Sunday, January 17, 2010

Thinking Pilgrimage in the Midst of Immersion: Part II

Bodies matter -- even and especially on immersion.

I appreciate Lisa for inviting Aristotle along, but his categories miss what is really going on here.

Sure, we have learned about the history of Mexico, the impact of globalization, the forced march from an agrarian to an industrialized society by transnational corporations and a government that courts them. We have learned these ideas in the faces of people we´ve met in shanty settlements, campesino organizations, and community centers. We have learned their vibrant spirituality of resistance in signs and slogans that proclaim: Zapata vive! Romero vive! A proclamation that deliberately echoes the Easter proclamation: Christ is living! And we have responded in kind: He is living indeed!

Yes, we have learned about this spirituality. But we also live it.

We live it when we refrain from using tap water to brush our teeth, using bottled water instead. We don´t want to suffer the low-grade intenstinal discomfort that affects most of the people living here.

We live it when we succumb to the popular turista, suffering a few days of diarrhea or the rumbly gut, as our group has come to call it. The people who live here simply get used to it.

We live it when we cough, our lungs protesting the diesel fumes that add to pollution throughout the urban areas. As he hacked his way through his talk, UNAM sociologist Ross Gandy told us last week: the air in Mexico City will kill you. We live it when we sit in traffic in a nation that adores cars, but hasn´t developed the infrastructure for everyone who owns one to drive it.

We live it when we take in the sickly sweet smell of sewage in the Cuernavaca neighborhood of San Anton, where activists had to form a coalition of federal, university, and municipal forces to get a sewage line built. The line will carry waste that had been dumped directly into the stream at the bottom of the ravine. San Anton still smells, because there are no activists upstream, and the neighborhoods there are still dumping.

Immersion forces us to live the spirituality of the people -- if only temporarily -- in hopes that that experience will be transformative. Immersion etches the realities of poverty on our bodies. In pilgrimage, our feet taught us the spirituality of the Camino. Immersion is a full-body experience. Once again, the body mentors the soul.

For the sad fact is this: we haven´t learned much we didn´t already know. We haven´t learned much we couldn´t have read at home drinking clean (relatively at least) tap water, using flush toilets that run into a city sewer main, and leaping into our cars for a long ride on the freeway when we couldn´t handle any more knowledge.

Information does not transform people. It is not the case that if we just knew what was going on, we would do something to change it. That was Plato´s conviction: if you know the good, you will do it. Plato was wrong. We know the good; we just look the other way.

It´s Paul who was right: "...for I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." (Romans 7:19)

The only way toward change is to rub people´s face in reality. The only way toward transformation is to tattoo reality to their bodies. That´s what immersion does. It etches life on people´s bodies, indelible markings, so that they will never forget.

I´m glad Aristotle is with us: he might learn something.

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