One thing that my community members would have no problem telling you is that I am very much a rule person. A planner who feels most comfortable with a set schedule and organized time for things, I rely on structure. This has extended into all aspects of my life: including my spirituality. Although I enjoy different types of prayer, particularly those unconventional types that do not at first feel like they should be considered prayer, I prefer to have a part of my day sectioned off during which I can intentionally take time to be with God. Normally, I run off to a place where I can be by myself, where I can focus on the presence of the divine. Here in Peru, this has been shaken up just a little.
My spirituality has not always been allocated to specific times during the day, chained and imprisoned until the correct time. No, there have been many times in my life when I have been overwhelmed by the love of God and her infinite wisdom and omnipresence. These moments usually occur in the presence of intense beauty, like sunsets over cranberry bogs or the embrace of a dear friend, through which I feel like God is screaming, “I love you! Look what I have made for you and given to you.” These moments, while moving and emotional, have been few and far between. It is as though I embody different people, one person who studies, another who has fun with friends, and yet another who is spiritually charged and connected.
Anyone who tells you that a year of service is fun and easy is lying to you. It’s hard. When you first begin your journey you are so excited and ready to serve, but the many challenges of community life, cultural exchange, and the simplicity of having more responsibilities are extremely trying. In my first few months as an AV, I really struggled with this. Ever since my sophomore year of high school I had felt called to do a year of service, how could something that felt so written on my heart be so difficult? As we struggled to find our place here, I felt that my small etched out times for prayer were not enough for me anymore: I was spiritually suffering. Something that saved me during all of this heart ache was the presence of my community. I shared my feelings with them and felt better just to be able to be with people who could completely understand what I was going through. Most importantly, they gave me the strength to push on and reminded me that we still had a long way to go on our journey.
Magnificently reflecting onto the sidewalk and creating color strokes no paint brush could ever replicate, the sunset laid its glorious beams across the streets of Chulucanas. Britt, Chantelle, and I stopped walking and stared. We drank in the colors, inhaled the love, and were rejuvenated by the love of our Creator. A spiritual experience from a sunset is a real and powerful thing, and it is what saved me from my need for a strict and scheduled spirituality. Because that was the best part about it: we were just walking somewhere. It wasn’t planned or organized but just happened.
Ever since that day I have found it easier to find God in every hour of everyday. She is there in my jovial conversations with my host parents, in my students’ struggle and great desire to comprehend, and in the joy that I feel just to be close to my community members. Last night as we gazed into the great expanse that is the unpolluted, South American night sky, I told Britt, “If there is only one thing that I can take out of this experience it is this feeling. I hope that I might carry with me this knowledge of peace, this lighted fire, and this recognition of God.” In response she smiled and nodded. She understands.
Lacie Ann Michaelson