Saturday, November 23, 2013

Encountering spirituality in the heart of service

           It’s been ten months for me in Brazil already. I’ll be home in less than two months, and two months after that, I’ll be back in Brazil for a second year. As I sit here trying to wrap my mind around that, we also just recently had our national synodical assembly of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil (IEAB) in Rio de Janeiro a week ago. (Though I could easily write a blog post just about synod, that’s not really what’s on my mind. However, there’s a write up about things attained at the link here, so please do check it out – some exciting things went down!)

            I admit I have always given lip service to the more reflective and meditative side of spirituality, but quite honestly, it has always seemed somewhat elusive to me. And yet, despite the work behind the scenes, amidst the numerous meetings and sessions, smoothing out the last minute logistics frustrations and a host of other things… I found myself incredibly humbled. Rev. Luiz Coelho (Parish of the Most Holy Trinity, Rio de Janeiro) and Dean of the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity in Porto Alegre, Marinez Bassotto, were the backbone of the team involved in developing and organizing the daily worship services during synod, usually with one in the morning and one in the evening. 

            I find it rather ironic that while I have previously encountered most all of the elements present in these services – candles, a labyrinth, music, an icon – with aspects both interactive and more reflective… these things, in this community, with these people, in this country -- I truly feel like I encountered the very spirit of God in a very tangible way.
          Life in Brazil has not been without its ups and downs…frustrations, miscommunications, mistakes, and all sorts of things that are part and parcel of the daily grind in most any place – just perhaps more pronounced when you’re out of your own context and in another. And yet despite all of that, I feel deeply flattered when my Brazilian friends count me as one of them, essentially. “Yeah, well, you’re practically Brazilian at this rate.” Or as someone commented upon seeing a sign I held up at one of the protests in Sao Paulo a few months back – it said in Portuguese, “I’m from the USA and I support the Brazilian people” – a friend’s comment said, “I think by now it would say ‘sou dos EUA e do Brasil’.” – “I’m from the USA and from Brazil.”

            At synod this year we were marvelously received by the Anglican Diocese of Rio de Janeiro and diocesan bishop Filadelfo Oliveira. We also elected a new Primate, a Presiding Bishop of the entire Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, with Bishop Mauricio Andrade of Brasilia stepping down as Primate, and two bishops – Naudal Gomes of Curitiba and Francisco de Assis of the Southwest – as candidates. Bishop Francisco won the majority of votes in two of the three pools necessary, and Bishop Naudal graciously withdrew his candidacy, and the following day, Bishop Francisco was installed as Primate. Even in just these few examples given, I really can’t begin to explain the examples of service, love, unity and solidarity, and so much more that I saw in these few days in Rio de Janeiro.

When you’re crying because you’re caught up in the emotion and depth of it all, the beautiful examples of service and spirit you’ve seen – and the Bishop who has just stepped down as Presiding Bishop of the entire country comes over to give you a hug, and stays with you as you finish crying. The irony being that the words being used at the time in prayerful reflection also included the phrase “a brother of solidarity at our sides” were not lost on me. Like I said, I haven’t really much considered myself a deep, spiritual type, despite liking to reflect on these types of things. And yet I found myself compelled to remain in reflection even well after everyone had left the chapel one night after an evening service, kneeling in semi-darkness before the icon written in anticipation of our synodical assembly. I found myself tearfully reflecting on everything – not just the things with which I always and often struggle, but in realizing that even during this synod alone, I had seen so many things that forced me to confront that – and to let go. Really let go. Or at least begin to do so. And as though he knew exactly what to say and when, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and a priest/friend of mine said, “It’s not the end, you know; it’s just the beginning of something new.”

            I’m reminded also of the quote attributed to the Persian poet Rumi – “you have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.” For too long I have been too good at breaking it, myself, because I feel broken. I break myself again and again because I feel like it’s the brokenness that’s important, that broken is all I can ever be or do well, when there’s the openness, too. I keep giving lip service to having an open heart, but you can’t keep a festering wound open. It needs to close to heal, but a heart can’t stay closed. It can’t stay broken. It can’t stay unhealed.

           As my friend Andrew reflected in the video about the Young Adult Service Corps that the Episcopal Church center produced, “you get so much more out of this [service] experience than what you put in.”

            And I am so glad I am learning what that means. Amen.


  1. Beautifully that you share this journey of opening with us Nina.Obrigada. A tumbling and spectacularly precious way. Sempre.

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