Wednesday, November 01, 2006

obsessing about tortilla flat

"It is worth while to be kind generous," he said. "Not only do such actions pile up a house of joy in heaven; but there is, too a quick reward here on earth. One feels a golden warmth glowing like a hot enchilada in one's stomach." Pilon

Truly words to live by.

While in El Salvador I read Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat. If you've never read it, just put aside what you are reading now and get to it. It is a simple story about a handful of friends that wander through life together, often with a jug of wine in hand. In fact the paisanos are deadbeats, lushes, bums, people you would likely avoid on the street. And yet they are also loyal, gracious, generous and profoundly human. They love deeply, sometimes with their fists and they share everything with one another (although sometimes under duress.)

On the surface, it is a mystery how Steinbeck can create this community where the ills of society seem to reign and all social/moral rules seem to be broken. And yet the utter charm of the characters woo you completely. (I was in tears more than once as I moved through the mere 207 pages.) Sure Steinbeck has near perfect prose and that helps. His dialogue is so perfectly written that you more hear the words then read them and each character has been so perfectly crafted and is so real that you swear you met that guy before! But it is more than technical acumen.

It seems to me, there is something universal about Danny and his friends. There is a complexity that reflects so much of reality. Each character can be fully dark and fully light, almost in the same instance. There are warm moments that totally wreak of self-interest from one character or another. There is laughter amidst the darkest moments. And you vacilate between love and hate of almost everyone.

And ultimately, this shows the horrible, beautiful truth of life. We are all just bums --in the church lingo, sinners --broken, asleep in a chicken coop with only dogs for warmth. And then another bum delivers a cookie, for a totally self-serving reason, but nonetheless we are drawn into community through our common traits and small gifts to one another. (Now you really want to read it to find out what I am talking about!)

And somehow through our shared bumbling, we find ourselves united in this "good house of parties and fights, of love and comfort." Sometimes this is how I see the church. A big crowd of broken and selfish and foolish people and when we are together we are a force to be reckoned with. But we are also filled with the light of Christ and any real Christian is so overwhelmed by the intoxication of grace, that God must shine through. And somehow Christ redeems and makes us gorgeous in spite of our ugliness. He doesn't wave a magic wand and make us perfect Stepford Christians, but using our pains, our past sins, the consequences that can remain, He draws us nearer to Him, to His love, to His perfection. And someone that perfect light shines through our cracks and He uses us to help light the path. Such a weird way for things to work and yet that really does seem to be the truth of it. Very similar to Steinbeck's description of Father Murphy:

" Father Murphy used to go fishing all the time, and for months the Holy Sacrament tasted like mackerel, but that did not make it less holy."

Yea, often I feel like Father Murphy, covered in the stench of fish guts, sin & brokeness that remain in me. But yet I am continuing to pursue holiness. Trying amidst my smell! Trusting that God will actually be the director of my redemption and just trying to keep my head out of the gutter. (We probably shouldn't tell my mom that. She might be disappointed.)

The really amazing thing, is that somehow it seems to be working. I am learning, I am growing, I am ever filled with the presence of God and that is amazing. And oddly, Pilon is right, it does kind of feel like a warm enchilada in my tummy. Anyone else ready for lunch?

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