Can a Rainbow Come in the Clouds Without an Ark First?
First Sunday Reflection
The last time I saw a bow in the clouds, colorful like a rainbow, was this past January. I was in São Paulo, Brazil, and a summer shower came over us in the streets. Then came the sun. Behind the buildings, there it was: a rainbow. It would go unnoticed in a city like São Paulo, one of the 10 largest cities in the world, if it were not for the covenant message it immediately symbolized to the ecumenical crowd I was with. I was at a march of solidarity for homeless and crack addicted men and women who had been violently removed from an abandoned historical area of the city known as Crackland (Cracolandia).
On January 4 the police raided Crackland in an attempt to clean up the area where for more than 20 years, for various social and economic reasons, it was the refugee for trade dealers and consumers of crack. Bruno Paes Manso, a Brazilian journalist, says in the TV Estadão that the police department estimates that between 400 and 2,000 people—women, men, youth and children—circulate the streets of Crackland to buy, sell or smoke crack. It was not the first police outbreak, and certainly won’t be the last as the raid just moved the people to another corner. For sure, this population is extremely vulnerable, and they are in urgent need of care through public policy and public solidarity.
I was not in the streets alone. One of the activities I developed as a United Methodist Women Regional Missionary with women in Latin American was to create opportunity for leadership formation through partnerships. With a small delegation of Methodist women and young adults, we participated at the CESEP (Ecumenical Center of Service to Evangelization and Popular Education) Summer Ecumenical Course on religious diversity and peace. Religious tolerance has been receiving the attention of the Brazilian government, which recently created a special program under the Human Rights Ministry to raise awareness on religious diversity in Brazilian society. Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world, with a fast growing Pentecostalism and the presence of Afro-Brazilian religions, like Candomblé and Umbanda, culturally rooted. This religious scenario sometimes clashes, creating an environment of discrimination, persecution and intolerance especially against the African-derived religions. To be at the march was a social witness out of the conviction that religions can bring peace to communities.
Around 80 participants from the CESEP Summer Course arrived together in the streets of Crackland to be a presence of God’s love, to be educated, to pray, to recognize the effort of the organizations that have been present in this community, and to read out loud our letter joining the claim for human respect, human rights and public policies that address their needs in a holistic way. Some of them joined us, marched with us, sang our songs and cried like us.
It was not an easy march. It did not bear a resemblance to the ark where the salvation from the flood was coming. We knew we were not there saving anyone from the police violence, social indifference or even from the drug that is draining minds and souls. It was like walking the streets with the Christ crucified, lamenting his sacrifice and protesting the injustice imposed to him.
However, in the streets of São Paulo we had this unexpected moment. We collectively saw a rainbow when we turned back to hear the priest read our letter of solidarity with the community. We started the march under a heavy summer shower but ended it under the rainbow.
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you … I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” Can a bow come without an ark?
I didn’t see the ark under the summer shower until I saw the rainbow. It was impossible not to see that God was making real his covenant with that most vulnerable and rejected people in the city of São Paulo. We started to yell and praise out loud the sign of the covenant between God and the earth, knowing that this sign was there as a covenant between God and the people that have been crucified in the streets of Crackland.
Like Jesus, we need the 40 days of preparation. The Lenten season is a time for discernment, repentance and, finally, a new covenant between God and the earth, a covenant that says we can be included together with the most vulnerable of all.
Covenant-making God, open our eyes to see your solidarity with the least of these and throw ourselves in mission and ministry with the most vulnerable in the midst of us. Help us discern your will for us and engage in ministries in Christ’s way. Amen.