Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Luke 1:39-56) transports me to the home of my friend Sila Reyna in the small village of La Vallita, Cuba. I spent a few days with Sila and her family last week, and the experience always reminds me of what life must have been like for my grandparents living out here on the Old Place back in the 20s and 30s. While there is electricity in La Vallita, no one in the village has running water; they and their neighbors share water from a well in the back yard with an old-fashioned pump. They butcher their own chickens, walk or ride a bike or horse and wagon wherever they need to go, and have a sense of community that has been absent from our country for decades. The doors on the small houses stay open all day, and neighbors are constantly popping in and out to share some news or to help sort out the stones from the rice or to borrow some beans. Sila once said that she and her family would not eat if there were people going hungry in her neighborhood; sharing in the suffering as well as sharing food is woven into the fabric of their value system. One thing is different from what I imagine life was like for my grandmother in the 30s – Sila just graduated from the seminary a few months ago, and she is as likely to sit and wax eloquent about the theology of Jurgen Moltmann or the ethics of Paulo Friere as she is news of the family and neighborhood. I was blessed to be at Sila’s church, the Rivers of Living Water Baptist Church, on the third Sunday of Advent. Fifteen or so people gathered in the small one-room building in the back yard, next to the well pump, and talked, popular education style, about the virgin Mary’s response to the blessed message of the angel.
It struck me how different the words of Mary’s Magnificat must sound to people in Cuba, especially to people like Sila who grew up in the midst of the revolution. Mi alma glorifica al Señor (My soul glorifies the Lord). . . de sus tronos derrocó a los poderosos, mientras que ha exaltado a los humildes (from their thrones he toppled the powerful, while he has exalted the humble); a los hambrientos los colmó de bienes, y a los ricos los despidió con las manos vacías (the hungry he filled to overflowing with goods, and to the rich he said goodbye, dismissing them with empty hands). It sounds an awful lot like some of the propaganda of El Triunfo de la Revolución Cubana – the triumph of the 1959 revolution, where the impoverished peasants in the countryside, in places like La Vallita, were filled with the goods of education, health care, and food, while the rich and powerful fled to Miami, leaving ornate mansions and fancy 50s cars behind.
Of course, the Magnificat doesn’t say what happens after the hungry are filled and the rich are sent empty away. Fifty plus years after el triunfo, many of the triumphant Cubans have become disillusioned with the heavy-handed administration of the country and the absence of political freedom, and have followed the empty-handed rich to Miami. It seems to me, though, that there is a palpable difference in the way the people in the countryside think about it, and the way people in the big cities like Havana and Matanzas think about. It is the urbanites who seem most disenchanted with fifty years of revolutionary rule, and who long to escape. The country folks seem more content. Perhaps they still remember their participation in the campaña de albabetización that sent 12 and 13-year-olds like Sila, who had learned to read, out to teach the skill to illiterate rural folks. Perhaps they remember what it was like when rural folks had no access to health care. Perhaps they understand the richness of what they do have now, the wealth of community values and ideals of sharing and interdependence. One thing I am sure of – they are bound to understand the song of Mary, with its theology of the magnificent God who brings revolutions and levels playing fields, far better than we do in a society that worships power and continues widening the gap between rich and poor.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.