Love Attends Me

Love Attends Me
UUCR
July 12, 2015

YOU MAY HAVE WONDERED WHO THE FUNNY LOOKING FIGURE IS ON TODAY’S ORDER OF SERVICE. OR MAYBE YOU HAVEN’T WONDERED. EITHER WAY – I’D LIKE TO TELL YOU HIS STORY.

HE IS THE EKEKO, THE ANCIENT GOD OF ABUNDANCE OF THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF THE HIGH PLAINS (OR ALTIPLANO) OF THE ANDES MOUNTAINS OF SOUTH AMERICA. HE REMAINS A VERY POPULAR FIGURE TODAY. IN FACT, THERE HAS BEEN A FAIRLY SERIOUS DISPUTE OVER THE EKEKO BETWEEN THE COUNTRIES OF PERU AND BOLIVIA. GOOD LOOKING FELLOW LIKE HIM – IT’S NOT SURPRISING IS IT. BUT SINCE I LEARNED ABOUT THE EKEKO FROM MY BOLIVIAN FRIEND RAMIRO, I SHALL CONTINUE TO ASSOCIATE HIM WITH BOLIVIA. (AND I’M PRETTY SURE BOLIVIA HAS A STRONGER CLAIM…)

BOLIVIA HAS THE LARGEST PROPORTION OF AYMARA-QUECHUA PEOPLE IN SOUTH AMERICA. IT MAY NOT BE COINCIDENCE THAT BOLIVIA HAS LONG BEEN CONSIDERED TO HAVE THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF POVERTY ON THE CONTINENT AS WELL.

THERE IS A LEGEND ABOUT THE EKEKO. AND YES, I AM ABOUT TO TELL IT TO YOU. BUT BEFORE I BEGIN, I WOULD LIKE YOU TO KNOW THAT THE VERSION I AM SHARING WITH YOU COMES FROM AN INDIGENOUS SOURCE. IT IS A SITE AND BLOG NAMED AFTER THE VALIANT AYMARA REBEL LEADER TUPAC KATARI. AND WHILE TODAY’S SERMON IS NOT DIRECTLY ABOUT THE HISTORY OF OPPRESSION IN THE AMERICAS, I FIND MYSELF UNABLE TO TALK ABOUT ABUNDANCE, ESPECIALLY TRANSGRESSIVE LOVE AND ABUNDANCE, WITHOUT ACKNOWLEDGING THAT OPPRESSION – AND THE OPPRESSION OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES – IS A DEFINING PART OF THE LIFE OF ALL OF US WHO LIVE IN THE AMERICAS. WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND LOVE, ESPECIALLY THE LOVE THAT OUR FAITH CALLS US TO, WITHOUT THIS CONTEXT OF OUR HISTORY.

EKEKO HAS A LONG HISTORY IN THE ALTIPLANO. HE IS THE DEITY OF GOOD FORTUNE, FERTITILITY AND ABUNDANCE. AND HE IS SAID TO HOLD SACRED THE HOPES AND PRAYERS OF THOSE WHO TURN TO HIM.

IN 1781, A YOUNG AYMARA MAN BY THE NAME OF ISIDRO CHOQUEHUANCA WAS FORCED TO SAY GOODBYE TO HIS SWEETHEART PAULITA. HER OWNER, THE CRIOLLO FRANCISCO DE ROJAS WAS MOVING HIS DAUGHTER (TO WHOM PAULITA WAS ENSLAVED) TO THE CITY OF LA PAZ. ISIDRO, FORCED TO REMAIN BEHIND CRAFTED A SMALL EKEKO, ACCORDING TO THE TRADITIONS OF THEIR PEOPLE TO PROTECT HIS BELOVED ON HER JOURNEY.

NOT LONG AFTER, ISIDRO JOINED THE REBEL ARMIES OF TUPAC KATARI, WHO WITH TENS OF THOUSANDS OF FOLLOWERS INTENDED TO LAY SIEGE TO LA PAZ.

