I just watched the sunrise, a rare and beautiful thing in my life. I always seem to forget how slow a process it is once I focus in: the glow on the horizon that becomes too painful to look at even before I suddenly feel the rays of sun on my face. And then the seconds drag on until finally the sun is free of the horizon and soars up into the sky. This morning I sat and prayed, huddled under blankets, with a mug of hot water, and as soon as the sun peaked up and warmed me with its light, I was awash in gratitude. St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Brother Sun came to mind, that beautiful hymn of praise for all of God’s creation.
I dragged myself out of bed and opened my window in the cold to watch the sunrise because today is an important Bolivian holiday–the Andean-Amazonian New Year. Willka kuti is the Aymara term for the return of the sun after the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Here in the altiplano region, communities gather to greet the dawn together, thanking the sun for returning and soaking up its first rays with raised hands.
Today I didn’t summon the effort to leave my own apartment, but last year I joined friends from the Catholic university fellowship and went out to the rural community of Chojasivi, near the ritual site at Lukurmata–a remnant from the ancient Tiwanaku civilization. We shared an apthapi community meal upon our arrival the night before, and arose very early to walk out to the ritual site for the new year ceremony. I can’t recall when I’ve ever been quite so cold, but there was a beautiful focus and intensity in the quiet minutes we spent gathered together, listening to the drums, waiting for the sun.
After the sunrise, we greeted and wished one another well, and then gathered to hear speeches from the community leaders and dignitaries. This was followed by a ch’alla (drinking and pouring libations to mother earth) and chewing coca leaves, and another apthapi, sharing in the variety of potatoes and bits of cheese that the women had brought bundled in their aguayo blankets.
It was interesting for me, the perpetual foreigner, to attend this celebration with my friends from the city. They are all ethnically aymara, and have varying degrees of connection to the language and cultural traditions, but to a certain extent some of them, too, felt out of place there in the countryside. We were together in a space of open welcome, but also awkward unfamiliarity. I so often feel that I stick out like a sore thumb in Bolivia, as big and white as I am. Taking this step with my friends, into a community whose language and customs I scarcely know, was a step for me into greater freedom in connection. A letting go of some of my nervousness and hesitation, remembering that we can only receive from one another if our hands are open and ready. I received seeds of joy and graciousness that morning which have been growing throughout the year, and I am grateful.
Willka kuti. The sun returns. May the harvest in your life be abundant and whole.
Canticle of Brother Sun – Saint Francis of Assisi
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
Praised be You, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially lord Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious, and fair.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious, and pure.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praised be You, my Lord, through those who grant pardon
for love of You and bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
By You, Most High, they will be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Blessed are they she finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.