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The Imperfect Expression

by Taiga Guterres, Punta Gorda, Belize 15. Retreat Minister, St. Peter Claver Parish. Loyola Marymount University 15.

Originally posted on the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Jesuit Volunteer Reflects blog.

the imperfect expression

This is not the perfect mass. A dog comes in and lays down next to me to escape the heat. Somewhere a baby is crying as another set of kids crawl across the sanctuary chasing the chickens out of the church. The choir is singing off key and it seems that no one can clap on beat to save their life. The barefoot catechist is giving a welcome to the congregation as a small child quietly tugs at his pants. This is church.

I came to Punta Gorda from a parish in the U.S. that is clean and in the business of executing liturgy well, and it took time to get used to the transparency of the imperfect expression of the liturgy. I would reminisce about the beautiful music and the décor of my previous parish, as well as the ability to sit in a pew with a backrest or a chair I didn’t have to worry about breaking. Back in the U.S., I would step into the church and feel as if I had gone away to another world—a world where I could reflect on myself and distinguish the consolations and desolations in my life.

But through my first year of being here in Central America, working and living in a different cultural context, of being challenged to realize my own privileges and prejudices, and of figuring out how to truly accompany people, I have become more aware of my own imperfections and struggles.

Through living in an intentional community, I realize how hard I can be to live with at times. Through being in a different country, I recognize more of the experiences and people who have shaped my views and values. Through working in this community, I’ve realized that there is no way to perfectly express the liturgy, no way to perfectly express our faith, no way to perfectly express love. There are only imperfect, yet authentic, expressions.

As friends and family continually ask what my experience has been like here, it’s hard to find the imperfect ways in which I can express all of this. My experience continues to be a journey to the self. A journey to recognize barriers I have created from loving others and to slowly chip away at them. A journey from the head to the heart—a distance of 18 inches, but a journey of a lifetime.

In this church, the dogs will still need escape from the heat, the chickens will still need chasing, the people will still need ways to praise and worship, the children will still need to be tended to, and me, as imperfect as ever—I finally feel at home in that.