THEIR SIEGE WAS SO SUCCESSFUL – MAYBE BECAUSE TUPAC’S CHIEF LIEUTENANT WAS HIS WIFE BARTOLINA SISA – THAT AFTER A COUPLE OF MONTHS THE RESIDENTS WERE REDUCED TO BOILING THEIR LEATHER SADDLES AND SHOES FOR FOOD. MANY DIED OF HUNGER.

ONE NIGHT, PAULITA, DELIRIOUS FROM THE FAMINE THOUGHT SHE HEARD VOICES COMING FROM THE VICINITY OF HER EKEKO. SHE WENT TO THE TRUNK WHERE SHE HAD PLACED THE SACRED FIGURINE AND THERE SHE FOUND ISIDRO, WHO HAD SMUGGLED IN ENOUGH FOOD FOR HER TO SURVIVE. FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE SIEGE, ISIDRO CONTINUED TO BRING HER FOOD AND TO LEAVE IT NEXT TO EKEKO.

AFTER SEVERAL WEEKS, PAULITA SAW THAT THE YOUNG WOMAN SHE SERVED, WHO HAD BECOME THE WIFE OF THE BRIGADIER GENERAL OF THE CITY WAS ABOUT TO DIE OF HUNGER. FILLED WITH COMPASSION, PAULITA SHARED HER FOOD WITH THE BRIGADIER AND HIS WIFE, TELLING THEM THAT THE FOOD CAME FROM ONE OF HER GODS – EKEKO. THEY CHOSE NOT TO QUESTION HER HERETICAL BELIEFS BUT INSTEAD GRATEFULLY ACCEPTED WHAT SHE CONTINUED TO SHARE WITH THEM.

AFTER MORE THAN 6 MONTHS, THE SIEGE ENDED. TUPAC KATARI AND HIS ARMIES WERE DEFEATED. HE AND HIS WIFE WERE PUBLICLY EXECUTED, AND HIS FINAL CRY IS STILL REMEMBERED: I WILL COME BACK, HE SAID AND I WILL BE MILLIONS. HIS BATTLE CRY CONTINUES TO ENCOURAGE RESISTANCE AMONG THE AYMARA TODAY.

MEANWHILE, IT SEEMS THE BRIGADIER DON SEBASTIAN DE SEGUROLA HAD THE GRACE NOT TO FORGET THAT HIS LIFE HAD BEEN SAVED BY A YOUNG AYMARA WOMAN AND THE GOD OF HER ANCESTORS. SO HE DECREED THAT THERE WOULD BE AN ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF THE EKEKO. IT WOULD BE MOVED TO THE END OF THE SUMMER SOLSTICE CELEBRATIONS IN JANUARY TO COINCIDE WITH ONE OF THE FESTIVALS OF THE VIRGIN MARY. PAULITA AND HER ISIDRO WERE NOT ONLY ALLOWED TO MARRY, UNDER THE WATCHFUL EYE OF THEIR EKEKO, BUT THEY WERE ASO FEASTED AND GIFTED BY THE BRIGADIER AND HIS GRATEFUL WIFE.

THE FESTIVAL FOR EKEKO, KNOWN AS ALASITAS (WHICH MEANS “BUY ME” IN THE AYMARA LANGUAGE) REMAINS THE LARGEST FESTIVAL IN BOLIVIA. IT CELEBRATES THE RELIGIOUS SYNCRETISM THAT IS SO MUCH A PART OF OUR CULTURAL LIFE IN THE AMERICAS (BUT HARDLY EVER CELEBRATED). ALASITAS CELEBRATIONS TAKE PLACE IN THE CHURCHES AND IN THE STREETS.
THE FIGURE ITSELF, AS YOU CAN SEE, IS NO LONGER THE IMAGE REVERED BY THE ANCIENT AYMARA AND QUECHUA. THAT FIGURE (FOR REASONS YOU MIGHT IMAGINE) MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED SUITABLE FOR THE COVER OF AN ORDER OF SERVICE. HE WAS AFTER ALL, A GOD OF FERTILITY.

