I didn't expect to be here in Evanston this summer, but now that I'm here it's working out well. They need help here, caring for the man I used to take care of when I lived here before; his current caregiver just got another job. So I arrived right on time.
I also get to go to the wedding of some friends in a couple weeks. And I'll be able to attend the Jesus Radicals conference next weekend, in Champaign, at the Catholic Worker house where Heather and I used to work. I wondered how I could get down there, but my friend Tim just loaned me his car while he's away on vacation, and yesterday, while delivering some furniture as a favor to someone, I was generously tipped. (Also, a friend's aunt was here last week, and she lives in Savoy, a few miles from Champaign. Turns out she is happy to have me and a few others stay with her during that weekend.) So I've been given everything I need to go.
I didn't expect to be here in Evanston this summer, but now that I'm here it's working out well. They need help here, caring for the man I used to take care of when I lived here before; his current caregiver just got another job. So I arrived right on time.
The third retreat session could focus on the last part of the story of the woman at the well, John 4.31-42. This would probably be the main message of the retreat.
The disciples besought him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." But he said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know." So the disciples said to one another, "Has any one brought him food?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work."
Here Jesus talks of eating instead of drinking. But just as Jesus talked about a spring of water flowing out of us, so also his food seems to come from a new source, to come out of him. He says, "My food is to do God's will."
What do you think this means?
It seems Jesus is making a strong connection between doing what God wants and having our needs met so that we can continue to do what God wants. In another place, Jesus said something similar:
Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be yours as well. (Lk 12.29-31)Instead of focusing on providing for our own needs, with all the burdens and obsessions that go along with that, Jesus says to focus on serving God. "And all these things will be yours as well." Instead of worrying about our own hungers and thirsts, let God worry about those. Our Father knows our needs. We should turn our attention to doing what God wants, and trust that he will provide what we need to carry this out.
What kind of things are the will of God, the work of God? How can we understand God's will better? Have you had experiences of being given what you needed to do God's work?
When Jesus revealed himself to the Samaritan woman, he gave her something to do that was right for her, as the person she was, and was a help for the people around her right then. And God usually gives us something to do in the same way. We need to look at ourselves, our interests and abilities, and look around us for the needs of others.
Where is there a need right around me? Being the person I am, what can I do to help?
It may seem impossible to stop thinking about our own needs and focus instead on doing what God asks and helping those around us. But Jesus promised to give us what we need to become a spring of water overflowing for others. "The water I give you will become in you a spring of water..."
This is hard to believe, but:
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me all that I ever did." So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world."
"The water I give you will become in you a spring of water..." Do we believe this?
[It would be good to close the retreat with a worship time. I'd like to use the water again, maybe referring to the pool of Bethzatha (where an angel would stir the waters to heal people), asking each person to stir the water then touch someone else's forehead, as a prayer for them.]
The next retreat session could be on the second part of the woman at the well story, John 4.16-30. I think I'd like this session to be focused more on exegesis, understanding what is happening in this story between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly."
Jesus makes a point of mentioning her husbands. Or rather, bringing up her husband problem, something she doesn't seem eager to discuss.
I think he wanted to show her that he knew her, and didn't reject her because of her problems. It seems Jesus even went out of his way to engage this woman, approaching her though she was a Samaritan. And he revealed himself to her: "I who speak to you am he"—the messiah. So she was chosen to announce him to the town.
Why do you think Jesus chooses this woman?
Because she knows the people of the town, and they know her. And maybe because she thirsts for Jesus. She brings up the messiah in their discussion, and gets very excited when he reveals himself. She believes what he tells her. Perhaps her husband problems have been a symptom of her thirst for a savior, a seeking for satisfaction that other men cannot give her. She also has an enthusiasm that is infectious:
The woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?" They went out of the city and were coming to him.
This woman who had perhaps been looked down upon in this town, became the center of attention, the one bringing people to Jesus. They may not have expected much good from her, but suddenly she was the one offering them the highest good.
Remember Jesus' promise that his gift would "become in you a spring of water welling up." Can we see this happening in the woman?
