Friday, December 4, 2015

The Peasants of Solentiname and the parables

The Gospel in Solentiname

The book (at this stage) contains two modern receptions of the parables from Latin America. One reception is that of Elsa Tamez, Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at the Latin American Biblical University in San Jose, Costa Rica. Her first book was Bible of the Oppressed (1982).

The second reception, which I'll actually discuss first, comes in two forms from the "peasants of Solentiname": a written commentary (The Gospel in Solentiname) and works of art (The Gospel in Art by the Peasants of Solentiname).

First, a discussion of the commentary and the community that produced it:

In 1966, a Nicaraguan priest named Ernesto Cardenal and a Colombian poet named William Agudelo founded a small contemplative community on the largest island of Solentiname, an archipelago of thirty-eight islands on Lake Nicaragua. As part of his mission, Cardenal decided that instead of preaching on the Gospel readings during Sunday mass and other services, he and his congregation would have conversations about those texts. Cardenal later published a collection of these dialogues among those non-specialist voices within “grassroots” Christianity. In fact, Cardenal declares: “The commentaries of the campesinos [peasant farmers] are usually of greater profundity than that of many theologians, but of a simplicity like that of the Gospel itself. This is not surprising: The Gospel or ‘Good News’ (to the poor) was written for them, and by people like them” (Cardenal 1976: 1:vii).

The people of Solentiname formed a fishing and farming cooperative, a clinic, a center for artists, a museum of pre-Colombian art found in Solentiname, and a school of primitive painting that became internationally famous. Approximately one thousand people lived in Solentiname during this time (ca. 1970-1982). Cardenal lived in the lay monastery, Our Lady of Solentiname, which was on the largest island, and those who participated in the services mostly lived in thatched huts scattered on the shores of the larger islands of the archipelago.

The process for these dialogues follows a similar pattern. The Gospel reading is distributed to all in the congregation who could read, and the passage is read aloud so all could participate. The campesinos discuss the passage verse by verse, and Cardenal started using a tape recorder during the discussions, so that he could preserve the insights of his congregation in written commentaries (Cardenal 1976: 1:viii-x).

Although these commentaries contain common themes about God’s love and liberation, the people involved in these dialogues have distinctive and often different reactions to the Gospel text they discuss. The peasants’ interpretations of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Cardenal 1979: 3:251-256), for example, quickly lead them into the topics of the rich and poor, salvation and damnation.

That discussion is for the next post.

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