Giving Thanks for Life

First off, I apologize for posting a bit late for November. Nevertheless, while we still are in this time of gratitude and thanksgiving, perhaps you can take a moment to pause and reflect on the spirit and meaning of this season.

Halloween and Thanksgiving. One at the end of October, the other a month later. The first to remember death, and the second to celebrate life. These two holidays are not that far apart on the calendar, yet it may not seem logical that they are related. Though beliefs and traditions vary from one culture to another, here in San Antonio these differences come together to form a rather festive autumnal holiday season.

We saw this statue of the Spanish explorer Ponce de León, or possibly a conquistador, on our ghost tour of San Antonio.  Commissioned by Saint Augustine, Florida, to celebrate the birth of de León, the city’s founder, the city rejected it upon learning the purportedly life-size statue was about 6’6” tall—de León was only 4’9”!  San Antonio subsequently bought it, placed it in front of the city’s historic Spanish governor’s palace, and declared it was a statue of one of the conquistadors who colonized the region that became Texas.

We saw this statue of the Spanish explorer Ponce de León, or possibly a conquistador, on our ghost tour of San Antonio. Commissioned by Saint Augustine, Florida, to celebrate the birth of de León, the city’s founder, the city rejected it upon learning the purportedly life-size statue was about 6’6” tall—de León was only 4’9”! San Antonio subsequently bought it, placed it in front of the city’s historic Spanish governor’s palace, and declared it was a statue of one of the conquistadors who colonized the region that became Texas.

We YAVs started the season on October 30 by embarking on a ghost tour of downtown San Antonio. It seems that everyone in this city has a ghost story to tell from his or her personal experiences, and this was an interesting way to dive into that side of local life. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs on the existence of ghosts, we all had a fun time learning about the spine-tingling tales that have shaped many of the locals’ views on death and the afterlife. Perhaps San Antonio’s most famous ghoulish residents are the defenders of the Alamo, who 178 years later regularly are seen peeking out of upper story windows in the old Spanish mission-turned-fort. It is common knowledge that, due to so many past battles and struggles around here, one cannot take more than a few steps without walking over at least one body buried in the earth below. When the city installed wheelchair-accessible sidewalk ramps downtown several years ago, construction crews found so many bodies that instead of reinterring the dead, they simply poured cement over the corpses, permanently entombing them beneath the streets of San Antonio.

Much of this fascination with the dead is driven by Mexican and pre-Columbian traditions, which have combined over the centuries to form a popular veneration of death. Santa Muerte, or Our Lady of the Holy Death, is revered by many in Mexico, other parts of Latin America, and the United States as a way for people to remember the dead while looking forward to the future. It is based on this tradition, then, that on October 31 and November 1 and 2—all three days collectively known as the Day of the Dead—families visit the tombs of their relatives so they can give thanks for those who have passed on. The festive spirit of the occasion reminds everybody that this is not a day to be sad; rather, it is a time to celebrate life—past, present, and future.

Some of us YAVs recently celebrated life and those we know and love by attending a neighborhood Thanksgiving dinner at Divine Redeemer Presbyterian, our host church. A longstanding annual event, the dinner typically attracts 400 participants. Though we did not know the majority of the people in attendance, nonetheless there was the sense that everyone present was giving thanks for their families, friends, and blessings. After a short worship service, people lined up for plates of Thanksgiving favorites such as turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and—remember, this is San Antonio—jalapeños!

As we celebrate this season filled with generosity, I am thankful for all the support—prayerful, emotional, and financial—you have given me. I now have a favor to ask of you. I almost have reached my fundraising goal of $3,000—I only have $165 to go before I reach my January 1st deadline. Due to numerous significant unexpected costs over the last few months, however, DOOR San Antonio—the office that supervises me directly—needs to raise over $21,000 by December 31 to stay in the black. If this deficit continues into 2015, that will have a significant impact on our experience, leaving us YAVs with less money to spend on everything from food to transportation to enriching community activities. Please consider helping us continue to have a joyous faith experience by making a tax-deductible contribution. There are two chief ways you can help us:

Give through the DOOR Network’s website. In the “Donation Designation” box, please write “Matthew Cowell/DOOR San Antonio.” Under “Additional Contact Information,” please provide your contact information so you are mailed a tax receipt.

Please make checks out to DOOR Network, 430 W. 9th Ave., Denver, CO 80204. Please write “Matthew Cowell/DOOR San Antonio” in the memo line.

Be with God until we meet again!

We gave thanks for each other and the beauty of God's creation while camping at Guadalupe River State Park, north of San Antonio.  We also gave thanks that the raccoons that raided our food the previous night failed to pry open our guitar case--one of them nearly succeeded in that venture!  Perhaps it wanted to learn to play the instrument, or possibly snack on it instead.

We gave thanks for each other and the beauty of God’s creation while camping at Guadalupe River State Park, north of San Antonio. We also gave thanks that the raccoons that raided our food the previous night failed to pry open our guitar case–one of them nearly succeeded in that venture! Perhaps it wanted to learn to play the instrument, or possibly snack on it instead.

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