Friday, October 9, 2009

Theotokos à l'haïtienne? Maybe...

Within a week of arriving in Port-au-Prince I made the aquaintance of another American missionary, Lauren Stanley, who hails from the Diocese of Virginia and recently served for several years in the Sudan. She lives in a suburb about half-way up the mountain from Port-au-Prince called Petion-Ville. She invited me up for an evening to get to know the town a bit, to meet her street vendor friends, most of whom sell painting, metal works, and wood carvings. We ate lunch at this lovely little restaurant, Fiore di Late, and I bought a painting from one of her friends. The painting is quite fascinating--at first glance it looks like a Haitian adaption of the Orthodox icons depicting the Theotokos with her son, the Christ Child. But upon closer examination, one notes that the woman's feet resolve into a fin-like structure. As it turns out, the image is a Vodou one, depicting La Sirene, the Mermaid spirit who inhabits the waters of the earth. I love the painting because it speaks to the polysemism and interpenetration of religious symbol and ritual on this island, particularly between Christianity and the ancestral traditions of West Africa. It's also a very appropriate confluence of personalities since both Mary and the Siren are associated with the generative, mothering power of water.

Does not wisdom cry out? Does not understanding lift her voice?

A few days after Mallory arrived, we had the privilege of participating in a celebration for the St. Vincent's School for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince. The school is an incredible place, offering educational opportunities to children who face developmental challenges that in this country might otherwise be life-ending. It is one of about 150 schools owned and operated by the Episcopal Church in Haiti, but it specializes in reaching out to the most vulnerable among us. In a place where the value and dignity of human life is often ounderstood in the context of "the changes and chances of this life," the school is an oasis of hope, a true testament to the healing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Episcopal Church's commitment to that Gospel. The Bishop of Haiti, Msg. Jean Zache Duracin, presided over a Mass to inaugurate the newly refurbished clinical suite and the general
renovations made possible through the contributions of several key benefactors. The Lessons were read by two young girls, both blind. It was a very moving experience, and one that put hardship into perspective at a moment when I was frankly beginning to wonder whether I could make it to end of my first month here. The courage, poise and wisdom emanating from those young girls was a testimony to Haiti's capacity to face her many challenges if she discovers the power that is already within, if she is able to access her own uniquely beautiful spirit and sync it to the Spirit who makes all things possible.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Friend Arrives...

The other YASCer (Young Adult Service Corp), Mallory Holding, arrived in Port-au-Prince about a week and half ago. We went to the Cathedral for Mass and then had a photo op with Mere Fernande afterward. The trumpeter at the Cathedral added an extra sense of regality to the program that morning. I've added a clip below