Mexico - My Teacher of Vivid Life

Thomas Atum O'Kane

Holding The Opposites  

After some months, I meet my friend Hector again.  He tells me with great enthusiasm and joy that he just got a really big truck.  Hector’s face is gleaming!  His voice is filled with joyous music.  A voice inside of me speaks up in seriousness “But what about the environment?  This is a source of the problem—the love of really big cars”.

I silently listen as Hector tells me how much the truck will make it easier to find all kinds of work and help with the various programs he has organized for people in his neighborhood.  Hector is someone I deeply admire and appreciate.  He is a loving, totally dedicated single father raising three beautiful children by himself.  His young wife died after their valiant bout with cancer.  For two years, he drove her twice a week for medical treatment in a city five hours away from their home. 

In Mexico, there is no completely free public education through high school.  So much depends upon his ability to work.  I experience Hector’s truly heroic qualities as he lives what I would call his Christian-Shaman path.  It is not my right to diminish his hard earned joy about his truck with comments about the impact on the environment.

It is my job to hold the tension of these deeply meaningful opposites in my heart.

Spirit and Flesh: Christ and Jesus

My experience of Mexican religious culture is the centrality of Mary, especially as Our Lady of Guadalupe.  It is striking to be in a land where the primary God image is the Divine Feminine with her love, compassion, and grace.  My friend Hector’s daughter almost died at birth.  The family prayed to Mary and she lived.  In gratitude, each year he brings his daughter, dressed in her most beautiful clothes, to the church on “Our Lady’s feast day.  His eyes burn with pain as he speaks of the loss of his wife.  They gleam though, with brilliant light when he shares his devotion to Mary and the gift of his precious daughter’s life.  Hector is living in the most natural way, a life of wholeness that fully honors the opposites of suffering and wonder in the human journey.   

It has taken me many visits to Mexico to find Christ. The images in the church are not very alive and I have not sensed a pervading presence like with Mary.  Recently, I discovered the Mexican Jesus who is embodied in the tattoos that most young men have.  The realization came when I met someone who had a large image of the Last Supper tattooed across his back.  When I asked him about it, he showed me another image of Christ on his chest.  Suddenly, I noticed Christ is embodied everywhere outside the church.  It is not the Christ of the Northern European Cultures who is mainly seen as spirit.  Rather, it is the powerfully human Jesus, who is in solidarity with the poor and marginalized who lives in Mexico.  It is the Jesus who invites everyone to the table for the communion meal.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” is a lived reality here.    

In our great material wealth and comfort we have lost Jesus.  We don’t encounter him in our neighborhoods.  Maybe that is why there are more statues of Buddha being sold at the Christmas fair in Bremen, Germany than of Christ.  Buddha lived into his 20’s in a gated community of great wealth where suffering was hidden.  Maybe his myth speaks more directly to the condition of much of Western culture and wealthy expatriates  living in Mexico and other developing countries. Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha because he went outside the walls, which is also where you find Jesus here in Mexico.

Transcending the Opposites

We have seen each other many times.  He lives on the beach, washes in a stream and sells small carved figures to tourist.  Each day he asks me politely if I would like to buy one and I respond politely, “No thank you”.

 One day I pass him as he rests in the shade and reviews his small inventory.  He notices I am carrying a ballpoint pen and asks if it is “negro” (black).  Then he shows me his pen has run out of ink, and he can no longer make the small black dots for the eyes of the parrots he carves.  I offer him my pen and he sees that it works.  He can create eyes again!  I motion to him to keep the pen.  His gratitude is so deep and sincere; I am surprised and touch to the core.  For him, the arrival of the precious black ink pen in a moment of need is a miracle.  

Now each time we meet on the beach, there is a bond.  We are free of our outwardly assigned roles of “rich American” and “poor Mexican”.  Paradoxically, he lives on an amazingly beautiful beach that some people save all year to visit for a week.  It is their time to getaway from all of the stress and exhaustion of caring for their things.  He walks the beach many times a day.  In this light, rich and poor are so much more relative.   I am thankful we have transcended the tension of these outer opposites and found a way of meeting in our mutually grateful hearts. 

The Dance of Diversity Celebrating Unity 

An intimate meal shared with a small group of friends, great food and delicious laughter.  Afterwards, we view the most amazing fireworks—universes of splendor emerging out of the dark womb of the sky and dissolving into the ocean.  Walking back to the hotel, we discover a surprise…an incredible public New Year’s Eve celebration.   The main street in the old city has been closed off for a dance party.

An 80-year old woman is dancing with her adult children and friends while kids wander through the ecstasy.  Europeans, Asians, North and South Americans, rich, poor, gay, straight, religious, and secular all moving to the music of various cultures.  The planet is celebrating its diversity and its unity.  The party comes to the official ending time and the crowd cries out in Spanish for one more song.  The police extend the celebration for one more hour and mingle with the crowd even dancing occasionally. 

The next day, we spoke of the deep, tangible hope that arouse in us from our New Year’s “Universal Dance Party”.  The spirit of togetherness permeated us with real joy.  Maybe it is time to complement well-meaning interfaith services with dance parties.  As Jung so wisely counseled, “Spirit isn’t found in concepts.”  Hafiz, too, advises, “Do not lock your God up in a church, temple, or Mosque.  Take your God with you.”  New Year’s Eve we all brought our God with us—and God sure can dance!  It was a vision I will remember for the rest of my life…the emerging global myth is alive and well.  Amen!