I'd like to conclude this session by encouraging each person to try to see themselves as we see the Samaritan woman in this story. The problems we have that we'd rather not discuss but God already knows about. The potential in us that God could bring to life. The feeling of joy and energy pouring out of us like a spring of water. I'm not sure how best to do this. It may be better to let people think about this quietly rather than discussing it in a group...
Bill Creed, a Jesuit from Loyola here in Chicago, sent me his plan for retreats with homeless men last year. I've been reviewing that and he has some good ideas. One is to have an early session that opens people up, encouraging vulnerability with one another. This is pretty important if the retreat is to be a good one.
So I thought I'd try that using the beginning of the woman at the well story (the part I quoted yesterday). I'd like to focus the discussion on certain passages:
Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."
Jesus was thirsty. Just like any of us, he felt the basic needs that are part of being human, the needs God has given us. Thirst, hunger, fatigue, etc. These seem to be given to show us that we are not complete in ourselves, that we need—that we need the help of others, that we need what God gives, that we need God. So it's important to pay attention to the needs we feel, from the most basic to the deepest ones inside us.
What are we thirsty for right now? What needs are you feeling, whether they're simple or complex, emotional, physical, or spiritual?
The leader should answer first, to set the tone and be the first to open up. Hopefully this discussion will encourage vulnerability with one another by admitting what we lack, where we need help and support.
The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?"
Jewish people of that time did not interact with the Samaritans, and in that culture men did not mingle with woman who were not their wives or in their own family. So the Samaritan woman was surprised that Jesus asks her for help. Often we are reluctant to ask certain people for help, especially if they are very different from us or we do not respect them. But many times God chooses precisely these people to meet our needs, to help build respect for one another and teach us to trust those who seem strange or suspicious (or useless) to us.
Have any of us experienced this? Do you remember times when God helped you through the person you least expected?
This could also happen during this retreat. We need to be open to this.
Jesus said to her, "Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."
In the last line, the Samaritan woman shows that the daily drawing and carrying water from the well is a burden to her. The difficulty of meeting her own needs weighs heavy on her, as it does with most people. This can also become a burden of fear, if we might lose the ability to provide for ourselves (or our families), or others can gain control over our lives if they are in the position to decide if our needs will be met. Certain needs can also become an obsession for us. We can never get enough, we are never satisfied, and so we are driven to do things that make our lives miserable and may even hurt those closest to us.
Do we feel burdened by the pressure to provide for our needs? Are there certain thrists that have become obsessive for us?
Jesus says, "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water...." Notice that it is a gift, not something we provide for ourselves. And Jesus promises that it will satisfy us completely, so we need not be driven by our thirst again.
Another picture from Jos, of a woman drawing water, reminded me of the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. I'm working on a retreat focusing on that story. Maybe I'll share it here as it develops (and if anyone has ideas, feel free to comment).
I thought I'd begin with a mediation using water imagery, probably with everyone sitting around a big glass bowl of water. And I'll read these passages:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
The people thirsted for water, and they murmured against Moses, and said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?" So Moses cried to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me."
And the LORD said to Moses, "Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink."
...And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle.
Ex 17.3-6; Num 20.11
Leaving Judea and heading again to Galilee, Jesus had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.
The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."
The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?"
Jesus said to her, "Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water..."
A market in Jos, Nigeria
I haven't yet seen a market like that one. Any one stall from the market, put it alongside the road with lots of random people walking past it and motorcycles (called "machines" here) driving past it, and maybe a little rain-shelter beside it with a bit of charred ground where the vendors made a fire to cook lunch, and I've seen that. You can see in that picture how they stack their produce; it's always very neat. I'm looking forward to the time when I'll do my shopping for myself, although I don't know how yet. (You're supposed to bargain. I think...)
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1.2-4)
Yesterday morning I had breakfast among friends at the Clearing, the house where I lived previously with Reba Place Fellowship. They invited me back to stay and work here again, while I wait for Heather to return from Nigeria. I'll be helping care for a housemate with muscular dystrophy, and probably grocery shopping and house cleaning and babysitting for others, as I did during the three years I lived here before.
