I’m frequently asked about my trips to Cuba. What we do there is the most popular, followed by a curiosity of the island, and finally the mystique of a communist country. The politics are just that and change in that country is inevitable. But why I go there isn’t an easy answer because there is something intangible and mysterious about the experience.
The Cuban Methodist Church is like many outside the US or Western culture, LIVELY. Yes, the worship experience is unlike ours, maybe closely resembling gospel here in the states. They focus on the Holy Spirit much more than we do. The power, existence and palpable feel of the Spirit are real there. I do not expect us to be able to worship like the Cuban’s do. That is their style and culture. We have our own. Yes, I wish we would have more action from the congregation. It is hard to clap and be engaged when the “frozen chosen” is all around you but I’m over that.
What I wish and hope for and why I go is the authenticity a much over used word these days, but dead-on descriptive of Cuba. People there believe in miracles. They actually and really do believe in miracles. There is testimony after testimony of healings, of first hand personal encounters with Christ. Worshipers are actually “seized” with the Holy Spirit. Now my first response to this is scientific, western and filled with cynicism. It’s simply foreign and that feeling is bolstered by actually being in a foreign land. But if I just get past that, the noise if you will, there is something there.
What is there is faith. Deep belief and trust. These people worship and believe “like a child”. They have no western logic and ego to hold them back. They FEEL their faith. They FEEL the Holy Spirit and their response is to rejoice and be glad in it. Don’t get me wrong they are educated. That is one thing about their system, right or wrong. My tendency to equate their existence to some Appalachian back woods community and therefore easily dismiss their testimony and actions as “ignorant” or “under-developed” can’t be used here. The conflict that is before me is real. How do I reconcile all this? How can I process my experience here in the manner in which I’ve been cultured? I can’t.
Paul says that transformation can happen through the renewing of the mind. Scripture tells me over and over that great things have happened and somehow somewhere I’ve allowed my innocence of faith to be tainted and pulled until the point that if I can’t justify it or explain it, it isn’t real. What I realize is that if I let go of that feeling, the need to be right, the need for everything to be explained, in essence control, my mind IS renewed. I can’t explain, nor do I understand, quantum physics, the beginning of the universe, etc., but that doesn’t make them untrue, fake or false. They remain for me unexplainable. I have to surrender my dismissiveness and when I do I can internalize and feel that all things are possible through God. I can and do connect with Cuban believers in a celebration of life. Yes, celebration of life. Here where things don’t exist and people from our standards have nothing, people give freely even though they will have nothing after they give. It is routine here not just a random act. It’s unexplainable.
I don’t pray for, or want to bring to, our church a different worship style. I don’t wish for a more charismatic approach. I’m not unhappy with, nor do I believe we need to change, our own traditions. What I pray for, what I wish for is that we could experience that renewal and rebirth of the spirit that is so present in Cuba. That naivety. That coming as children, that laying down of arms, that surrender of ALL to Jesus that frees us from bondage. See we are the ones in chains even though we live in a free society and they are the free-living in “chains”.
Well I’m back. That experience of Cuba, the freedom, the “mountain top” as it were begins to fade. How quickly life here took me in as if I didn’t miss a beat. My living in the moment in a semi-surreal Eden like community is now an experience to remember. I’m different though. I recognize the amount of incredulity I really have and frankly allow in myself and can quickly justify in a number of ways. But I’m not alone in this. Far from it. So before I pray for all of us to experience that Cuban worship I begin my prayers with the spirit of Mark 9:24: “God I believe, but help me with my unbelief.”