And it came to pass, in his being in a certain place praying, as he ceased, a certain one of his disciples said unto him, `Sir, teach us to pray, as also John taught his disciples.’- Luke 11:1
The train was chugging along slowly. It was just the right speed for Bruno and Felipe to climb aboard into one of the empty wagons. Felipe had done this several times. Bruno was still a novice. He is not one to make frequent trips to the beaches like the other children and teens. Once he got there, he realized why he never liked the beach. The children go to one of the most polluted beaches in the coast of São Paulo. There is nothing attractive there. I think that the excitement of going to the beach was actually better than the place itself. A major part of the journey to and fro was in cargo trains. Felipe and Bruno were on their way back to the city.
All the wagons looked the same to Bruno, but they were different. Some wagons were reserved for sacks of sugar and they had an entrance on the side which was fairly easy to open. Others were cylinder shaped and had an entrance on the top. Only Filipe knew which was which. They were running along side and it was raining heavily. This slowed down Felipe a little and Bruno managed to jump onto the train first. He held on to the bottom of the ladder at the side of a wagon. He held out his hand to Felipe but before he could grab onto it the train picked up the speed. It happened so fast that Bruno nearly fell and he had to use both hands to hold securely to the train. His friend could not keep up anymore and eventually gave up. The heavy raindrops were beating on his face mercilessly and everything was wet and slippery. Bruno couldn’t see anything clearly. He quickly climbed up the ladder and found himself on top of the wagon. He just wanted to get to a safe and dry place. He saw the entrance lid and with much effort he opened it. It was dark below and he can’t really remember how but the next thing he knew was that he was at the bottom of the wagon. As he landed on the floor, he cut his chin. The pain and shock caused him to faint.
He woke up after what felt like a few hours and realized what had happened. He searched for a door or exit in the dark wagon but there was only the one above him. There was no ladder. He felt something like seeds on the floor and he picked them up and realized that they were dried corn kernels. He knew what was going to happen. He had seen it before. The opening on the top was where they would funnel the corn into the wagon and fill it to the brim. He remembered hearing about some children being buried alive under corn and now he was facing a similar fate. The prospect of a painful death made him feel desperate and lost. He has had a tough life but he still enjoyed his life. He did not want to die and especially alone and forgotten in the wagon. The train made several stops and each time Bruno frantically banged and kicked on the walls hoping someone would hear on the other side but no one did. His only hope was prayer. He prayed and prayed for a miracle. However, at each stop nothing happened. He had some water with him. He took a sip each time and tried to conserve as much he could. He wasn’t sure how long he was going to stuck in the wagon.
After spending days in the train, he heard a noise from below him at one of the stops. He heard some voices and then a bright light coming out from the floor. There was another opening which could only be accessed from the outside. The voices belonged to people who were stealing the residual corn on the bottom of the wagon. Bruno yelled at them to help him but the people ran away thinking that it was the police or maybe even a ghost. Bruno crawled out of the tiny opening and yelled at the people to stop running. Finally an older woman came back to help him. Bruno hugged her and told her that she was an answer to his prayers. The woman took him to her home and fed him and took care of him for a few days. He was in another city far away from São Paulo. It took him a whole month to return the city.
Bruno just recently acquired a new notebook. For most of children, a notebook is not something they would treasure but Bruno is different. He is a learner. He notes down everything he learns and most of it is in English. He is highly motivated to learn English. Everyday he is asking us to explain certain English phrases that he was heard from songs or movies. His old notebook was torn and tattered from much use. Someone gave him a new notebook and he wanted to show it us. In the first page, he wrote down a simple prayer: ”Thank you, God, for giving one more day to live and enjoy Life.” He told us that everyday when he wakes up he says this simple prayer. He had told us the story of his close brush with death a couple of days prior. We know that this prayer that he wrote is not just something that came out of conventional wisdom but it was something that came from his own personal experience. Bruno is truly grateful for his life.
Many people would look at Bruno’s life and his clothes and the places where he sleeps and think that it is not much of a life. I have heard people say that it would have been much better if these children had not been born at all then for them to suffer such a fate. However, Bruno wanted so desperately to live when he was faced with the prospect of death. He did not just want to live but he enjoys his life. His prayer of gratitude comes from his own life experience. Many go through life without a thought of gratitude for their lives. They might have some complaints and frustrations about things they have or do not possess but Bruno is filled with gratitude just to be alive. However, this does not mean that his life is wonderful. It is not wonderful and he might be happy but it is still not enough. Maybe this sounds judgmental on my part. I don’t believe that Bruno should have the kind of life that I lead. I think that Bruno knows that there is more to life than what he has known so far. He has formulated a prayer to give thanks for what he understands now about his life. It is a good prayer. However, it is just a start.
Everyday we start our work with a simple prayer. We never wrote it down but it is the same everyday almost word for word. It has become our own liturgical prayer that came out of our life experiences in the streets. It summed up what we sense God is calling us to do. We ask God to give us an opportunity to share His love with one child and teach us to discern His presence in this child’s life. Without fail, we get to spend time with at least one boy or girl who tends to show us the presence of the living God in our midst. For the past few weeks, this boy has been Bruno. He shared his story with us on one of these occasions. I believe that both our prayers have brought us together: Bruno’s recognition of the gift of his life and our desire to discover the immensity of God’s love through our interaction with the children. However, there is one prayer that is the foundation of all our actions. It is the prayer that came out of Jesus’ life experience.
The disciples understood that prayers are not just words spoken spontaneously but liturgical expressions based on life experiences. Jesus prayed the same prayer daily because it reflected everything He understood about life. Bruno says the same prayer daily because of the experiences that he has had. We say the same prayers because of our experiences in the streets. However, our prayers are not just about our experiences but they are about our encounter with God. The disciples saw that Jesus had a deeper and more profound understanding of God. They wanted to learn the way Jesus prayed so that they could experience God in the way He knew the Father. They wanted to make his prayer their very own and Jesus offered it to them.
Prayer shapes the way we understand our reality. Bruno never really considered the wonder and beauty of life until the moment he was stuck in the wagon. Being saved from this incident made him realize that life is a gift. Perhaps it is this realization that draws him to people who would help him discover its beauty. When Bruno shared his prayer wth us, he invited us to participate in this journey with him. When Jesus shared his prayer with us, He did the same. Prayers are not mere words but they are religious expressions of life experiences. In a way, Bruno has helped me discover a different way at looking at prayer especially the Lord’s prayer. It is not a religious formula but it is an invitation to discover the wealth and depth of this gift that is called Life.