It was good to see the house again yesterday morning, arriving very early after my 24-hour trip. Like a homecoming, after a year away doing new things with new people. Hilda's flowers around the house are beautiful, as always.
But there was something that troubled me all through the trip back. Maybe it was just that I don't like backtracking. Or perhaps a slight feeling of failure, because I had set out to move to a new place and take up a new work and hadn't succeeded. This feeling might be deepened because I'm not sure yet if our new plan (to start a retreat ministry at Plow Creek) will work out either.
A humbling feeling, I guess. Which isn't bad, though it's a bit uncomfortable. I suppose I'd like to have more success to boast of as I return to my former home. But that thought reminds me of Paul's words, "Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord."
That feels much better, both reassuring and right. A boast that is not prideful but humble, full of gratitude and joy, pointing to the Father who loves and cares for us. And it's a boast I think I can make quite honestly. God has taken very good care of me (and Heather) since we left here a year ago. I've been especially grateful for his care through the "nameless church" friends we met in Fredericksburg; that was so perfect and overwhelmingly generous.
My prayer this morning comes from Psalm 34:
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and be glad.
O magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him,
and saved him out of all his troubles.
O taste and see that the LORD is good!
Happy is the man who takes refuge in him!
O fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no want!
The young lions suffer want and hunger;
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
Another letter from Heather this morning. Here's an excerpt:
Living with young Nigerian women for two nights and three days taught me a lot of things about daily life the Nigerian way. (I was like a camp counselor, sleeping in a room with five girls and one other worker, doing lights out and wake-up call and discovering how VERY much more obedient these girls are than American girls their age... which is nice when you're their counselor but I gather it doesn't work in their favor with men who are after sex.) I learned to:
- sleep on a narrow mattress beside another girl (NO rolling over!)
- carry a bucket of water up from the reservoir to flush the toilet (I gather they fill the reservoir up when city water is on and use it when it's off)
- eat bones. At the final banquet of the retreat I was sitting beside one of the fourteen-year-olds from my cabin (very giggly) and I commented that she'd really cleaned her plate and then said "What did you do with the bones?" And everybody laughed. And then the girl (Ijioma is her name) started teasing me about eating mine ("It'll make your teeth strong!") and I decided to prove that a baturi could eat bones. It turns out it's more a matter of biting off the ends (which are much softer than you'd think!) and sucking out the marrow. Although Ijioma had eaten all her bones, and I'm not sure how she did it because the middle is really hard. One of the older girls told me I shouldn't eat it; I think she was worried I would choke.
I also learned a lot about life in Nigeria from the dramas and the stories [during a retreat about sex and purity and abstinence until marriage]. Honestly, it made me scared for these girls. There are so many dangers for them, and temptations, and some of them (not unlike some American girls their age!) just are not wise enough and don't believe anything could happen to them. One of the girls in my cabin (a thirteen-year-old) told a story about someone she had known: a girl from a poor family to whom a a rich man promised "anything she wanted" if she would give him her virginity—and who then went and asked her friends for advice. They advised her to do it (she must have asked the wrong friends!) and she did—and he gave her nothing. The strange thing is that the girl didn't seem convinced by this story (or by the counselors' responses to the story!) that such a man should be refused. She said if someone asked her for advice in such a situation she'd tell her to do it, for fear the girl would forever regret not doing it (imagining the money she could have gotten) and then would hate her if she had advised her not to. Oh, we gave her speeches—I told her a man like that had probably slept with and betrayed many women and was just the kind who would give you HIV—but she didn't look convinced. It seems like the lure of money is so strong (especially when you're poor—and yet these girls don't seem totally destitute) that this girl could rationalize away ALL the horrible flaws in that scenario.
I'm glad Heather's the one giving these girls advice and not me...
This morning I joined Chris and Natasha in their morning prayer. One of the readings was from the beginning of John 10, and I noticed these familiar words of Jesus:
"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
It made me think of a couple conversations I had during the past week. There was talk of persecution, Jesus' example of suffering, "take up your cross and follow me." Yet there seemed to be some confusion about how this fit together with Jesus' promises that our Father knows our needs and will provide and protect us. Some say success and wealth are the sign of God's favor on his people; others say suffering is the sign that we are faithfully living as God's people. And Jesus promises both God's care and suffering for our faithfulness. Didn't he also experience both?
