Friday, January 26, 2018

Talking to God in the Parque Centrale


After three days celebrating the ordination of the first female pastor in Norte Presbytery Julie and I had three days in Antigua.  I travel well with introverts and we mostly went our separate ways except for meals and a couple of shopping trips. Introverts like my traveling companion love their quiet time and I suspect this may be why Julie tacked on these three days at the end of the trip.  Extroverts like myself have to have it forced upon us.  I decided this would make make a marvelous opportunity to have my own little retreat.  Like going to Ghost Ranch but cheaper and with different scenery.

Certainly my hotel room was as close to a monastery as they come.  In fact, I once stayed in a monastery that had more amenities than this room--like heat and a lamp by the bed. The heat was no big deal since the rooms offered heavy wool blankets. 

But having a bedside lamp was one of those conveniences that make you think twice about what the words “convenient” means. To turn the light off I had to get out of bed and walk across the room to the wall to the switch.  This walk was about three feet so it wasn’t that big of a deal. I was not stumbling over a lot of furniture on my way back to bed.  No, a bedside lamp wasn’t necessary at all—not any more than having the bathroom right there in the room with you.  The toilet being right next door to my small room was actually closer to my bed than it probably is for some people if they have a large bedroom.  It was the principal more than the actual inconvenience.

And we were booked in this hotel for $25 a night (a bargain!!) for three nights. An eternity?  What was I going to do with my two free days?  Two days totally free of any schedule or structure.  How often does a person get this gift? 

I decided God had placed me in this position for a reason and there was something I needed to see or hear.  So I would make myself available.  I would listen for God to speak to me.  That was my plan.  No more.  No less. 

I went to the Parque Centrale when Julie and I split up after breakfast.  The introvert went happily off into the city to map the streets in her head. The extrovert stood there momentarily wondering what on earth people do with themselves when they are alone.  For just a tiny moment panic set in.  There was just so much space, so much air.  I stood there on the curb with Café Condesa at my back looking at the park.  So much air.  So much space.

I turned left and went into a small shop and bought a notebook and a new pen in case my own ran out of ink.  Then I went back to the park in search of the perfect bench.

I had more time than I had every had the luxury of having in my life: two days with absolutely nothing to do.  I could thoroughly consider all my options.  I wanted a bench with the light at my back so I could see.  I immediately spotted the “pigeon problem” so realized I wanted a bench that was NOT under the trees where nature would take its course on my head.  This pretty much led me to the far Eastern edge of the square with the Cathedral at my back and nothing overhead.  I sat and started writing. And listening for God.

I lasted about 30 minutes and started thinking that I could probably get a really good massage really cheap here in Guatemala.  Anyone with a touch of ADD like myself would be impressed that I lasted even that long.  God was just going to have to take me in 30 minute spurts.

So I Googled massage places in Antigua on my phone (the $10 a day International calling plan had already endeared itself to me and was an old friend.) and using the map feature I figured out how to find it.  Off I went to an unknown address in an unfamiliar city where I didn’t speak the language.  I only got lost once if you count getting lost the same way multiple times as all the same lost situation.  But I eventually found it and got there in time for the appointment.  After all, I had all the time in the world.  No schedule.  No structure.

It was a good massage.  Nothing spectacular.  Very relaxing.  I went back to the park.  “Maybe this will free up my spirit,” I thought.  “Maybe this will open up my soul and allow me to hear God speak to me.”
This time at the park I stood for a while and watched the children play among the pigeons, the palomas. There were hundreds, possible thousands, of pigeons sitting in the huge live oak trees overhead.  Periodically, someone would throw out seed on the pavement and they would all swoop down to the pavement.  Then we would have hundreds of pigeons on the ground.  The kids loved to run through the mass of birds.  Then the palomas would all fly off—back up into the trees.  So we had a merry little circus going on with either hordes of children running or flocks of birds flying about three feet off the ground. There was a lot of laughter and flapping of wings.  A couple of older women taught me the word “Paloma” and we discussed where the birds slept at night—not in the tree; no, the birds slept in the nooks and crannies of the church at night con Cristo, with Christ. 

 

I was not listening for God to speak to me, I admonished myself.  I needed to settle down.  So I picked out a bench and sat.  I was being too extroverty.  Shame on me.  I was having such a good time I started thinking that maybe I could just sit there all day and just “Be.”