TODAY HE HAS THE FEATURES OF A MESTIZO, OR “MIXED-BLOOD” MAN AND THE CLOTHING OF AN AYMARA. HIS LITTLE ROUND MOUTH IS MEANT TO ACCOMMODATE A CIGARETTE, WHICH EKEKO LIKES TO SMOKE.

AND IT IS SAID THAT IN ORDER TO RECEIVE
THE ABUNDANT BLESSING OF THE EKEKO, IT IS NECESSARY TO BE GIVEN AN EKEKO AS A GIFT. ABUNDANCE WILL NOT COME IF YU GET ONE FOR YOURSELF. ALTHOUGH ONE CAN CERTAINLY ADORN THE FIGURE WITH MINITURE SAMPLES OF WHAT ONE MIGHT WISH FOR. FOOD, TRAVEL, MONEY, LOVE – YOU KNOW, THE USUAL.

DURING THE YEARS OF HYPERINFLATION IN ARGENTINA, THE CULT OF EKEKO GREW BY LEAPS AND BOUNDS.

LOVE ATTENDED IN EVERY STEP OF THIS STORY. TRANSGRESSIVE LOVE. LOVE THAT CROSSES THE MANY BOUNDARIES THAT CAN KEEP US IMPRISONED. THERE ARE MANY BOUNDARIES IN THIS STORY. BOUNDARIES OF GENDER, CLASS, RACE, ETHNICITY AND OF RELIGION. DID YOU NOTICE THAT EVERYONE IN THE STORY TOOK A RISK AND TRANSGRESSED THE BOUNDARY OF THEIR PERSONAL, INDIVIDUAL SAFETY? ISIDRO CROSSED THE BOUNDARIES OF THE BESIEGED CITY AND RISKED HIS LIFE TO SAVE THE LIFE OF HIS BELOVED. PAULITA TRANSGRESSED THE BOUNDARIES OF HER SELF-INTEREST AND SHARED HER PRECIOUS FOOD WITH HER OPPRESSORS. SHE TOOK THE RISK OF STANDING BY THE GODS OF HER PEOPLE. DON SEBASTIAN AND HIS WIFE TRANSGRESSED THE BOUNDARIES OF THEIR CLASS, THEIR RACE AND THEIR RELIGION. UNLIKE SO MANY OF US, THEY DID NOT FORGET THAT THEY HAD BEEN SAVED BY LOVE, AND A GOD THEY DID NOT UNDERSTAND.

AS I SAID AT THE BEGINNING, THE REALITIES OF OPPRESSION COULD EASILY BE CALLED THE CENTERPOINT OF THIS STORY. CERTAINLY IT IS AT THE HEART OF THE EVENTS THAT NEARLY ANNHILATED THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF THE AMERICAS.

BUT IF OPPRESSION IS THE CENTERPOINT, TRASGRESSIVE LOVE AND RADICAL ABUNDANCE ARE THE STAR.

THESE ARE THE SPIRITUAL PRACTICES THAT BRING ABUNDANCE. THEY ARE ROOTED IN ACTION. THEY ARE ROOTED IN BEHAVIORS THAT CHALLENGE US TO BE BIGGER THAN WE HAVE BEEN TAUGHT TO BE. THE STORY OF THE EKEKO IS NOT ABOUT WHAT PEOPE BELIEVED. IT IS ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE ACTULLY DID AS A RESULT OF THEIR BELIEFS.

I CAN IMAGINE A YOUNG MAN IN LOVE, GIVING HIS BELOVED A SACRED FIGURINE. “DON’T FORGET WHERE YOU COME FROM,” HE MIGHT SAY, “DON’T FORGET ME WHEN YOU ARE TAKEN TO THE BIG CITY. REMEMBER THAT ALL OF THESE THINGS THAT OUR EKEKO CARRIES ON HIS ARMS WILL HELP US MAKE A LIFE TOGETHER ONE DAY.”

I CAN IMAGINE PAULITA STRUGGLING WITH HERSELF, HER BELLY FILLED AFTER MONTHS OF HUNGER, WATCHING JOSEFA AND SEBASTIAN STARVING TO DEATH. HER HERITAGE WAS A CULTURE OF RECIPROCITY AND AN EMPHASIS ON THE COLLECTIVE GOOD. COULD SHE LET THEM DIE? PART OF ME WISHES SHE HAD. PERHAPS TUPAC KATARI’S REBELLION MIGHT HAVE SUCCEEDED.