These powerful, apparently contradictory, promises have confused Christians throughout history, inspiring "prosperity gospel" preachers and their opposites, the ascetics. Who is right? Both, to some extent. And both wrong also.
The people I was talking to seemed to lean toward the ascetic (in the conversation, at least). Envisioning the following of Jesus as "the way of the cross," a life of suffering for our faithfulness. A heroic vision (for some). But Jesus didn't suffer his whole life. And when he did suffer, he didn't seem to want it: "Let this cup pass," he pleaded in Gethsemane.
The way Jesus lived fits much better under the title "Abundant Life." Not abundant possessions, but plenty to eat and drink with abundant friends, abundant freedom, abundant joy. In contrast to John, Jesus was called "a glutton and a drunkard" (though I'm guessing that was an exaggeration). And even in his suffering there was something of this abundant life. It was not the suffering of the despairing, the desperate. And the resurrection demonstrated that he was not abandoned in his suffering; God protected his life, even through the worst.
Jesus promised us this same abundant life. This will include persecution, as he promised and demonstrated, but this need not quench our abundant life. (Maximilian Kolbe offered a good example of such life). We can expect to live like Jesus, filled to overflowing with those things that God considers real treasure, and protected even through the worst.
Saralynn met me at the airport at 5:00 in the morning with a mission van (which was also picking up some other people) and prayed quite fervently for the driver before we set out. (I gather it's not a totally safe road.) I was exhausted but way too excited to go to sleep for most of the three-hour trip. My first time in Africa!
I stared out the window at the sights and sounds of Nigeria waking up. Honking, all the time, as much as in New York City, mostly short beeps that mean "Hi," "I'm going to pass you," or just "Comin' through!" Chickens and goats running loose. A man standing outside his house brushing his teeth, with a cup of water in his hand, preparing to spit into the bushes. People setting up little rickety tables by the side of the road to sell things, produce piled neatly—green oranges, for instance, no matter whose table they are on, are always in a small pyramid that looks like the Eiffel Tower, with one or even two oranges stacked vertically on top of the top one. Women carrying big plastic tubs on their heads, men crossing the street with pushcarts full of plastic jugs of kerosene. Little mud-brick buildings with corrugated metal roofs and signs that say "So-and-so's Bar & Restaurant" or "Such-and-such pharmacy." Walls written on by their owners—for instance "This land is not for sale" or "Please do not urinate here." Corn planted here there and everywhere in little patches, or (as we got up into the plateau area) in fields bordered with a row of skinny cacti for a fence. Red dirt and very green grass, much greener than I expected. It's the rainy season. The air is moist, and it rains every day.
We made it to Saralynn's house with no incidents. (I did go to sleep in the van and at one point woke up looking directly, to my great surprise, at a man in a green uniform with an AK-47 or something of the kind slung casually over his shoulder... but he was a cop.) That was the day before yesterday. Since then I've slept a lot, gotten to know Saralynn's family and visited the hospital they work in and gone along on a couple home visits, and been to a meeting where I met Mrs. Oyebade and several other people I'll be working with; I haven't been properly introduced to the kids yet, but this will come soon. At the moment I'm still busy trying to learn this place, collecting new experiences by the dozens. Learning to sit loosely in the backseat of a car so the potholes don't jar me as much, learning to use the boiled water to wash out my toothbrush, learning to say "Sannu" to greet one person and "Sannuku" to greet several, learning to smile and wave back at the kids in school uniforms who stare and wave because there's a baturi (white person) going by...
While at Holy Cross Abbey, I read the story of Maximilian Kolbe's experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp. I was also reading Leon Uris's Exodus then, which details the suffering of the Jews under the Nazis (and others). Kolbe's story offers hope, the possibility of freedom, even in the most terrible situations.
[I compiled this account, mostly the direct testimony of witnesses, from a couple good internet sources.]
