A Time of Transition or Transformation - a Meditation
(March 19, 2016-Mantansas Seminary)
At our first evening mediation (during the recent ARMSS Cuba trip), Jesus Rodriguez, pastor at Remedios, shared with us the lectionary chosen by the Cuban Synod for the next two years. It is from Joel, chapter 2, verses 26-29; New International Version (NIV):
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.
The Day of the Lord
28 And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
Jesus provided us the biblical context in which these words were recorded: the return of some of the Israelites from captivity (others had stayed), the new political rule of the Persians, economic reforms, social, religious and cultural changes. He pointed out that there were a group of Hebrews who had not gone to Babylon and they had different expectations than those who were returning from exile.
The Presbyterian religious community was being asked in 2015 and 2016 to reflect on this biblical story and its relevance to current circumstances in Cuba.
At a spiritual retreat at Ghost Ranch last April, the leader, Marjorie Bankson introduced a framework for thinking about change and whether it is transformative or simply transitional.
The process always begins with some type of loss. This can be the end
of a life episode such as education to vocation; the loss of a parent; life partner; a job change; a change of residence; the increasing awareness of our physical decline; economic shocks; or even an inner realization that we may not be leading the kind purposeful life we had hoped to.
Once loss happens, a process of adaptation takes place. The four phases are:
Resistance. We grieve, become anxious or experience regrets. Something or someone is missing from our previously normal existence.
Reclamation/Reassessment. We look to our past for what made us feel alive. What has been the source of our sense of meaning and purpose?
Recommitment/revelation. We seek to find new ways to make us feel whole again; to redesign our way of living, thinking or acting in our “community.”
Risk/transformation. We become “public” with a new sense of meaning at this stage of our life. New passion and commitment inform our motivation with a renewed sense of call.
Marjorie views life as a continual process of absorbing changes that are often imposed externally, but which must be processed internally, in a never ending spiral of growing awareness of each person’s unique gifts.
Ofelia Ortega told us she wants to be where change is happening. I think we can use the framework above to think about two areas where change is occurring during our two weeks here.
The first is in the country of Cuba. At this macro level we can see changes happening at all of the levels referred to in Joel: political, economic, religious, cultural, and social.
We are hearing regrets, even resistance, to losing some of the aspects of the revolution - especially the sense of moral purpose;
We see again and again Cuba searching its past for both meaning and precedents for the society that is evolving;
We learn of the desire to keep the best aspects of socialism - health care, education, relative economic equality, while at the same time seeking a new way to influence political decisions
We see renewed pride and rising expectations for the economic reforms happening in the society.
The second cycle, at a micro level, is our individual experiences on this trip:
We lose some or our assumptions or preconceptions about the political realities and the role of the church. We have definitely lost some of physical conveniences we are used to!
We see a different model of church and society than the one we have grown used to in the states;
Our revelations at this time of our journey are still being explored; and the transformation therefrom still unknown.
For any cycle of change to be successful, and not become stuck in past regrets or inaction, we can look to the wisdom of Joel. This requires that:
Old men will dream dreams;
Young men will see visions.
Without these hopes, people can become cynical, angry and unable to adapt to new possibilities.
This is why Joan and I returned to see the Cuban transition and the work of the churches and the leaders who we believe are implementing Joel’s wisdom.
Previously we had learned about Dean Lewis’s and others’ roles in the multi-decade Pastors for Peace program. Now we understand this effort at reconciliation as an example of how change might take place between the peoples of Cuba and America. These efforts, animated by a vision of a new relationship are, we believe, being fulfilled in President Obama’s historical visit here. Without the dreams and practical examples of the churches, real alternative American policies might never have been tried.
Joan and I are grateful to see “purpose being lived” in the churches, the seminary and at the conference centers of Demari and CCRD and Director Raimundo Garcia.
One other word from Joel may be specific just to America. The following phrase is repeated twice in the verses above: “Never again will my people be shamed”
Is this possibly a judgment on America’s embargo policy - which tried to get the world to shame or ignore Cuba and to prevent normal human interaction with its society? Should we be much more careful about how we try to shun an entire people because we do not approve their political leadership or philosophy?
Transformation or transition? Whether the changes in Cuba and our lives are merely transitions or become transformative depends, Joel says, on the dreams and visions which animate the changes each of will inevitably experience.