Early one morning when I was a boy, my brothers, some cousins and I walked to the local river, close to my Aunt Luz's hut, out on the distant edges of our town in Mexico. As we were walking our excitement was palpable. There were sparks in our eyes and in our words. When we got to the narrow, trickling blue vein of crystalline water we jumped in immediately. None of us noticed the approaching storm. Soon though, the howling wind and the booming thunder alerted us. We all leapt from the water and ran to find shelter. As we felt the earth shaking and our fragile bodies trembling, we made our way to my aunt's hut, while the ferocity of the storm grew.
My aunt's hut was only a single room, made of tin and cardboard. The seven of us went in, giving sighs of relief. Suddenly, I felt the cold sweat running down my back as I saw the far wall being lifted up by the fierce winds. My aunt’s booming voice broke our paralyzing fear. She instructed us to take each other’s hands and stand close together as she pointed to the wall and told us to walk towards the wall and press our small, fragile bodies against it. We felt the wall return to its place. As we turned around, I saw we were all smiling from ear to ear and as we collectively gave a sigh of relief, we saw the opposite wall being lifted up by the wind. We did not wait for my aunt's voice, but instantly took each other's hands and walked, shoulder to shoulder, to the wall.
I don’t remember how long it took us to weather the storm. But I learned, for the first time, to walk with the wind. Needless to say, it’s best when you have a hand to hold.
More and more I am aware that our bodies are fragile and limited. We belong to institutional bodies, whose resources and authority, whether moral, political or economic, need to be managed for the wellbeing of all. We are living under an unprecedented time where power is being misused as a tool to victimize, persecute and blame those of us who are most vulnerable. It is time that we learn to walk with the wind, as we become the communities in which it is easier to do what is good than what is evil.
In our sacred texts, the God of our brother Jesus always defends the vulnerable and powerless. It is in God's compassion and justice that we are reminded of whom we are. This is a fundamental truth. Who we are is not determined by the place we were born, or the language we speak, or our gender or the creed we profess. It is fundamentally true that our humanity is the common thread to all created reality and that all humanity is sacred. Regardless of whatever or whoever threatens our humanity, we all need to stand together and put our bodies against the wall to keep everyone safe. This solidarity is needed for our institutional bodies as well as the collective bodies of our communities.
Let's keep learning to walk with the wind,
Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz
Over a year ago in September, 2018, I came to answer the call to be your sixth pastor at Good Shepherd. I am keenly aware that I have big shoes to fill and in doing so I have been granted the grace of a committed church council and a community of faith, all of who have been patient and willing to walk with me as I learn the ropes and navigate the waters of God´s ocean. Many of you know that during the past 14 years I was pledged to a ministry on the streets of NYC and beyond, working alongside people of great courage and vision. My experience included cleaning the Bronx River, listening to and learning from the countless dreams of our youth in that borough who yearned to be free, as well as organizing masses of people within the sanctuary movement, welcoming them over and over. We also responded to the forgotten in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. As part of the Occupy Sandy movement, we worked in solidarity with many of the communities affected by the storm.
Many of our faith communities are involved and are committed to the greater, common good of both our friends and strangers. This is what ministry looks like. I do believe that faith in our God exacts from us, first and foremost, faith in one another. Thus, it is not an intellectual exercise nor a well thought out pastoral plan that will enable us to respond faithfully. I have recently shared with you my vision of ministry, which has evolved with your help and love. Many times, ministry happens when we do not have much control or foresight (that does not do away with our responsibility to have in place our protocols and plans).
Henri Nouwen, a prolific writer and theologian, has a story in his book ¨Wounded Healer,¨ which I believe points to the reality of our ministries: Jesus sits in the midst of a group of lepers. He is binding his wounds, one at a time, while all the others bind and unbind all their wounds at the same time. When Jesus gets a call of help he is able to finish binding his own wound and thus makes himself available to lend a helping hand. That is what it means to minister to one another. It is not from a high, immune, perfect place that we listen and attend to the needs of the other. It is in knowing that we are also wounded and that we are ready to help out that we find our salvation. It is in an exercise of compassion that we recognize God´s generous gift as our hearts and minds stretch to embrace the ultimate “Other.”
Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz, Pasor