Friday, November 7, 2014

Hopeful burdens


     Last week, I was in Boston attending the annual gathering of the Association of College and 
University Religious Affairs ("ACURA").  This confab draws together Deans of Chapels and University Chaplains from around the country, meeting on different campuses, and highlights the realities of our work in those different contexts.  We're always treated to good entertainment and good food . . . as well as fascinating presentations and conversations.  Last week was no exception.  Music from Ladino Spain as well as Tufts' "Beelzebubs" (their men's a cappella group).  Tours of sacred spaces at both Tufts and Harvard, as well as a visit to Concord (birthplace of the American Revolution).
       One evening, we were treated to a marvelous presentation by Prof. Davíd Carrasco (Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America at Harvard).  As part of his talk, he referred to some of the ancient Mesoamerican mythologies, and how they were depicted in inscriptions and scrolls.  He mentioned the "sacred bundles" of the Aztecs and (if I'm remembering correctly), that they were related to a sort of creation story -- that there was a dispersal of the people, but that, as they went out, the elders were all carrying "sacred bundles" that would help keep their traditions alive, and their people connected.
       I had seen pictures before like the one above, but I had always assumed that the figures were simply carrying "backpacks" or "burdens".  That is, either the essentials of day-to-day living or the fruits of their labors; I had not thought of them as anything "sacred".  In some respects I had thought of them as visual depictions of the saying "everyone you meet is carrying a great burden".*
      Later, however, as I was reflecting on Carrasco's talk of the sacred bundles (and listening to the 
Guy Mendilow Ensemble's wonderful, transformed and transformative, Ladino music), as well as trying to process all of the news of the day (electioneering, international conflicts, etc.), I started wondering whether the "burdens" we carry might also hold the promise of being transformed into "sacred bundles". So, "Are we carrying 'hopeful burdens"', I asked myself.
      Two of the foundational assumptions of the change theory "Appreciative Inquiry" are "People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past (the known)" and that "If we carry parts of the past forward, they should be what is best about the past".**  My experience, however, is that I often find myself ruminating on the negative parts of the "burden" I'm carrying; that darkness obscures the possibility of light and hope.  It then takes another set of eyes to see what I cannot, and to draw my attention to the hopeful potential that my past experience affords.
     A two-fold challenge lies before us, then, it seems to me.  On the one hand, we need to seek out that extra pair of eyes to help us transform our burdens into sacred bundles.  And, when we see someone laboring under a "great burden", to offer our help in realizing hope.

Chaplain Gary

* This is often attributed to Plato or Philo, or some other ancient.  It would appear, however, that it is only about 120 years old, and can be traced to a man named John Watson.
** Hammond, Sue Annis. The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry (Bend, OR:  Thin Book Publishing Co, 1998), 21.

No comments:

Post a Comment