It was a dark and damp Monday morning deep in the Pocono Mountains at a retreat center in Pennsylvania. The organic decomposing vegetation filled the air with pungent smells which were overwhelmed by the always certain beauty of this place.
I stood inside watching the beauty of these mountains unfold as the twenty-five plus participants began gathering for the morning session. I saw her enter the room. She was quite noticeable because of her youth. In fact, she could not go unnoticed. She was diminutive in stature – a waif of a girl. It was not only her physical appearance that caught one’s attention but also her overall emotional impact. There was a cloud of darkness that hung over her. Her spiritless eyes were telling of something; we knew not what. Her demeanor was of someone withdrawn from the world. She wore anguish and fright like a scarf. In terms of age she appeared to be fresh out of college, whereas the rest of our group was largely middle-age and older.
This week the conference was led by nationally acclaimed, notable, and distinguished academics. Reverend Sloane Coffin, whose colorful pedigree alone is impressive — not to mention his disenchanting CIA career during the Viet Nam War prior to his entering the ministry where he was currently serving as Yale’s chaplain. He had strong leanings toward civil rights and peace activism. Reverend Jim Forbes, the most noted preacher in the country for his lifelong work in equal rights, re-development, and promotion of unity. Dr. Walter Wink who was recognized for his biblical scholarship.
I could not take my eyes off this young girl who seemed so out-of-place. My arms yearned to reach out to her. My heart said to reach out to her. I didn’t nor did anyone else. There was a fragile sense looming over her that kept us at a distance. There was something frightening, something not understood. It was a surrealistic scene.
Later in the week the foliage presented itself in its full spectacular beauty. Summer’s green sameness suddenly transformed as each tree lay claim to its own beauty with its specific rustic colors of reds, yellows, and oranges. This array of colors, a blessing from God, led one to think of love and beauty in the world. There were miracles and blessings to be had here within this setting, but the story of this mysterious girl would not unfold yet.
It was three days into the week, and the story could no longer be contained. She was finally asked, “Why are you here?” Her response was more than the moment could bear as tears flooded her eyes. She had been sent here to recover from a horror she had witnessed. She was working at a day care center where bullets had ripped across the room. Adults scurried to protect the children in their care by throwing their own bodies on top of as many children as possible. Blood was splattered randomly from the shooting.
She shook for what seemed forever. All of us remained silent. . . . . . . . She was so young, so hurt, had such a good heart. Could her heart open again after such an incident? Would she have the courage to live with her soul, so to speak?
This set me to thinking . . . . . What does such violence, carnage, and death that are seen as answers in the short term do to the soul in the long term? How does one go on to live a life of faith, truth, hope, and trust?
It would be later in the week when she and others caught their breath that more of her story would unfold. Raised in Ohio, she planned to give of herself. She chose to serve in an orphanage in El Salvador. It was Salvadoran soldiers who burst through the door with guns blazing that day during their civil war. In her frenzied state of mind, she also noticed that standing right behind them were U.S. soldiers. “It couldn’t be” was her naïve thought.
Those rustic reds, yellows, and orange leaves are beautiful. They are God’s miracles calling for the best in the soul. Their colors change predictably with the season every year. What a sharp contrast to the horrific, unpredictable events in the day care center on that one day which have disrupted innocent souls forever.
What is to come of her? I found myself asking. Do we remember people now lost over the millennium through the violence of others? In these violent deaths, what happens to the ones left behind.
How does the human soul and heart recover and go on for the loved ones:
Father Rutilio Grande (age 49) – March 12, 1979
Archbishop Oscar Romero (age 63) – March 24, 1980
Church women (4) – December 2, 1980
Maura Clarke (age 49)
Ita Ford (age 40)
Dorothy Kazel (age 41)
Jean Donovan (age 27)
Mothers (1,000) and their children in El Mozote (ages 1 day to 105 years including many pregnant women) – December 11, 1981. For the story go to: http://www.myspace.com/selfmathematiks/blog/289031310
Lutheran Pastor David Fernandez (age 37) – November 21, 1984
Jesuit priests (6), a housekeeper and her daughter – November 16, 1989
Ignacio Ellacurio (age 59)
Ignacio Martin-Baro (age 50)
Segundo Montes (age 56)
Arnando Lopez (age 53)
Joaquin Lopez y Lopez (age 71)
Juan Ramon Moreno (age 56)
Julia Elba Ramon (age 42)
Celina Ramos (age 15)
Lutheran Pastor Francisco Carrillo (age 65) and his wife, Pastor Jesus Calzada de Carrillo (age 57) – November 4, 2006
Every fall I can look at those leaves turning colors. It’s one of God’s miracles and blessings to look at that beauty. But even beauty knows sadness and heaviness of heart. In time these bones and flesh of mine will turn to dust. Will leaves remember these eyes that they cover? Do we remember those lost to violence? These oak and maple and beech trees stand as testimony to a God of strength. We are blessed with that strength in the wood of a mighty cross that calls a people forth to share their lives so that others may have life in the name of the Lord who gives life. Hope springs anew!
Donald J. Seiple, Pastor Emeritus