My personal spiritual development was part of what compelled me to move into La Carpio to learn. Where I was at spiritually greatly influenced my decisions and the sense of peace I had in deciding to move to live in La Carpio for several months. There was certainly a spiritual process that led me to the point where I realized this move was going to happen, and should happen. Much of this occurred before I ever went, and peaked intensively in the few weeks before and after the move. Many of the rituals of everyday life took on a deeper spiritual significance, such as eating with others, washing in the morning, and sitting in silence as a downpour roared on the tin roof above.
While I lived in La Carpio my spiritual journey was strongly impacted by Christian authors whose writings came to life in ways I had never before understood. I was just finishing up Walking with the Poor when I arrived, which offers a few different perspectives on the problems of poverty, greed, and its theological implications. Poverty is an indicator that something is not right, spiritually – but that “something” includes both the infractions of the poor and the non-poor. I went with a growing concern and awareness that part of the problem with poverty is a broken relationship between my world of the affluent non-poor and the landless, jobless, outliers. I sought reconciliation for this fractured divide and a way to experience life with others suffering from its painful implications.
I finally completed Walter Bruegemann’s Preaching to Exiles. I find his Old Testament interpretations very useful in diagnosing current entanglements of the non-poor with the “empires” in Israel’s history that constantly lured them away from the liberating practices of the Law God had given them. I particularly like his “marks” of the church in the world today, and I looked for evidence of them in my new home…. in Romans 12 (and elsewhere), Paul identified practices of the church that distinguished it from Caesar’s world, and Pharaoh’s world as 1) be generous, 2) be hospitable, 3) do not take revenge into your own hands, 4) take “sabbath”, rest, and 5) do not covet. In the slum as well as in more affluent churches, these marks of Christianity thwart the materialistic, fearful tendencies of our surrounding culture.
Another treasure I came across somewhat by accident was a contemporary Book of Common Prayer, a liturgy for ordinary radicals. This “liturgy for beginners” is a compilation of different stories, songs, and meditations from a variety of diverse Christians. I looked forward to each morning’s reading and scripture passage, and found hope and solidarity in reading accounts of fellow Christians who had experimented with similar ways of living responses to a “holy discomfort” they had with oppression and injustice. One of my favorite sections was a section on “moving back into the abandoned places of the empire,” and choosing to live in community. It describes the counter-cultural commitment of moving into community with people, rather than moving away from them into isolation. We are culturally pushed toward individualism and isolation, but this new church movement of “New Monasticism” emphasizes community living and geographical proximity. I recognize this overwhelming pressure toward moving alone, and moving into sanitized, gated communities, places where I don’t have to suffer the psychological discomfort of being reminded of poverty and crime. The temptation is always there to move to where I am isolated, protected by security guards and razor-wire, and can leave “work” at “work” and go home to comfort and isolation. There is nothing about living alone or in gated communities that is a sin in and of itself. Caving to that normative pressure, however, without deciding or praying whether it is what God wants me to do, though, IS a sin.
A line from this section reminds us
“we learn that the most dangerous place for Christians to be is in comfort and safety, detached from the suffering of others. Places that are physically safe can be spiritually deadly”
I was greatly encouraged reading these books while living this learning experience in one of the most marginal barrios in Costa Rica. It helped me realize that others share this concern, and have done something about it as well.