I’m old enough to remember when religious belief was still vaguely considered a “given” in public life. (I’m an American.) It was certainly already dying out when I was a child — almost dead in fact. But society hadn’t yet passed through the 1990’s and 2000’s, which acted as the consolidation period of the revolution of the 60’s and 70’s (which was itself merely the culmination of a centuries-long movement towards atomism, materialism, and alienation).
Latin America is not a particularly pious society (contrary to popular imagination). In small towns people still all go to church on Sunday, but that’s mainly to gossip and to see and be-seen. In the large cities, church-goers are in the minority.
But some level of religious belief, even if only as part of a tribe, is still assumed. And among those who do believe strongly, it’s completely acceptable to be very forward about it (people love to put decals of Jesus Christ on their cars, or wear their crosses in public in a non-ironic and non-gang-affiliated way).
Now obviously some people do this in the United States, but really it’s a vanishingly small percentage, especially in big cities.
Again, I don’t mean to put Latins on some higher spiritual plane than Anglo-Americans (though they may be, I don’t really know or even care right now). My point is this: in a society where religion is not considered anathema, where it is not considered some horribly embarrassing thing that only rubes and simpletons believe in, regular people still have an easy and constantly available ingress into a religious mode of thinking.
I thought of this today when I passed a road sign (in Central America) that pointed the way to La Esperanza. “The Hope.” Of course, many places in the US have religious names (St. Louis, or Los Angeles, for example). But I had just seen La Esperanza seconds after seeing a car decal that said Jesus es el Señor, “Jesus is the Master.”
Esperanza translates to “hope” in most dictionaries, but it carries the primary etymological meaning of “waiting.” The verb esperar means both to wait and to hope. Espero la cuenta means “I am waiting for the bill.” But Espero otra oportunidad means “I hope for another opportunity.”
La esperanza refers to the great hope that Christians have: the hope of eternal happiness. It is something they wait for, and also something they hope for. It struck me so strongly when I saw the road sign. These constant little reminders of the greater realities that surround our daily doings.
Again, I realize I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. But these are the kinds of small revelations that I have lately. The only reason I maintain this blog is to have a space to think about them. I used to be so grateful that I lived in a society that was relatively free from “superstitions.” And I considered the greatest evil of my society to be the lingering on of people who still (oh so foolishly) believed things.
Today I do not feel the same way. Names like La Esperanza thrill me with the thought of hidden joy looming just around the corner. Really, what is more exciting than a road sign that points, “Hope: This way” ?