Tadeusz Joachimowski, clerk of Auschwitz Block 14A:
In the summer of 1941, most probably on the last day of July, the camp siren announced that there had been an escape. At the evening roll-call of the same day we, i.e. Block 14A, were formed up in the street between the buildings of Blocks 14 and 17. After some delay we were joined by a group of the Landwirtschafts-Kommando. During the count it was found that three prisoners from this Kommando had escaped: one from our Block and the two others from other Blocks. Lagerfuhrer Fritzsch announced that on account of the escape of the three prisoners, ten prisoners would be picked in reprisal from the blocks in which the fugitives had lived and would be assigned to the Bunker (the underground starvation cell).Jan Jakub Zegidewicz takes up the story from there:
After the group of doomed men had already been selected, a prisoner stepped out from the ranks of one of the Blocks. I recognized Fr Kolbe. Owing to my poor knowledge of German I did not understand what they talked about, nor do I remember whether Fr Kolbe spoke directly to Fritzsch. When making his request, Fr Kolbe stood at attention and pointed at a former non-commissioned officer known to me from the camp. It could be inferred from the expression on Fritzsch's face that he was surprised at Fr Kolbe's action. As the sign was given, Fr Kolbe joined the ranks of the doomed and the non-commissioned officer left the ranks of the doomed. Fritzsch had consented to the exchange. A little later, the doomed men were marched off in the direction of Block 13, the death Block.
The non-commissioned officer was Franciszek Gajowniczek. When the sentence of doom had been pronounced, Gajowniczek had cried out in despair, "Oh, my poor wife, my poor children. I shall never see them again." It was then that the unexpected had happened, and that from among the ranks of the prisoners, number 16670 had stepped forward and offered himself in the other man's place, saying that he was old, that he was a priest. For some reason, the astounded kommandant accepted the offer. Then Kolbe and the nine other condemned men were led off to the dreaded Bunker, to the airless underground cells were men died slowly without food or water.
Gajowniczek later recalled:
I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me—a stranger. Is this some dream?(When the prisoners remaining at Auschwitz were liberated by the Allies, Gajowniczek made his way back to his hometown, with the dream of seeing his family again. He found his wife but his two sons had been killed during the war.)
I was put back into my place without having had time to say anything to Maximilian Kolbe. I was saved. And I owe to him the fact that I could tell you all this. The news quickly spread all round the camp. It was the first and the last time that such an incident happened in the whole history of Auschwitz.
For a long time I felt remorse when I thought of Maximilian. By allowing myself to be saved, I had signed his death warrant. But now, on reflection, I understood that a man like him could not have done otherwise. Perhaps he thought that as a priest his place was beside the condemned men to help them keep hope. In fact he was with them to the last.
Bruno Borgowiec was an eyewitness of what followed, for he was an assistant to the janitor and an interpreter in the underground Bunkers. He tells us what happened:
In the cell of the poor wretches there were daily loud prayers and singing, in which prisoners from neighboring cells also joined. When no SS men were in the Block, I went to the Bunker to talk to the men and comfort them. Fervent prayers and songs resounded in all the corridors of the Bunker. I had the impression I was in a church. Fr Kolbe was leading and the prisoners responded in unison. They were often so deep in prayer that they did not even hear that inspecting SS men had descended to the Bunker; and the voices fell silent only at the loud yelling of their visitors.
...The ten condemned to death went through terrible days. The man in charge of emptying the buckets of urine always found them empty. Thirst drove the prisoners to drink the contents. Since they had grown very weak, prayers were now only whispered. At every inspection, when almost all the others were now lying on the floor, Fr Kolbe was seen kneeling or standing in the center as he looked cheerfully in the face of the SS men.
Father Kolbe never asked for anything and did not complain, rather he encouraged the others, saying that the fugitive might be found and then they would all be freed. One of the SS guards remarked: "This priest is really a great man. We have never seen anyone like him..."
Two weeks passed in this way. Meanwhile one after another they died, until only Fr Kolbe was left. This the authorities felt was too long; the cell was needed for new victims. So one day they brought in the head of the sickquarters, a German, a common criminal named Bock, who gave Fr Kolbe an injection of carbolic acid in the vein of his left arm. Fr Kolbe, with a prayer on his lips, himself gave his arm to the executioner. Unable to watch this I left under the pretext of work to be done. Immediately after the SS men with the executioner had left I returned to the cell, where I found Fr Kolbe leaning in a sitting position against the back wall with his eyes open and his head dropping sideways. His face was calm and radiant.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."
