Sunday, January 8, 2012

Running in Lima: Loving baby Jesus

            LIMA, Peru – Here, when I run, I cross myself.

It’s not the danger of getting more blood clots in my legs (although that will worry me for quite some time). It’s not the fear of getting hit by a car. It’s not the pollution. Rather, it’s the number of Jesus statues and Nativity scenes everywhere.

Fifteen days after Christmas, Christmas is going strong in Lima.

The Christmas lights are still strung all over this vast city, up and down palm trees, on light poles, on hotel fronts, on city signs, and, of course, around all the manger scenes – the thousands of manger scenes, most of them with flashing colored lights forming an unnatural border.

The truth is, there is no greater love here than the love for baby Jesus, and I saw that firsthand over the weekend at the National Children’s Hospital, where outside the children’s tuberculosis ward over the weekend the staff held their traditional (and sad) ceremony to take down the manger.

They called out for everyone on the ward to witness the scene. Children with TB who could walk came out. The staff and their children filed around. Doctors, nurses, and family members all gathered around. 

Two things happened. One was that everyone was invited to take out one of the 300 figures in the manger scene (from tiny lambs to large cows to the very heavy statues of Mary and Joseph) and then to put a coin in a collection box.

The second was that the baby Jesus could not just be simply packed away.

No, baby Jesus would linger outside the cardboard box that held all the other figures. He was passed from nurse to nurse, child to child, doctor to doctor. The nurses, though, didn’t want to let him go. They cradled him in their arms like he was the baby Jesus, kissing him on the forehead, whispering words of prayer, squeezing him to their bosoms, some shedding tears, and ever so reluctantly and carefully passing the baby to another’s arms, and the whole loving baby Jesus started over again. I stood in awe.

            I know this is a running blog. And I’ll write about the running in Lima in the next post. For now, the reverence for the meaning of the season, the birth of Jesus, is more than enough for me. I don’t think I’ll look at a manger scene the same ever again.


  1. Hi John, To be an unsuspecting witness of unconditional love and devotion is a humbling experience. The young patients must experience this kindness every day. Life should be so simple that love is so freely given! I so enjoy your stories, Aunt Jane

  2. Hi John - as you often do - your writing struck a chord with me. Yesterday we took down our wreaths and exterior lights and tonight we'll go to work on the indoor holiday decor.

    The advent calendar will be rolled up, the advent wreath will be tossed (the boxwood is turning brown), the Santas will be tucked away and the organments will come off the tree. I will also put away our nativity scene - which this year was relegated to a rather low profile corner. The broken light bulb never did get replaced (is this the 2nd or 3rd year that I have neglected to remedy this?) I suppose I could try to argue that I'm helping to maintain the humble nature of Jesus' birth - but the reality is that I have a lot to learn from the people of Peru. Next time you see me - ask me if I've fixed the bulb yet and help me to get my priorities back on track.