Feast of the Martyrdom of Saint Justin, 2012
Asante kwa Mungu: Thanking God, I defer to God, hopeful of any significance from my being present at Tierce, in Swahili: rattling over the verses of Psalm 118 (old numeration), at a rapid fire speed: ee Bwana – Sheria – sana sana…
Atop the mountain, being lost in a sea of half-French and even less comprehension with the local lingua, and feeling outside at all times: on account of: skin color, of: language-as-never-second-nature, of: cultural-shorthand-absent-at-every-step, of: differing-approaches-to-different-theology, and of: through-theology-to-a-shared-workable-praxis. Out here, alone, without connectivity back to the world I claim to know, I feel I can lay claim to honoring the call of Saint Isaac the Syrian, and those before him, to place oneself in oneself and one’s world as if a constant Stranger. “Walk before God in simplicity and not with knowledge.”
Always off my balance, unsure of my mark, my insignificance weighing most heavily in the morning, until eggs and sunshine and solid work. I need to write so much down, before I forget: all the little things. Perhaps, this afternoon. Of: Brother B. (from France), and his classic, art-house film collection, and his fear about Latin American soap operas and their effect, along with Jackie Chan, and ‘Jack Bauer,’ on the well-being of the novices, obsessed with Action and fighting and wretched melodramas; of: the Fête (pre-, pendant, and post-); of: Br. M’s and Br. R’s repeated “Je veux—x” against Benedict’s Rule of making do through making small; of: my pilot project being now re-presented as an experiment of cooperative investment with the villagers: a gift of quatre-vingt livres: with a goal of more, if valued and if put to good use; of: the need for the muzungu, used to Western planning and agendas, to trust in ‘the wait.’ Bending to the time frames and the calendars of others, of a community within a larger community, all the while keeping quiet vigil over an endgame and an exit date. Hoping that all will work itself out, with God’s grace. Trying to self-give, without cynicism, without profit, simply to enjoy in a progress towards a relationship with God through others, familiar and not. And to trust in one’s honest presentation, and to trust in faith in the spirit of others, beyond one’s control—a goal at least. And include everything else, too: the instant requests from strangers (medical students, law students, ex-monks, ex-novices and their unwed wives) for laptops and money and gifts, and all without reserve; and Obama and “his homosexuals.” And: how we all judge each other (against the precepts of Christ—Matthew 7: 1-5), from our different places and pasts, yet how we all are unwittingly strangely freely employing the same optics to look throw, albeit with screwiness and misappropriation. And all out of unwarranted fears, and without pause to consider (with consequent humility) God in his continued unbroken benevolence:
“Ils mangent, ils sont rassiés,
Dieu contentait leur envie.
“Mais leur envie n’était pas satisfaite,
ils avait encore la bouche pleine…” (Ps. 77-V: 29-30)
“God transcends what we humans have broken and divided.” – Father Paul Evdokimov
I look up at the bell tower, as I try to exercise my knee, and bring it back into full movement, after twisting it, down in the fields, in the mud reclaimed from the papyrus swamp, while plants transplanted clippings of a tropical cousin to the yam. I look up at the tower being restored: built by black laborers under the direction of white monks, during a different era of colonial claims and patronizing indifferences, then destroyed in a massacre, forty years later, brought on by post-colonial clashes of power and tribal dominance; and I wonder about the abbey church, and all that will transpire within its sacred space, and how much has been allowed to advance in the pursuit of the dignity of all persons in this valley, in this province, in this country, in this Africa, in this world, and of this Church. Or is it all babel? Cursed still by the ghosts of Kennedy and Khrushchev and Dag Hammarskjöld and King Leopold and Lumumba and Mobutu? What did they all thrust about this place called Congo? What did they steal? What did they import and leave to rot? (And where rests my complicity in this unfolding story?)
Emmanuel Mounier points to this curse, post-Auschwitz, post-Hiroshima, when he writes (1950):
“The life of societies is a perpetual guerilla, and where hostility dies down, indifference supervenes. All the efforts of comradeship, of friendship and love seem futile against the vast obstacles to human brotherhood. Heidegger and Sartre make much of this in their philosophy. For them, the need to posses and to overcome overlastingly obstructs communication. Associated man is necessarily either tyrant or slave. The very look of another steals somewhat of my universe, his presence restricts my liberty, his promotion is my demotion. As for love, it is a mutual disease, an inferno.”
Against such a tempting resignation and anarchy-of-self-profit, the risk to imagine and to move beyond:
“Between doctrine and doctrine dialogue would be impossible. But the Christian, as the servant of God’s activity in the world, must by virtue of his doctrine go beyond doctrine and intellectual formulations.” – Juan Luis Segundo, S.J., 1968
But – do I myself act self-signifying such, as a sincere servant?
“To contemplate is to encounter the Word beyond words.” – Dom Bernardo Olivera, O.S.C.O.
But – how often do I get beyond my words and the quoted borrowed aphorisms of others?
“To love thy neighbor is oneself. The moral self is self-emptying…” – Emmanuel Lévinas
But – thus, borrowing the eyes of Lévinas, do my actions give dimension to such a self?
“… I have no existence, save in so far as I exist for others, and that to be is, in the final analysis, to love.” – Emmanuel Mounier, 1950
But – through the sum of my actions, do I ergo honestly exist?
“Sacred Scripture … teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor.” GAUDIUM ET SPES: 24; 1965
But – how often, do I separate myself thus from God?
“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the man of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the followers of Christ.” GUADIUM ET SPES: 1; 1965
But – do I rather pick and choose whom – which men and which women – of this age I am willing to connect to? And why do I choose some and not the others?