For a friend in distress.
We're back with Chris, Natasha, Ashley, and Ryan, at Charles house. Ian and Jamie were here tonight too, for dinner, so we snapped some pictures. Here's the gang.
(For a lovely variation on this shot, click here.)
Paul's bus home doesn't leave for a week, and that was the earliest I could get a (discount) ticket as well. So we get to enjoy Fredericksburg for a while.
It looks like we've arrived at the end of this walk. After climbing over the mountains and walking 41 miles during the next two days, Paul's right ankle became swollen and painful. He's been able to rest it here, but it's probably not a good idea to put any more stress on it for a while. And, thankfully, I happen to have two train tickets from DC to Fredericksburg (given by the Mahoneys for Heather and me when we left them; we only ended up using one of the three). So we'll take the train down tomorrow.
And it does feel like the end. This morning we went to mass with Angela, Nate's fiance, and really loved the worship. The second reading was 2 Corinthians 12.7-10, one of my favorites (I wrote a long essay on it once), with these powerful words:
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
And the service closed with a song I never heard before, "Harvest of Justice," by David Haas. The last stanza was great:
For to have little is to be in abundance.
To give what remains, to give all we have,
Is to walk with the poor ones, and become the stranger,
One with the Lord, the Lord our God.
A fitting close to our walk. But, if that's not enough to make it memorable, as we were walking back to Nate's place, two strangers on a random street in north DC, we hear someone in a passing car shout, "Paul! Paul!" We look. And can't believe our eyes. It's Bill and Sue and the kids, from the Little Flower farm, where we stayed almost a month ago. How did they get on this street? What are they doing in DC, so far from home?
They're waving to us, and smiling.
Heather just sent some photos from Paris, and a short video as well. So I'm blissfully happy at the moment.
I added some enhancements to my favorite shot, this one where she looks so confident, even triumphant, with her hair blown back a bit. (I wonder if she had just gotten her visa...)
This is just the best part—to see the full photo, click here.
We arrived at Nate's place in DC yesterday evening. TIRED. The bike trail was good walking, and we found a cozy pine tree to sleep under the night before—and beautiful walking over the Potomac yesterday afternoon—but it was two twenty mile (plus) days to get here.
I saw this good Calvin & Hobbes recently, and it seems appropriate for Washington...
Success! Heather got her visa and will finally fly to Nigeria next week. She's excited, and so am I.
And Chris, the man who gave us a long ride yesterday, later showed up at the library where he had dropped us, and took us to dinner at Pizza Hut. Then paid for us to stay in a motel! Some good conversations with him as well. After enjoying the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at the motel this morning, we left feeling very well provided for.
In honor of Heather's trip to Africa, I thought I'd offer Charles DeFoucauld's famous prayer of faith. He was French but served God mostly in northern Africa. And this prayer also expresses my current feelings quite well, both for myself and for Heather...
I abandon myself into your hands
Do with me what you will
Whatever you do I thank you
I am ready for all, I accept all
Let only your will be done in me
And in all your creatures
I wish no more than this, O Lord
Into your hands I commend my soul
I offer it to you
With all the love of my heart
For I love you, Lord
And so need to give myself
To surrender myself into your hands
And with boundless confidence
For you are my father
We walked back over the mountains this morning, but they're not so big along here. Good views, though. Then a guy offered us a ride and took us quite a way, over a day's walk. So I'm scrambling a bit, trying to get my bearings here.
Here's an interesting passage I read at the abbey, from one of George MacDonald's sermons (he's one of Heather's favorites):
Be comforted; the master does not require of you to sell what you have and give to the poor... Go and keep the commandments.
Does this comfort you? Then alas for you! ...Your relief is to know that the Lord has no need of you--does not require you to part with your money, does not offer Himself instead. You do not indeed sell Him for thirty pieces of silver, but you are glad not to buy Him with all that you have.
