Last night I dreamed that I was in Brazil in a four star hotel. Wonderful place to be. I suppose I was in Sao Paulo, because there was city everywhere I looked. The paulinhos love that sort of thing, I guess. “Concrete, give me concrete!”
But my only dilemma was this. The hotel was in the middle of a giant favela. I was out and away from the hotel, having fun with friends in the city, and then it came time to get back. My friends were able to, somehow, but I kept getting lost in the wandering alleys and serpentine corridors of the favela.
All eyes looked at my act of provocation. Little faces appeared in doorways. I had on shorts and a backpack and sandals, like a German tourist. Or, um, like a USAmerican tourist.
Just being there without a reason was an act of provocation.
Night was coming and I began to get more and more scared. I could see the hotel towering up out of the midst of the favela. I could see the road that led me straight to the front door. But as soon as I walked toward it, BOOM, lost in the favela again, each time more and more threatening, more and more threatened.
I walked away from it all and sat down in a bar to size up the situation. To size up myself. Like Dorothy with her ruby slippers, I just wanted to go home. I just wanted to go home.
I suppose I ate a big plate of rice and black beans with some oranges and tomatoes on the side. Not because I dreamed it, but because it was Brazil.
I tried to go back “home” again and once again, became trapped in the favela, in the dark, at night, afraid, standing just under the awning of a food vendor stall, looking at elderly, unshaven men sitting across from each other at plastic tables, drinking cachaca and playing a game.
Subtexts? Don’t even get me started. Just to even write this in a blog, for me, feels too incredibly revealing. I trust, at the end of the day, that I will not be punished for who I am, but will be bathed in grace. However, such an invitation to awareness, such an invitation to look at undesirable aspects of myself full on in a mirror, and to follow the invitation to honor the dead ends and serpentine curves and to say yes to the detours, such an invitation does not go unaccepted without consequences.
I don’t know how much of the dream had to do with residual fear from the hold-up (old news by now), how much has to do with the eternal vigilance anyone must have who owns anything, how much of the dream has to do with supposed “first world / ‘third’ world” contrasts. But I really think I have to look underneath all those surface realities for one that is much larger.
If the hotel in the middle is anything, it is the glorious homecoming meant for all of us. There is meant to be an end to fear for each and every human being. There is meant to be a safe and illustrious place. We are meant to go there. It is our home, and that is why we long for it so badly.
But for now, we all live in the favela. Rumi’s Tavern, possibly?
Estevao lives in a favela. Sao Paulo’s largest favela, Paraisopolis. He has also, I supposed, built the tall tower inside the favela. My four star hotel. He has built it out of mesh, wire, wood, thrown away clocks and cell phones and dishes and doll heads and coins and broken glass. He has built for his wife and children the most wonderful island paradise in the midst of such a reality of suffering.
Another lesson? Yes, believe in the illustrious and safe tower of escape in the midst of a reality of fear and pain. You will get there some day. Remember Dumbledore? “Death, to the organized mind, is just the next great adventure.” Or better yet, Jesus, “In my father’s house are many rooms. I go there to prepare a place for you. I am the way. No one comes to the father but through me.”
But Jesus didn’t just say he would go and build me a tower. He said, “When I leave, I will send you a Comforter.” The Holy Spirit. Comforter. Helper. Teacher. Guide.
And from the readings of Jesus’ life in the Scriptures, I am reminded of one who is at home in the favelas. Who is not afraid there. Who knows and trusts in the presence of the eternal and illustrious safe place of God’s presence. And who takes his seat at the table with cachaca and dominoes, looking up at me with a toothless smile.
“I live here too.”
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