BUT HERE’S WHAT I ALSO KNOW. I PRAY EVERY MORNING AND EVERY NIGHT FOR THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE DONE ME HARM. FOR THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE CAUSED ME UNIMAGINABLE PAIN. WHO HAVE HELD A KNIFE AT MY THROAT. I PRAY FOR THEM AND I HOLD THEM IN THE LIGHT OF UNIVERSAL LOVE BECAUSE IF I WANT LOVE TO WIN, IT HAS TO BEGIN WITH ME.

I IMAGINE BRIGADIER SEBASTIAN AND JOSEFA. I IMAGINE THEIR ELATION TO SURVIVE. I IMAGINE HOW THEY MIGHT HAVE FELT VINDICATED BY THEIR GOD AND THEIR MANIFEST DESTINY. GOD AFTER ALL, IS ON THE SIDE OF THE WINNERS, NO? I IMAGINE HOW EASY IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN TO FORGET THEIR DESPERATION. AND IN THEIR FORGETTING, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN EASY TO BE ASHAMED OF THEIR WEAKNESS AND VULNERABILITY. IT WOULD HAVE BEEN EASY TO REPUDIATE THE LITTLE GOD OF THE ANDES WITH HIS TUBBY LITTLE BELLY AND FUNNY SMILE. BUT THEY DIDN’T. THEY MADE A PLACE FOR THAT FUNNY LOOKING GOD ON THEIR ALTAR – RIGHT NEXT TO GOD’S MOM. AND THEY HONORED THE WOMAN WHO SAVED THEIR LIVES.

REMEMBERING TO BE GRATEFUL MAY BE ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL SPIRITUAL PRACTICES OF ALL TIME. ESPCIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO CULTIVATING THE EXPERIENCE OF ABUNDANCE. I WAS TAUGHT TO MAKE A GRATITUE LIST EVERY DAY. MY LIST HAS TO INCLUDE TEN THINGS. IT CAN BE MORE BUT IT CAN’T BE LESS. IT CAN BE SOMETHING AS SMALL AS THE SMELL OF CLEAN SHEETS OR THE SUN COMING THROUGH MY WINDOW. AND I CAN’T JUST THINK ABOUT THEM, I HAVE TO WRITE THEM DOWN. LET ME TELL YOU, IT IS A POWERFUL PRACTICE. I MAKE MY LIST IN THE MORNING AND I GIVE THANKS AT NIGHT.

WITH SMALL, DAILY ACTIONS, WE CAN PROFOUNDLY CHANGE THE EXPERIENCE OF LIVING OUR LIVES. AND MAYBE EVEN CHANGE THE LIVES OF FUTURE GENERATIONS. WHAT RISK WILL YOU TAKE TODAY? HOW WILL YOU TRANSGRESS BOUNDARIES AND INVOKE RADICAL ABUNDANCE INTO OUR WORLD? AND FINALLY, WILL YOU REMEMBER TO BE GRATEFUL?

I AM TEMPTED TO DISMISS THE STORY OF PAULITA AND HER EKEKO. BUT WHO KNOWS…. MAYBE EKEKO IS STILL WORKING HIS ABUNDANCE MAGIC RIGHT NOW.

POPE FRANCIS CONCLUDED A THREE-DAY VISIT TO BOLIVIA ON FRIDAY. THE FIRST WORDS HE SPOKE WHEN HE ARRIVED LAST WEDNESDAY WERE IN THE AYMARA-QUECHUA LANGUAGE. DURING HIS VISIT HE URGED PRIESTS AND LAY CATHOLIC LEADERS TO ACKNOWLEDGE AND HONOR THEIR INDIGENOUS ROOTS. HE ENCOURAGED THEM TO PRAY AND SAY MASS IN THEIR NATIVE LANGUAGES.

AMEN. ASE. BLESSED BE.

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