From Issue 36‘s Editor’s Note: On Writ in Water + Father Gregory Boyle
When my son was in first grade, his Spanish-speaking friend Omar was just learning English, and my son knew very little Spanish. I remember asking him what they talked about, how they would decide which games to play during recess, or who was “it.”
“Well, he knows some English words,” my son told me.
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like hello,” he said. And then he paused, smiled, and said, “But mostly when he laughs it’s in English, and I know just what he means… And Omar laughs a lot, Mom.”
Yes. For my son, laughter is a word that transcends barriers. Laughter is written in water.
• • •
Father Gregory Boyle recounts in his book Tattoos on the Heart a story from his early days of priesthood. He was serving in Bolivia and was asked to give Mass at a mountaintop Quechua village where locals harvest flowers for their living. He was just learning Spanish, so he starts to panic on the drive up the mountain because he realizes he forgot his Spanish prayer book for saying the Mass. He ends up fumbling his way through it, lifting the bread and wine whenever he runs out of things to say. He writes, “When it is over, I am left spent and humiliated. . . . I am convinced that a worse priest has never visited this place or walked this earth.” Like a scene from the picture book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No God, Very Bad Day, Father Boyle then realizes that he missed his ride home. He begins the long walk down the mountain when an old Quechua farmer or campesino approaches him. He writes:
I think of something to say, but nothing comes to me. Which is just as well, because before I can speak, the old campesino reaches into the pockets of his suit coat and retrieves two fistfuls of multicolored rose petals. He’s on the tips of his toes and gestures that I might assist with the inclination of my head. And so he drops the petals over my head, and I’m without words. He digs into his pockets again and manages two more fistfuls of petals. He does this again and again, and the store of red, pink, and yellow rose petals seems infinite. I just stand there and let him do this, staring at my own huaraches, now moistened with my tears, covered with rose petals.
I love this story, how it takes a defeated priest who doesn’t have the right sacred words and places him before an old campesino who is blessed by his presence and wants to bless him with rose petals in return. Yes, our simple presence can transcend barriers, can be written in water, flowing perfectly into gaps or over barriers. When I see my life as writ in water, my stance naturally becomes more open and loving and receptive. I can remember that everyone is doing the best they can, including myself. My focus on right and wrong is lessened and my capacity for delight is multiplied. I can marinate in mystery and laughter.
Or, as the 14th century poet and mystic Hafiz writes: “God and I have become like two giant fat people living in a tiny boat. We keep bumping into each other and laughing.” Yes, with my son and Omar, and Father Boyle and the campesino, and Hafiz and the entire Ruminate community, may we all squish in close to God and keep bumping into each other and laughing.
p.s. Want to read more from Issue 36: Writ in Water? Head over here.
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