisons. About 1,000 minors live with one of their parents in prison. 

There are other children growing up in the open-air markets. La Cancha is a space in which many families practically live all the day long in the market. There, the children band together and form groups that provide play and accompaniment. These children are cared for, not only by their parents and grandparents but by all the adults who make a living in this extensive space. 

Life is hard and often cruel to children from infancy. It is reported that 83 percent of minors suffer some form of physical or psychological violence at home or at school. In some cases the level of violence causes physical incapacity and sometimes death. Every day the police receive three cases of sexual abuse of girls and teenagers, and the actual number of incidents occurring daily is probably much higher. In recent years girls and boys have been kidnapped into human trafficking or had their organs harvested. 

At the same time, there are other girls and boys who live in economic comfort, provided by their migrant parents, who compensate for their absence by sending money and luxuries. Many of these children live in isolation, indifferent to the suffering of others. 

Finally, there are girls and boys who grow up in good economic conditions, with much care and attention, enjoying loving protection from their parents and grandparents. 

In all cases, the face of hope is seen in the development of children and teenagers in whatever social and economic circumstances, in their resilience, and in the advances society is making to protect their rights to health, education, and basic social services. 

Bolivia does have laws to protect children and adolescents from all forms of abuse, including legislation against family violence and legislation against human trafficking. The nation is striving to reduce infant mortality, malnutrition, and school dropouts. There is much more work that needs to be done to enforce the laws and guarantee access to social services. 

Thanks ahead of time to Carla Bazoalto Olmos, who works on the mission formation staff here at Maryknoll, for her presentation and for this outline that I have just summarized for you.

Monday, April 8, 2019


Backtracking from yesterday:

Sunday was a car-free day in Cochabamba. And except for ambulances and government and military vehicles, I mean it was absolutely car-free. From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., there were no motor vehicles on the roads in downtown at all, only pedestrians and bicycles. And this decree was enforced by law. How refreshing! Sunday was the first day I felt totally safe walking at will around here. 

How refreshing … and how enlightened, too. This is El Día del Peatón (Day of the Pedestrian), and it happens a few times during the year, on the first Sunday of the month; according to Profesora Viviana, also the first Sunday of September and December. It is an ecological celebration, meant not only to liberate people from their dependence on the combustion engine and move their bodies by their own power, but also to teach them care for creation. A day when the lungs of the city can be cleared. 

Given the volume of pedestrians and cyclists, the volume of waste would be high. Accordingly, there was a legion of employees and volunteers to help residents separate trash and recycling properly. This was a necessity because of the festival atmosphere surrounding the city streets once again. Do car-free days in U.S. cities have as many bands on stage, DJs and dancers, clowns and troubadours, fortune tellers, carousels, trampolines, inflatable pools, exhibits, and street hawkers and vendors as Cochabamba? I think not! Bolivians put all their heart, mind, soul, and strength into putting on a party. And when they set their mind on something, they do it together. At the convent, Fray Bladimir was giving three bicycles a tune-up so some of the brothers could go out in the afternoon and enjoy the day. Celebration as solidarity: I can dig it. 

Happily, on Sunday morning I got to walk with the girls from Nuestra Casa around the streets and plazas of the city center, so quickly transformed, again, into a carnival. The brothers are surprised by my surprise at the festivity. They have not been to the United States, where the car culture reigns supreme. Imagine shutting down the downtown of a city the size of Boston to all motor vehicles all day long! That’s what they did, and I salute them for it. 

In other news: Fray Bladimir invited me to an all-day conference for youth, organized by the Archdiocese of Cochabamba. It is taking place on Saturday in the city of Quillacollo, located about 10 miles west of Cochabamba. Youth and young adult ministry is not something to which I feel a special calling, though all disciples are called to live the Gospel and be a witness to people of all ages. But two things have hooked me in spite of my lack of experience in youth and young adult ministry and my obvious lack of Spanish and cultural literacy for contextual ministry. First, Fray Bladimir promises that I will get to meet numerous other Franciscans from the First Order: Franciscans, Conventual Franciscans, and possibly my fellow Capuchins (a number of them live in Santa Cruz, far to the east of Cochabamba). If nothing else, I can represent the Capuchins at this conference. Second, Pope Francis has just published Christus Vivit, his apostolic exhortation to young people, written in response to the Synod of Bishops that met in October 2018 to reflect on young people, faith, and vocational discernment. We have been reading the document during morning prayer. So I suppose the time is right to engage, to think and pray with the church about youth and young adults, and to respond. 

In the week to come I will keep in mind the brothers in my home province who are promoting vocations to our form of consecrated life; the young men who attended our vocation discernment weekend on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Boston; and those young men in particular who have applied to join our fraternity. I believe we will know later this month, if not this week, how many postulants we will receive this summer.