It was a sad parting in Santiago. As much as I’ll be glad to be home, it was hard to say goodbye to new friends – both human and terrestrial. I’m going to miss white cranes lifting and lowering their wings slowly as they fly just a few feet above the green rice plants while water buffalo wade through the fields.
I boarded a small plan to Manila. The only thing eventful about the flight was the flight attendants’ delight that I was reading Noli Me Tangere, the first of two Philippine classic novels by the revolutionary hero, Jose Rizal. The works of Rizal and other Filipino writers were banned until the 1970’s along with patriotic Philippine folk songs, but the children all learned the words and music to “America the Beautiful.”
The adventure began when I got to Manila. Someone from the National Church Office met me at the airport and dropped me off at my hotel at 1 p.m. with the intention of picking me up later, at a time TBA, for dinner with the Prime Bishop and National Church Office staff. But the hotel said I was too early. So I left my bags and ventured forth a-foraging. I lunched at the Tree House, an open air restaurant serving barbecued chicken. As I waited in that decidedly tropical ambience, the radio played “Walking In A Winter Wonderland.” The next song was an excellent cover of the R&B classic “Just My Imagination.” Manila is by the way totally decked out for Christmas in ways I cannot begin to express. One example is along one downtown street there is a 30 foot structure that is a cross between a Christmas tree and a pagoda, with large snowflake shapes of white lights along its sides. Pertinent to my story, crèches are everywhere, absolutely everywhere, some rustic, some bedazzled.
While waiting for my room to be ready, I also stopped off for a ventoso style massage. Best massage I have ever had!!! It was a spiritual experience. I was in one mellow mood when I got back to the upscale hotel. Then they told me I had no reservation and the hotel was full. Homeless. No phone. No phone number. Nada. What to do? I needed a drink – of coffee – my drug of choice, so I went to Starbucks. A little caffeine settled my nerves. I reasoned that eventually they would have to come looking for me, maybe send the police. And the place they would start looking is the last place I had been seen – the upscale hotel. So I went back there and hung out for several hours. It was a Joseph and Mary moment – no room in the inn – but at least I wasn’t in labor. I commended myself a bit for remaining as calm as I was about the whole situation, but then I thought Joseph and Mary probably weren’t too calm. Faith isn’t always calm. It’s more about God being faithful whether we are calm or frantic. God is there with us regardless of our mood. That’s why all the crèches in Manila pertain to today.
Eventually, the mortified National Church staff showed up and took me downtown to a less upscale but more my style kind of hotel. I’m on the 9th floor over a busy downtown street with lots of honking and whistling down below. Reminds of seminary days in New York.
Hunger had become a factor and the dinner with the PB and staff was canceled due to my MIA status. I’m having breakfast with the PB instead. So I went looking for more food. I found a Korean restaurant and to my naïve surprise discovered that not only the servers but the clientele were all Koreans. The cooks however were young Filipinos. Not sure what to make of that. I ordered something I didn’t really recognize but felt daring, until I realized that there were no forks. I had not seen a single chop stick in the Philippines. They don’t use chop sticks in Santiago. But here it was all chop sticks and I have used them in years, never was proficient.
Whenever I was sure no one was looking, I speared the food. Occasionally the food landed on my sleeve and I would discreetly wipe my face and snag the food with my tongue as it went by. Little by little, by hook or by crook, I ate most of it, even the rice. The music in the Korean Restaurant – Ann Murray “Just one touch and then it happens . . . .;” Abba “Dancing Queen” just what we were listening to while driving North, also the Eagles “Hotel California” and John Denver “You Fill Up My Senses.”
So when I fly away tomorrow, what will I bring back with me? It may take awhile to answer that. Certainly a different impression of how they do church here and a lot of inspiration and ideas for how we might do church better. (This really is role reversal from the old missionary days. We can learn more from Santiago on most points. There are a couple of things we have more experience at and can share.) There is some possibility, just a faint glimmer of a possibility, of some funding from her to help us get started with an Asian ministries outreach like we started Latino ministries last year. Bishop Alex is working on it for us. We need this decidedly Christian country to support some missionary work in our not so Christian land.
I have a new Philippine vest I intend to wear with my purple clergy shirt, so Asian people in Nevada will see it and think “What is that white bishop doing wearing a Philippine vest, here in Nevada of all places?” They will ask me about it and I will tell them about Asian ministries in Nevada. I will explain the Episcopal Church and say “It isn’t just for Igarot anymore. We have thriving Ilocano congregations in Santiago where we just ordained a non-Cordilleran” – this will all make sense to them if they are Filipino – “and,” I will continue, “there are growing Tagalog congregations in Manila and we are in full communion with the Philippine Independent Church. Our priests and their priests go to the same seminary, you know.” In other words, I’m getting ready to do a better job of evangelism to Nevada’s growing Asian population.
Beyond that, there’s the spiritual thing. “Spirit” is not about emotions. It’s about connections -- connecting to each other in God through Christ.” I am more connected now. I have heard dozens of stories that are not in these journals. I have told the people of Santiago stories – stories about our diocese, stories about Nevada, my own personal stories. We have shared life and that is the essence of communion. I feel deeply blessed by my time here and I will return looking for opportunities to share the blessing from this watery world with my fellow desert dwellers. The Deans and I talked of connecting congregations to congregations, ECW’s to ECW’s, joining their diocesan education person, Andrea, to our Parish Educators Google Group. “It does not yet appear what (this) shall be but when (it) appears it will be like him (Christ.)”