“Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.”
When I was growing up, my mom would often share about her active dreams of my lola, which is the word forgrandmother in Tagalog. At the breakfast table, my mom would say things like, “Inay visited me again last night . . .” and then describe the feel of my lola’s presence, the crescendo of shock and then comfort at this appearance, and the message she felt inher heart after the visit.
“Oh, ok, mom,” I would say flatly, all too quick to change the subject. But what else could I say? I was 15 and full ofangst. My bangs were curled, my braces were off, it was the early 2000s and I just wanted to fit in with other suburbanteenagers. To be honest, though, I didn’t know what to believe . . . Was my mom just longing to see my lola so badly that shedreamt of her? Did Grandma really show up? I didn’t know what to think.
On this side of life, I’ve experienced when friends and neighbors have shown up again and again in some of thehealthiest forms of community I’ve been in. Neighbors offering coffee, meals and care packages after floods; a carne asada picnic with the family that once received sanctuary and now has their own home, a deliberate caring for and with the peoplewe honor with our attention.
Just last month, my cousin in the Philippines buried his baby. It was heartbreaking. He and his wife had longed for achild for over 5 years. Their son, born premature, did not live for more than a few hours. Yet the baby was given a name, aprayer service and a funeral, and the small village where my family is from came to its burial. There’s this beautiful Filipino value called bayanihan, which roughly translates to “community spirit.” It comes from a tradition of literally picking up a bahay kubo, or house made of indigenous materials, and moving it to a more secure location.
I’m not sure if my cousin and his wife will dream of their precious baby visiting them, but I do know that showing up asa community in a time of distress moves something inside of us to a greater stability of heart. It makes space for other thingsto live besides sorrow.
Our faith teaches us that the communion of saints actively intercedes for us, accompanying us, advocating for us and showing up as good love does. Jesus described the saints among us as blessed in the Beatitudes, but so many of the Beatitudes are topsy-turvy, upside-down Gospel values that make no sense to us.
The other day, my students played a game of Jeopardy! about the political and historical context of Jesus. Some hadclearly studied the chapter I had assigned, while others made wild guesses about the Roman empire. Later that night, as Ireflected on how the game devolved, I realized the truth of the old teaching adage, “if it hasn’t been in the hands, it can’t bein the brain.” The students needed to engage with the content, relate to it, incorporate their senses and movement and putinto practice some of the ideas and concepts for it to make sense to them, to be real and learned.
So imagine the good company, then, that Jesus kept for him to be able to pronounce these Beatitudes with such clarity. Jesus experienced the blessedness of the people he described in the Beatitudes . . . the meek, the insulted, themourning, the peacemakers, the merciful . . .he joined them at their parties, showed up for them at times of sickness anddeath, used his voice to interrupt their marginalization, benefitted from their generosity, dined with them, rejoiced in their healing, drew from their friendship, laughter, courage and example . . . that kind of lived freedom of Beatitudes people only makes sense from close-up . . .
Now that I’m older, I look more closely at the life of my lola. Before she died, she had stayed with us in the United States to help my mother out when she was busy working. She cooked, cleaned, and walked us to school in the snow. I was too cool for Grandma in middle school and walked a few paces ahead. Lola taught my sister and I how to jump rope, tying purple rope to the chain-link fence and counting in Tagalog, isa, dalawa, tatlo . . . I played until other neighbors walked by and wrinkled their noses at our language. When my mother would leave for work, she’d admonish me not to watch TV and to get straight to my homework. I would wait for her car to pull out of the driveway, glance at lola, and thinking that maybe she hadn’t understood my mom’s directions to me in English, boldly disobeyed and watched after-school TV programming. I actively rejected my lola’s patient and generous care.
A few years later, after countless stories of my mom’s visions of lola and other deceased family members, I had my own dream. In it, I was back in my childhood home in New York. The neighborhood looked the same with its beautiful, robust maple trees. And there, I encountered my lola. I was shocked to see her, but could feel her presence, as real as it ever was. I spoke to her and apologized for all the times I tried to trick her as a little kid, too ashamed to appreciate her then. I thanked her for the ways she fed us and helped us with total humility and selflessness. I told her I loved her . . . When I woke up my pillow was wet with tear stains, but in my heart, I felt both loved and forgiven. Lola had come close and it’s almost like I saw with new eyes how she showed up for us as kids. Lola was a Beatitudes person, and when she visited me as a late teen in my sleep, she provoked and awakened in me the memory of who I long to be, just as any good saint does. Her bayanihan of that old, unhealed part of my soul freed me inways that only love and forgiveness can.
Lord, this is a people that longs to see your face.
Yet so much gets in the way: pride, ambition, shame, centering our own success over collective liberation . . . Thank God for the ways that community shows up to love us when we are suffering or simply too small in our vision. Thank God for the communion of saints who are too steeped in God’s love to be petty and small. They are blessed, drawing us into the improbable ways of the Beatitudes, urging us to choose in humility the ways of mercy, righteousness, and peace.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, we publicly acknowledge what our heart already knows in its deepest center . . . that we believe in the promise of coming to life again, of a joyful reunion, of gathering for eternity in a place where we arein separable from that big, freeing kind of Beatitude love.
Grace Salceanu is an educator and campus minister in the Bay Area. Her work has spanned co-directing global education programs in the Philippines and El Salvador, leading retreats, organizing spiritual formation for youth and adults in San Francisco, and teaching theology. She is a director of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
Her other callings include being a mother to a vibrant 5-year-old and partner to her husband.
Spiritual lessons abound in both her professional and family life. She’s grateful for all the resilient, tenacious and dynamic people and communities who have formed, inspired, challenged and illuminated how God is at work in everything.
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