My mother comes from a family with 11 siblings and my father from a family with 9. I have 52 first cousins when I combine both my maternal and paternal sides together. Its like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” gone Spanish style.
Christmas is a blast. Wrapping paper flies through the room and the most incredible Spanish-American food covers the dinner table.
This large Hispanic family of mine has a rich history not only stemming from good food and fun holidays, but one that is deeply rooted in the Church.
Caring the message of the Gospel from Colorado to Utah, my grandfather started 27 churches in his family’s home. The famous mantra “mi casa, su casa” (my home is your home) manifested into its literal sense. As spiritual nomads, if you will, my grandfather turned his large family and meager home into a welcoming place where all were welcomed.
I grew up attending the last church of my grandfather’s career. I wasn’t able to understand his sermons because, as a boy, I didn’t speak Spanish. But as I sat in the pews over the years, what I was able to comprehend was love.
Men of the church worked along side one another to repair their cars because sending them to a mechanic was too expensive. Women raised families side-by-side, cutting corners by sharing needed commodities they could only afford as a collective.
I was able to watch people who were willing to let their powerlessness be the catalyst that allowed them to love and be loved. In other words, mi casa, su casa. The struggles of their internal world were intentionally exposed so that a greater external world could be established.
But it didn’t stop there. I began to realize that we were all the same. My internal world, whether more financially stable or not, more educated or not, was the same as theirs. Mi casa, su casa. We all existed on the same emotional plane.
Father Richard Rohr once told me that we only know power when we’ve steeped in powerlessness. And I add that we only know unconditional love if we experienced being loved conditionally. Being Hispanic has come with its systemic inequalities and institutional struggles, leaving me powerless and conditionally accepted on many fronts.
But the powerlessness and conditional love I have endured-because of my brown skin-have also produced my most cherished gift: the power of loving unconditionally.
I’ve learned that loving another, especially when a crack in their façade has been exposed, may leave a person feeling weak and even angry. But this is the beauty of the love I’ve been able to witness; that love is not intended to facilitate the facades we wish to promote, but to tear them down.
But that love moves us to the posture of total vulnerability- that is being known and accepted for who we are and not for the merits we’ve achieved- means we’re closer to manifesting Christ’s identity as our own, both as the giver and recipient of love. To me, this is what it means to pick up your cross daily (Matthew 16:24-26)- to leave your ego behind so that the truest core of your identity can be experienced, known, and practiced.
Many are unable to embody the identity cultivated by the humility of Christ’s love, much like the rich young ruler with whom Jesus spoke (Matthew 19:16-24). And if this is true, then they are also unable to understand that their truest power is not in the ability to protect and sustain themselves, but in their inherit value. It’s funny to recognize that our inherent value is completely powerless.
For example, a tree has no choice where its roots will form, how tall it will grow, and what leaves it will produce. That tree has no choice but to stand and let the sun shine upon it. And as it stands in its utter powerlessness does it grow to be a powerful resource that sustains an entire ecosystem.
Our inherent value is just like the powerlessness of a tree that grows involuntarily into a powerful refuge for surrounding life.
But this is a lesson we’ve forgotten to embrace.
Our non-religious neighbors might not be able to understand Christ’s love because we often emphasize our ego’s prowess. Too many hold the impressions that Christians are judgmental, hypocritical, and self-righteous. And to them our sermons and dogma sound like Spanish to a little boy in a pew who only speaks English. While we’re busy proving our ego’s strength we’re loosing societal relevancy.
But if we live our lives demonstrating love with our actions we might communicate a perfect message with a wordless sermon. Others will be able to see that love is not only demonstrated by human action, but also experienced as an internal disposition. I think this is what Christ meant when he said, “If you wish to be complete…” (Matthew 19:21).
When we are completed by powerlessness and conditional love we discover the ability to love others for what lies beneath the facades. We enter relationships out of the excitement to walk into another’s internal or external world, even when its different from our own- mi casa, su casa.
And if we’ve spent enough time loving others for the essence they possess below their achievements and impressive successes, do we began to learn that we are loved in the same way.
Diving to this level of love for your other and yourself is the beginning of unconditional love. It will change you and others from the inside-out. And this is the power of loving unconditionally.
So if there is one lesson you can be reminded of during Hispanic heritage month, maybe it’s to practice the confidence that love is your most powerful asset, especially when it stems from your powerlessness.
And in case you forget where your emotional home is, just remember, mi casa, su casa.