We went to mass Saturday evening and during the gospel reading (Mk 5.21-43) these words of Jesus struck me:
"Do not be afraid. Just have faith."
Afterwards, we walked out of town, back to the church we had stayed at the night before, where I hoped to be able to clean up before Sunday morning. But I didn't find anyone there, and no hose either.
But on our way to Berryville Sunday morning, we crossed a stream. A beautiful, clear stream, flowing fast over the rocky streambed. So I climbed down and washed. A cold baptism, with the morning sun in the trees. I wish I could do that every morning.
When we got to town, we noticed a sign to the Emmaus church. Which sounded like a good place to be led to. So we went in and enjoyed their friendliness and enthusiastic, heartfelt (and pretty loud) music. The preaching was barely tolerable, though, filled with July 4th references to freedom and blood and implied comparisons with Jesus. How can Christians be so blind to the vast difference between Jesus, dying innocently, without resisting, and the soldier who dies with a weapon in his hand?
But we were encouraged when Kip and Samantha Walraven invited us to dinner at their home, along with three other couples from the church. Much food followed, and much discussion. Perhaps the best opportunity so far to talk of the symbolism and meaning of pilgrimage in the Christian life. Then, because it was so hot, they offered to drive us the rest of the way to the Abbey.
My impressions at the monastery surprised me. The abbot, Robert, welcomed us and personally brought our meals the first day we were there, before rooms in the guest house became available. Quite an honor for us, after four days as strangers on the road.
But what impressed me more was something completely different. Sunday evening I looked out the window and saw a pair of cardinals, the male a striking red, the female with paler brownish feathers. The male was eating a berry. Then he clutched another berry in his beak, hopped over to the female, and turned to her, cocking his head. She looked. Then eagerly plucked the red berry from his mouth.
The next morning at mass, we sat directly behind a young Asian couple. Throughout the service they scarcely touched. Yet watching them, their way of interacting, I felt an overwhelming sense of the rightness, the goodness, between a man and a woman. The complementarity. Perhaps because they were Asian, I thought of the symbol common in Asian religions: yin-yang. Female, male; soft, hard; dark, light; warm, cool; rest, activity; earth, heaven... It suddenly felt so incredibly good, so beautiful, so perfect. A strange impression to get at a monastery.
Later I was reading Leon Uris's Exodus, about the return of the Jews to Palestine. And one of the characters began quoting from Song of Solomon to his lover. This brought me a deep feeling of joy. Heather and I have often quoted those same lines to each other.
The rest of the day, I was near ecstasy. I read and walked through the fields, surrounded by the Appalachian foothills, and piped exultantly from the woods.
And I thought about Heather and our experience with the Mahoneys, about Plow Creek and our hopes for the future. A saw how much I had doubted and feared during these past few weeks. What I'd grasped for and was afraid of losing. And I felt the depth of Jesus' words, "Do not be afraid, just have faith." I was filled to bursting.
Then I knew how I must go forward. I must forget how desperate we are for a place to raise a family. I must forget how much I want Heather. I must forget the countless roadblocks and impossibilities.
All that matters is the goodness, the beauty, the perfection of what God has given. Our love for each other. The love that can exist in Christian community. The love that can be shown to the anawim who come from the city to be quiet and listen to God. These are so right, so good. I must pursue them. Even if I fail, even if it seems I have no chance of success, I must pursue them. Because only God could offer something this good.
I remember thinking the same way when I started out on pilgrimage from the Abbey six years ago...
p.s. Colette McClain told us about a bike trail that we could take into Washington, DC, to get away from the heavy traffic. We'll probably get on it tomorrow.
Still in Winchester today, since the Abbey can't accomodate us until tomorrow afternoon. Last night we stayed at a church I'd visited before, and slept under their picnic shelter. A neighbor noticed us so I went over and explained that we were on a long walk, a kind of pilgrimage, and that I'd been here before. "Paul," she said, surprising me. "I remember, they called you pilgrim Paul."
Tomorrow we'll reach Holy Cross Abbey, a favorite spot of mine, for a few days of rest and prayer (so I might not make any entries for a while).