Moment of Truth At the Border - by Enedina Vasquez
When I was nine years old, I did not know I was created by God in his own image. I felt that God was something very powerful, good, and fearful, and fearing God meant I was supposed to be a good girl and God would let me enter heaven when I died. But I was a foolish girl. I thought the adults knew everything and I had to listen and learn from them. What I didn’t know was that we grow up and become the sum of our experiences and discover life and God on our own.
I was nine when I lost my voice and my confidence. Those days, I would walk to church and school with my school friend Tony. We would sit together in church every week. One Sunday Tony was not there at our regular spot in the pew. When the Mass began, I smelled the incense and turned to see our priest processing down the aisle in glittering gold and white robes, and right behind him was Tony, carrying the cross and smiling for all to see.
I watched Tony ring the bells and put the oil and water on the altar. I was moved so much that I too wanted to do that – to be up there helping the priest and God on Sunday morning. After the service I ran over to Sister Cabrini and said I wanted to be like Tony, I wanted to help the priest hand out the Body of Christ. She told me that I could not do that because I was a girl. At that moment (and long after) I was “less than” – less of a human being, less of a child of God. From that day on I felt my prayers were not good enough.
It has taken a lifetime to know that I am made in the image of God, that I can serve God, and God is alive in my world today. God is merciful, forgiving, and full of love for us. I am in awe of him, and I see him in the most unusual places, like little sparks of light, nuances that quietly scream, “I am here, see me.”
A Tap on the Window
Many years ago, after traveling in Mexico, I was on the International Bridge, in my car, returning to the US. I had just paid the toll, sweating, waiting in a long line of vehicles when this little girl taps on my window. She was tiny, and her eyes were red from the sting of the sweat draining down her brow. She showed me some rosaries she was selling. I looked at her and I saw God looking back at me, with little fingers grasping the dollar I offered.
I asked her why she was here in the hot sun. Where is your mother or father? She said, my father is over there. She pointed behind her. I turned – and saw God there in the hot sun, a young father entertaining people for donations, earning a living together with his little girl. I later wrote a poem about it, which says in part:
“Compreme un Rosario, Senora,”
She says in a voice that sounds like an apology.
I look into her eyes and Christ looks back
Wondering why He is crucified daily
In this girl’s eyes
By the indifference of people passing by.
I see the blood of Christ
In her dirty fingernails
As they help her hands grab
At the dollar I give her.
And I am just passing through.
I’m just passing through.
I felt so helpless, so sad, and then the car behind me honked and the officials were waving me to move up. So I left God there in the blazing heat, and I have carried the memory of that day ever since: The poor, the hungry, men, women, children, the marginalized are for me the image of God asking me to help, to pray and see them, to really see and feel them in my heart because I cannot help everyone, but I can pray and reach out and notice them and see God looking back at me.
Today I see God also in the face of sunflowers growing in vibrant fields. In the clouds God rains down on all of us. In the mountains he stores his treasures. Yet we hurt God daily. We destroy trees, fields, rivers, oceans, and we maul our landscape until it bleeds. We have come to worship other gods that make us rich, powerful, and unkind. Our children demand only material goods, and those who cannot afford such goods are seen as “less than,” so that children become angry and hurtful and move far away from God. We are a busy people and become blind to God, and our churches are empty because we forget what was handed down to us in community, family, and worship.
I grew up with a mother who was there for me and my siblings. She was the warmth of the home, she was the one who wiped our tears and who scolded us when we acted up or sinned. On Sundays after church she would serve us hot bone soup, “caldo de rez,” with a steaming heap of the warmest tortillas gently and lovingly covered in hot melting butter. We all ate together, the extended family of abuelos, abuelas, tios and tias and cousins all at the same table. God was there eating with us, in the faces of the old as they shared stories that were meant to be life lessons for us kids. Now our minds go elsewhere, to other altars that reduce God to a slogan or cartoon. Yet God, the image of God, is there beaming for us, looking at us, waiting for us.
I often find myself wishing I could speak to all young women today. I want to say to them that if they love God and want to be of service in their church, any church, they should do it. Go to seminary, learn theology and church history, and keep working to change the paradigms that persist against women clergy. In former days, men wrote the history of religions and designed church to fit their agendas. It is up to the women to say: We know better and we can do better. Women have emerged out of the darkness. We are the future of the church. We will nurture new generations of worshipers, believers, and doers. The image of God enfolds us and sets us free. All of us.
Born in San Antonio, Enedina Vasquez is a visual artist, writer, and the co-founder of the ecumenical ministry Platicas, which gathers Latina women for prayer and communion meeting at two San Antonio Lutheran churches. A graduate of the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest, she is now Vicar of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in San Antonio.