Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 109) transports me to El Salvador in the mid to late 1960s, a land ravaged by extreme poverty, overpopulation, and an oppressive military junta ruling the country, through the support of Washington. Sometime around 1965 or 1966, a single mother took her 6 year old son, Mario, onto the streets of San Salvador and bid him goodbye, abandoning him with no more explanation than she could no longer take care of him. Mario became one of the multitude of orphaned homeless children with distended bellies, struggling to survive on the streets, having no one to care for him, desperate for a crust of bread and a sip of water. He was abused, exploited, and suffered all the curses of extreme poverty you can imagine. At one point he heard about Che Gueverra and the revolutions that had taken place in Cuba and throughout Latin America. He dreamed of one day taking up arms and joining Che, overthrowing the heartless junta that was squeezing the life out of his country.
I thought about my friend Mario when I read today’s Psalm, a vitriolic curse against the Psalmist’s enemy. This enemy no doubt had some curses coming and deserved his tongue-lashing; For he never thought of doing a kindness, but hounded to death the poor and the needy and the brokenhearted. He loved to pronounce a curse—may it come back on him. But the Psalmist’s curse goes beyond a plague on his enemy; he pronounces a series of curses on the children of this enemy. May his children be fatherless; may they be wandering beggars, he prays. The Message translates the curse this way, Make orphans of his children. . . Turn his children into begging street urchins, evicted from their homes—homeless. Orphans, begging street urchins. I wonder if the Psalmist ever got to know a real orphan, a real child who’s parents had suffered some curse and had abandoned the son or daughter to a life of destitution. The Psalmist here is pleading with God to participate in and support a cycle of violence, a cycle of poverty, a cycle of cursing. Does he not understand that one day the hearts of these street urchins would be filled with curses, and they would dream of taking up arms to go and avenge whoever had reigned down the curses on their families and created such misery for them?
Later in Mario’s youth, he heard about the United States and his dream shifted; he fantasized about going to this promised land of milk and honey to find work and a chance for a life beyond poverty. He made the trek as a young man, risking his life to travel over mountains, across rivers, and through the desert, to find himself among the ranks of illegals in this country. All he wanted to do, then, was get rich and free himself from the nightmares of his childhood traumas. All he heard was more abuse, as people on the streets of Los Angeles cursed him as a stinking Mexican, coming here to take away real Americans’ jobs. He was still living the life of an orphan, now having no country to call his own, as well as no family to call his own. And then he heard the gospel, and his life radically changed; his dreams radically changed. He fell in love with God, with Jesus, and immersed himself in the Word, even though he had never been to school. He taught himself to read, and as he loves to say, long story short, he is now a member of Ecclesia, part of our jail ministry, and our Cuba partnership team. The first time he went to Cuba with us, he joyfully told the folks there how he had once dreamed of coming to their land to take up arms and join Che, but he had never dreamed he would be in Cuba with a different kind of armory – the armor of God, preaching peace and justice and hope. This past Monday evening, when I went to the jail with him, there were several new inmates in our study. When I told the men that it was Mario’s turn to lead the study, one of the regulars of the group said, You guys better get ready, you’re in for a shock! Mario gave his testimony, caught fire, and preached a word of hope and liberation and blessing that reached far beyond and beneath all the hopelessness and captivity and cursing that these men had experienced in their lives. He told them how God had provided for him. Now he has a Daddy. Now he has a Mama. God is his Daddy, God is his Mama. He stood there as a living example that the cycles of violence, the cycles of poverty, the cycles of a cursed life, can truly be broken. Mario would resonate with the ending of today’s Psalm, when the poet sang, With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord; in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him. For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them. The good news is, that’s true even for those needy street urchins condemned by the Psalmist himself.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.