Ferial: 5 July 2012
“It will come… the fire.”
“But first, someone must go out and cut the firewood.”
In Uganda, out on the flood plain, one does what one can.
Out here, there is no T.V. There are no daily papers or radio or Internet, and cellular service is limited and spotty. One is alone with a community of strangers and one’s few books and one’s streaming thoughts.
The land is flat – scrubby – unremarkable. The soil is semi-arid, or swamp, no in between.
This is difficult land to till and to shape and to make fertile throughout the year.
Out here, a band of brothers, monks of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, exiled a few years back from Kenya during the violence following the presidential elections, are toiling in the hot Ugandan sun, against the swamps, to turn over this land, into crops and into yield. And bit-by-bit, they are succeeding, all the while honoring their obligation to pray seven times throughout each day and each night.
Out here, with such a landscape one either turns inward, or, at certain times, up to the sky.
Jam takes forever here to make. Two days, possibly three. One creates stages to fit into spaces between meals, between prayers, between unanticipated requests to go to Masaka for the day, 80 kilometers away.
Out here, to sing Nearer, my God, to thee… at Compline, in the dark of night, makes a statement.
Out here, the counsel found in the fourth chapter of the Book of Tobit becomes apparent. It is the cornerstone of community out on the edges of what is possible. The cultures of Christendom are best weighed and measured out along its fringes. Its capitals are cluttered in confusing pageants and edifices and self-signifying entertainments.
In the dust and heat:
As groups of brothers and sisters with little themselves chant verse 5, Psalm 111: “Acceptable is the man that sheweth mercy and lendeth”,
As groups of brothers and sisters attend daily Mass this week, and walk through the Book of Amos, and the Book of Tobit, and take to heart words such as: “Eat thy bread with the hungry and the needy, and with thy garments cover the naked” (Tobit 4: 17),
It is right and fitting that in the Mass there are still heard the words of the old translation of the new Mass in British English.
For out here, solemnity is not parsed around a word here or a phrase more in keeping with the Latin original there.
Out here, with AIDS and with too more rain and with poor crops this season’s harvest, and with the sun beating mercilessly down for the next months until the small rains, the mettle of solemnity is banged out in the gentle harmonies of psalms faithfully and constantly sung, into the night, into the rising sun, into the noon, into the twilight, into the night once more. And the canon, sung into British East African English, or into wonderful rounds and rounds of fluid Swahili is, in the moment, in the communal sharing, beyond compare.
It is right and fitting that things move in small ways. Flowerbeds are weeded. Jam is made. Then marmalade. Then bread. And computer skills are taught to novices. And sisters are introduced to blogging and to social media to gain a foothold in this post-modern presence. And plans are researched into cottage industries with international appeal. And fields are cleared at the same time to plant watermelon and more pineapple and chard.
Out here, the muzungu saws wood, washes windows, and rides in the back of the truck to town, with the cash crop of maize and the farmhand.