Paula Anema Sohl
10 June 2018
Indian Tapestry by Juliana Esquival
Call to Worship:
Adapted from My Grandmother’s Prayer, by Daniel Caño
Ajaw is a name for God from one of the indigenous Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala
One: I am praying. I am talking with Ajaw. Of course I will teach you.
All: I will slowly close my eyes.
One: Breathe deeply and relax your entire body.
All: I will listen with all my mind and soul.
One: From that which is nearest to that which is farthest.
All: Then slowly raise my face to the sky to see just a little piece of starry sky, a little, oval piece in the form of an eye.
One: That is just a portion of the human face of Ajaw. And the a Ajaw is much more than that. Never believe that you are encompassing the whole, because that would be your downfall.
I had the privilege to be in Guatemala last week visiting my daughter who is working in a language school in Xela. I was still there last Sunday when the Fuego Volcano erupted, burying entire communities, killing 110 people with almost 200 still missing. More than 12,000 people were evacuated and 4.5 thousand are still living in shelters in nearby towns. Marcel Arévalo, of the Latin American Social Sciences Institute, reminds us “Throughout Guatemala’s history, the rural and indigenous population has been continuously dispossessed of its land and pushed to … high-risk areas by an economic model based on agricultural exports.” Let us pray silently for those affected for a moment.
I want to share with you a little more of Daniel Caño’s work. He is an indigenous Guatemalan poet from Hueheutenango:
My Grandfather’s Tears
Two transparent tears / like two elongated cascades / slid down the wrinkled face / of my grandfather / when he began to tell me / how the catechist arrived, / gathered up their Mayan crosses, / and burned them in the yard. / And in their place, / they put a Saint James mounted on a white horse. / Since then his confusion / was made eternal as was his poverty.
His favorite prayer / was climbing mountains, / mountains which revealed to him / a profound meaning of life. / He contemplated the grass, the flowers, the trees, the stones, the ants, the bees, the butterflies, the birds, / and all that surrounded him / with an undisguisable passion. / The grandfather was fascinated / to hear the voice of the air / the song of the birds and the crickets/ and the thousands of sounds / that only Mother Nature could provide him. / He was silence among the silence, voices among the voices, air among the air, / a cloud among the clouds, / light among the lights and the shadows. / It was clear that all this gave him / greater tranquility of spirit / than being in a luxurious temple. / And for that they called him “savage.”
After 500 Years
After 500 years of marginalization and exploitation, / disillusionment penetrates my pores. / There is a sea of frustration in me, / and a disturbance of stars agitates my mind. / There are so many hopes that escape without stopping / from my aged soul. / Each year that passes, blood escapes from my veins, / bubbling in the plantations of the South Coast. / I feel desperation travel over my tired body with its lips / scattering me in the void / like the sad voice of the beggar / lost in space and time. / And the owls sing happily / among the green cyprus trees / near my solitary ranch / while death caresses my inner ear / with its bitter breath. / Sometimes I have tried to tear out / of my heart fatalism, passivity, and the powerlessness that have been imposed on me / and to plant hope for the harvest of corn.
There are many things I did not know about Guatemala: The indigenous Mayans comprise around 50% of the population. They continue to live in traditional ways. Women rise early to make tortillas by hand and wear hand-woven clothing made with traditional looms. Women in each community wear the same particular design of fabric for their skirts, called corte and they are tied with a long embroidered belt called a faja. Their traditional blouse is called a huipil and is woven and embroidered with designs that indicate many things about the woman who wears it, including her marital status, and the town she is from. There is much regional diversity. These traditional garments are worn for everyday work in the fields, in the home, and in the community. Natural dyes are used and the colors and designs are breathtaking.
There are more than 20 Mayan languages spoken. Guatemala is the most densely populated country in Central America with 134 people per square kilometer. The country is about the size of Tennessee.
Spain conquered the Mayan kingdoms in 1524. Guatemala gained some independence 1800’s. Beginning in 1898, the dictator Manuel Cabrera granted United Fruit Company 40% of the country’s land (now Chiquita) They took control over ports, most of the railroads, communication systems, and electricity production. In 1930 Jorge Ubico continued with Cabrera’s release of national property to foreign interests, established the secret police, and re-instituted vagrancy laws requiring peasants to work mandatory 90 days, without pay.
In 1945, Juan José Arévalo was first democratically elected president. He dissolved secret police and vagrancy laws, legalized unions and political parties, criminalized race and sex discrimination, and led massive social reforms in healthcare and social security. In 1951 Jacobo Arbenz Guzman extended suffrage and labor rights and agrarian reform. It was an incredible 10 years of forward movement for the country.
However, three major United Fruit shareholders were UN Ambassador Henry Lodge, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Head of CIA Allen Dulles. So in 1954, the CIA led a coup taking advantage of the anti-communist fever. Carlos Castillo Armas took power.