After a time a man came and sat by me.  He appeared to be in his mid-twenties or early thirties.  Clean cut. He was wearing a clean maroon shirt.  Very politely he asked me if I knew what time it was.  I had some trouble trying to figure out how to say 12:30. I couldn’t remember Spanish for “twelve” but thought I could say “medio” but didn’t know the “half” part.  I ended up just showing him my phone and trying to say the word.  He helped me say it. We each turn our faces back forward and I resumed thinking about doing nothing.

He asked me if I spoke English.  I think he meant to ask if I spoke Spanish.  And then told me he spoke a little English.  Then told me his name was Noah.  I told him my name and he stuck out his hand for me to shake. It wasn’t rough or dirty but it wasn’t city hands, either.   He asked me where I was from. I think he may have told me his city but I can’t remember. Then he told me there was no work in his village and he had come to Antigua to look for work.  He said he was a carpenter.  I said a few sympathetic words and he repeated that it was hard to afford medicine and food.  There was no food in his village.  He didn’t have that many English words available.  I wasn’t sure if he didn’t have the money for food or if the whole village didn’t have food.  I got the impression that it wasn't just his family’s problem but the whole village needed food and medicine.

And, of course, in the back of my mind the tape was playing:  the tape you get issued to you as a tourist that tells you this Parque Centrale is a hotbed for panhandlers, that these people are Gypsies, that they do this for a living, that this is their job, their gig.  The souvenir ladies surrounded us with their constant chatter:  “Senora, I can give you good price. Very good quality. Good price.”  We had already passed a drug addled young girl sprauled on the street, offering her body for sale.  And another horribly disabled older women quietly begging for money.  Everywhere we looked in the tourist part of Antigua there was someone who wanted money.

So my tourist antennae was up.  It was always up in Antigua.  I was no dummy.  But this guy was different. 

He didn’t sound panicked or emotional. He didn’t pressure me in any way.  He used a very conversational tone of voice.  It was very much like we were just having a conversation about the fact that he had no job, no money, no food and no medicine for his family. It was almost like we were talking about the weather. This was what made it so easy for me to discount him, to feel like I could just say I needed to meet my friend for our one o’clock appointment. Then I stood up and left.

I didn’t think too much of the exchange. 

Until the following morning when I was waking up.  That’s the time of day when the Holy Spirit usually speaks to me. That time of day when I am my most vulnerable and accepting. Open to anything; trusting; willing to listen.  That is when God sends me the messages that require the most trust.  The suspension of logic.  My guard is down in the morning because I haven’t had a chance to put it up yet.   How different our days might be if we could live our lives according to the wishes of the paraclete prior to the logic of the day. 

It wasn’t a “Sit Straight Up In Bed With Your Eyes Wide Open” kind of revelation.  It was a slow and soft realization that maybe that could have been God visiting with me. And what makes it a hilarious situation was that the whole reason I was in the damned Parque Centrale to start with was that I wanted desperately to encounter God. I had specifically asked for God to speak to me. I just never expected him to sit down on a park bench beside me and shake my hand.  I didn’t expect him to introduce himself as Noah. 

I was expecting God to speak through that clear intuitive voice inside my head.  Like the one I got driving down the road once.  Or that time on the trail at the Grand Canyon.  The voice inside my head. 

And bam! I get this guy who is clearly offering me an opportunity to give him some money because his family needs food and medicine.  His village, his people are in need.  But he told me this right there in the city’s prime spot for panhandling.

“Send me a message, God,” I said.  And God told me quite clearly, “My people are hungry. They need food and medicine.”  He had even said it in English.  There was no translation problem here. 

And I ignored him.  I walked off. I blew it. I didn’t give Noah a dime.  Not even a Quetzal, which is worth even less.

What would you have done?

And what would you have done if you knew it was God asking you instead of a human?

And does it make a difference?

P.S.....The next morning I set out for the Parque to see if I could find Noah and set things right.  The minute I stepped foot outside I tripped over the threshold of the hotel and fell head over heels onto the cobblestone pavement.  Once inside the parque a pigeon immediately pooped on my head.  I never saw Noah again. I had one chance and I blew it.

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