Jun 7, 2006

Portals of Prayer

Morning devotions often provide Luz Maria and I with opportunities for cultural exchange.

We use Spanish translations of "Portals of Prayer". Luz Maria has a collection of these devotional booklets dating from 1984 to 2003, when printing of "Portales de Oración" stopped. New Spanish text may be downloaded and printed from the Hispanic Institute of Theology Web, but loose 8X10 sheets of paper are not as easy to use as the pocketbook-sized, bound format that once was available. Also the downloaded text does not included pages of special prayers for special days on the liturgical calendar. Of course, reusing the old copies also makes it a little difficult to follow the liturgical calendar, but that is just a reality we have to deal with.

"Portales de Oración" was very popular with Venezuelan Lutherans, even though the straightforward translations of American English text often made cultural references less meaningful to enezuelans than North Americans. For example, Independence Day here is July 5, rather than July 4.

Also, although Venezuelans love sports of all kinds and many know what the "Super Bowl" is, the World Cup (as in what North Americans call soccer) is what ignites popular enthusiasm. Venezuelans call soccer "futbol". Actually, if pressed Venezuelans will distinguish between "futbol español" (Spanish football or soccer), "futbol norteamericano" (the game that is really peculiar to the United States and Canada) and "fubol britanico" (British football or rugby).

Rugby has a certain following in Venezuela. Once Luz Maria and I attended a rugby match in Caracas with her daughter, Wuendy. Jesús, Wuendy's husband, was playing for a team sponsored by his employer. I felt a little cultural dissonance when everyone stood for the national anthem, which turned out to be "Gloria a Bravo Pueblo (Glory to the Brave Nation)" rather than "The
Star-Spangled Banner".

I asked Jesús why North American football was not more popular in Venezuela. He gave two reasons. One, some consider it excessively violent (although he admitted that rugby is basically North American football without the body armor). The other reason is that the equipment is considered extremely expensive, and so most schools and businesses will not support North American-style football teams.

Anyway, one morning in question the Portals of Prayer text used the author's visit to Graceland in Memphis as a springboard for meditation. "Graceland" logically translates into Spanish as "Tierra de Gracia" and the text even described "Tierra de Gracia" as Elvis Presley's "finca". Finca is one of several Spanish words that might be translated as "farm". It means farm in
the sense of a personal estate or as an English speaker might say, "my spread in the country". (Other Spanish words mean farm more in in the sense of whether it is a cash crop operation, a livestock operation or a mixed livestock-and-grain operation.)

Luz Maria got a funny look on her face and I knew what she was thinking. We were there when the Lutheran Church of Venezuela's agricultural mission project in the state of Monagas was dedicated and given the name La Finca Luterana Tierra de Gracia (Tierra de Gracia Lutheran Farm). I explained that we gringos who were present at the dedication wondered when Elvis would make his appearance, but we did not mention it because 1) nobody else would get the joke, and 2) we were trying to be respectful of the occasion.

I also told Luz Maria that I had seen Elvis´'Graceland for myself, but I was more impressed by the original Sun Records studio in Memphis where Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and others had recorded their first albums. Luz Maria and I together watched "Walk The Line", the recent movie based on the life of Johnny Cash. Its Spanish title translates as "Johnny and June: Passion and Madness". I guess that is more of a hook for Venezuelan audiences. Luz Maria enjoyed the movie very much. I told her Joaquin Phoenix, the actor who portrayed Johnny Cash, was Puerto Rican and could speak fluent Spanish. Then I showed her the Johnny Cash CD that I had brought with me to Venezuela and she said the real Johnny Cash looked more like a gringo than Joaquin Phoenix. She could read some of the English titles, like "The Man Who Couldn't Cry", and said the themes were consistent with the movie, which emphasized Cash's unresolved grief over the death of his brother, Jack, and his difficult relationship with his father.

I have been a Johnny Cash fan nearly all my life. My mother still has a copy of the last album Cash recorded on the Sun label in 1964. A fellow fan once told me that record probably would be worth $50 today if it were in near-mint condition, but of course ours is not as I listened to it over and over as a boy. I always thought of Johnny Cash as someone much like King David. He made
a lot of mistakes in his life, but always had a heart for God.

The CD I have with me here is Cash's 1994 "American Recordings" album. Here are some of the lyrics from "Redemption", a song written by Johnny Cash:

From the hands it came down,
From the side it came down,
From the feet it came down
and ran to the ground.
Between heaven and hell,
a teardrop fell,
and in the deep crimson dew,
the tree of life grew.
And the blood gave life
to the branches of the tree,
and the blood was the price
that set the captives free.
And the numbers that came
through the fire and the flood,
Clung to the tree
And were redeemed by the blood.

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