All of that progress was undone as land was taken back from the indigenous people and given again to the fruit companies.What followed was 36 years of what is called the Internal Armed Conflict:
– 200,000 mainly indigenous people killed by state forces
– 1.5 million displaced
- 440 villages razed
- 45,000 disappeared
- 93% of human rights violations were committed by the military
Today in Guatemala:
-62% live in poverty 30% in extreme poverty
-10% have secure employment
-43% of children under 5 y/o suffer from chronic malnutrition (80% of indigenous children)
-There is a general lack of education and health care
– Average education level reached is 4th grade
Rigoberta Menchu was born in 1959 and as a young woman became an outspoken activist for the rights of the Mayan Indians. Her younger brother and her mother were tortured and killed by government forces. She received a Noble Prize in 1992. Here are a few of her notable quotes:
“Peace cannot exist without justice, justice cannot exist without fairness, fairness cannot exist without development, development cannot exist without democracy, democracy cannot exist without respect for the identity and worth of cultures and peoples.”
“We have learned that change cannot come through war. War is not a feasible tool to use in fighting against the oppression we face. War has caused more problems. We cannot embrace that path.”
“I resolutely believe that respect for diversity is a fundamental pillar in the eradication of racism, xenophobia and intolerance. There is no excuse for evading the responsibility of finding the most suitable path toward the elimination of any expression of discrimination against indigenous peoples.”
Indigenous Guatemalans have proudly maintained their cultural identity, language and traditions, and connection to the natural world. I chose this passage from Ephesians today, inspired by the beauty of the Guatemalan weaving tradition and how regally the women dress.
This passage is often framed in terms of dressing for war, but the word for armor can also be translated as panoply or regalia. This passage uses the metaphor of dressing as a way to be prepared for whatever we are up against in our struggle for wholeness and justice. The words can be translated as key clothing options rather than military garb.
Perikefalaian (en-circle the head) with Soterion (rescue, safety, health, salvation, defense)
Thorax (chest, corslet, breast-plate) of Dikaiosune (equity, justice, righteousness)
Perizonnumi (gird all around) your Osphus (loins, hips, procreative power) with Alethia (truth, not hidden, or ignorant, or unaware)
Hupodeo (put on shoes or sandals) of Euaggelion (a good message, gospel) of Eirene (peace, rest, set at one again)
So this is how we are cared for. We are invited to be metaphorically clothed with the healing and the justice and the truth and the peace of God, for the work before us; ready as one who is whole and beautiful and unique and represents the artistry of her culture, as we boldly struggle against “the cosmic powers of this present darkness.”
Pastor Julia Seymour, a Lutheran Minister from Anchorage, in the wake of the apparent suicides this week of beloved public figures writes these words of encouragement, reminding us that some of the forces we are up against come from within.
“But you, dear one, you matter to me. I cannot promise that life won’t hurt, that there aren’t terrible things that will happen, that sometimes the monsters seem to have a season.
I can, however, promise this: You matter. You are loved. You are necessary. You are God’s Beloved.
Anything that says any different is lying to you, even if it is coming from inside your house saying that I don’t really know you. Misfiring synapses are part of the forces that defy God and they lie.
You can say no to them through honesty, through seeking help, and by leaning into being loved.”
So let us lean in to being loved and wearing love and seeing love and standing for love, for we are the companions of the true and faithful one and our lives are being woven by God.
And here is one more encouraging word from Rigoberta: To be a light to others you will need a good dose of the spiritual life. Because as my mother used to say, if you are in a good place, then you can help others; but if you’re not well, then go look for somebody who is in a good place who can help you.
The Panoply of God
Finally, be strong in God and in the strength of God’s power. Put on the whole regalia of God, so that you may be able to stand against the methods of the accuser. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole regalia of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and gird your loins with awareness, and put on the corslet of justice. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield (or the portal) of assurance, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the crown of health and safety, and the machete of the Spirit, which is the utterance of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Indian Tapestry by Julia Esquivel (in exile) from Threatened with Resurrection
When I go up to the HOUSE OF THE OLD WEAVER
I watch in admiration
At what comes forth from her mind;
A thousand designs being created
And not a single model from which to copy
And marvelous cloth
With which she will dress
The companion of the True and Faithful One.
Men always ask me
To give the name of the label,
To specify the maker of the design,
But the Weaver cannot be pinned down
All of her weavings are originals,
There are no repeated patterns.
Her mind is beyond all foresight.
Her able hands do not accept
Patterns nor models.
Whatever comes forth, comes forth,
But she who is will make it.
The colors of her threads
Colors that do not fade
The children of the children
Of our children
Will recognize the seal
Of the Old Weaver.
Maybe then it will receive a name.
But as a model,
It can never again
Each morning I have seen how her fingers
Choose the threads
One by one.
Her loom makes no noise
And men give it no importance,
That emerges from Her Mind
Hour after hour
Will appear in the thread of many colors,
In figures and symbols
Which no one, ever again,
Will be able to erase