“Inspirated” by 3 rituals

el-cristo-de-la-concordiaEnglish was not the first language of our tour guide. He said, “The people of Cochabamba really wanted to finish the Jesus statue. They were inspirated.”

I loved his new take on the word inspired.

He used the word when telling the story of El Cristo de la Concordia, the biggest representation of Jesus in the world. Cochabamba planned the statue as a tribute to the Pope during his visit in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the builders could not complete the statue on time, so when the Pope arrived he saw a Jesus only up to the chest. But the people of Cochabamba made a pledge to complete the work, and everyone pulled together to finish the task. Hence the name El Cristo de la Concordia—Jesus of the Concord. Jesus brought people together to work in harmony.

Jesus is a powerful presence in Cochabamba.

He appears in and around buildings as you drive on city streets. You catch glimpses of him in the background when you least expect it. In Cochabamba you can’t help but have the feeling that Jesus has your back. And on a Sunday morning, people from Cochabamba travel to San Pedro mountain to spend time with Jesus, some climbing 1250 steps to do so.

The people on our Habitat for Humanity team have many different opinions about Jesus. Some have deep faith and took some time alone for personal reflection with him at the top of San Pedro mountain. Others are Christian but in a remote kind of way. Others were just standing beside a big statue. But no matter how each one felt personally about the Sunday morning experience, all felt honoured and blessed to be part of it. We were inspirated.

But there is another powerful presence in Cochabamba.

As often as you catch glimpses of Jesus in this city, you will see people in traditional Quechua or Aymara dress. Thousands of years of indigenous culture thrive in this very Roman Catholic city. The Christian tradition imported by the Spaniards intertwines with the native traditions grown out of the Bolivian soil. in this picture, a Quechua woman boards the cable car to see Jesus:

Felix, the mason on our work site, is Quechua.

After we had worked together on the Habitat house for a week, Felix became so comfortable with us that he invited us to be part of a Quechua tradition. The Quechua let their daughters’ hair grow uncut until it is time for a hair-cutting ceremony. At that time, all the hair is cut off as a way to bring blessings and stronger, more beautiful hair to the child.

It was time for the hair-cutting ceremony of Felix’s four-year-old daughter. All of the girls’ hair must be cut—but not by the parents. For her, each member of our team took a turn snipping off a piece of her hair. None of us had ever taken part in such a ceremony before, but when we looked at the beaming faces of Felix and his wife, we felt honoured and blessed to be included in such a meaningful event in their lives. We were inspirated.

And we brought with us our Canadian presence to Cochabamba.

Our team thought that it would be meaningful to place a Lucky Loonie in the house as a symbol of good luck for the family. We asked them if they would be comfortable with that, and they agreed. “Por suerte,” they said. For luck.

In the soil at the threshold of their home, we placed a Lucky Loonie that will be sealed in cement to stay with them forever. The family had never heard of our Canadian Lucky Loonie tradition, but they felt honoured and blessed to be included in our ritual. They were inspirated.

Over one weekend, our team took part in three rituals.

Each one had different history and culture behind it, but each one fed a common human need for ritual.

We were inspirated together.

4 thoughts on ““Inspirated” by 3 rituals

  1. Jeannette Monahan

    This is really interesting. I wonder how the little girls feel when their hair is cut. I am not Quechua, but when my mom took me for my first haircut (I was four), I remember feeling horrible. But maybe the little girls look forward to it in Bolivia? Also, is a lucky loonie like a penny?

    You sound like you are having a great time!

    1. Arlene Post author

      The little girl seemed to be happy enough with the whole experience. I think it’s something that she has seen happen to others, and she felt special.

      Our Canadian dollar coin( we don’t have bills for dollars in Canada) has an image of a loon on it, so we call it a loonie, affectionately. The Lucky Loonie tradition began (I’m afraid to say) when a Canadian icemaker placed a loonie at centre ice during the Olympics in Salt Lake City, and the Canadian men and women’s hockey teams went on to win gold.

  2. Jennifer

    HI Arlene

    I often feel inspirated after reading your blog.

    Standing next to an enormous religious statue (in my case a 10 story buddha) is truly awe-inspiring when you think of what moved the people to create it in the first place and what had to be done to see it through to its completion and the comfort, hope and inspiration that comes from having it in their midst.



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