The drone of the engines rumbled underneath pushing us across the pale, grey ocean. With each passing minute, the sun crept closer, and the once dark grey horizon of the ocean slowly began turning silver and then silvery white as the new dawn approached.
I turned to look out of the left side window, and as the sun broke the horizon of white waves of air, the sharp teeth of an unknown predator broke through the surface. The teeth continued to rise high above the waves beckoning us closer and closer as we sailed on towards our destination. The descent felt like it took forever. the jolt of the wheels on the pavement below awakened us all as we coasted towards the port of entry. As we rolled closer to the port, once glance outside the windows confirmed that we were now inside the mouth of those giant, silver teeth. As I peered out of the window, I looked upon a new horizon, a new land filled with new people. Though our journey was not at an end, the first landing in Bolivia brought us closer to meeting, and for some of us reuniting, with a group of children at Villa Amistad in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
The thing about arriving in a new land with new people is that you are not quite sure what they are going to teach you about life and about God. It is easy to have facile expectations and to overlook the real lessons of the journey when you go on a pilgrimage like the one we took to Bolivia. It is also easy to over simplify the lives of the people who you are visiting, and it is easy to make simplistic platitudes about the lives of the people you are meeting because their lives seem so much simpler than life in the United States. Of course, the challenge is to understand how life in a place like Bolivia is so much more challenging than life in the United States. The challenge is to look beyond the surface of the “simple” life in Bolivia and understand that it is simple not from choice but from scarcity of circumstances.
With all of that being said, it is possible to learn something from a pilgrimage to a place like Cochabamba and to an orphanage that is doing all that it can to provide children with the resources they need to live a prosperous life in their future. As I spent the week with the children in Bolivia, I reflected on the fact that the abundance of the United States might be our greatest societal sin, and I began to question how the Church is saying anything about that within the borders of the United States. The lives of the children that I met reminded me that opposite of scarcity is not abundance – a chief point in the myth of the American dream. As a society, we are trained to think of abundance as the answer to scarcity. To avoid scarcity, we must store up reserves in order to have an abundance of wealth at some point in our lives. As a nation, we stake claims to resources – natural and otherwise – to prevent the scarcity of the past from resisting us in the future. And the time in Bolivia had me wondering what the world would look like if a country as abundant as the United States would settle for enough.
And then it strikes me that the pilgrimage to Amistad is wasted if it does not have an influence on how I live my life, and how I preach the gospel message of enough. The temptation is to use a pilgrimage like the one I took to Amistad as a way of escaping from the abundance of my life in order to be reminded how life can be enjoyed in a simpler way – all without changing any key aspect of my life. It remains to be seen how a journey to Bolivia is going to have a key impact on my life, but I am certain that it will. If nothing else, it has at least forced me to question what the value of a pilgrimage is if it does not translate into incarnate change within a discreet life. If a journey to a country that must be satisfied with (barely) enough instead of abundance does not cause a pilgrim to question the fallacy of abundance, then it is important to question why the pilgrimage is a necessity after all.