Ferial: 13 Friday 2012
Friday the 13th, forever, ferial.
No sun: no charge for the solar batteries: no power.
No water in the well, the well dug the summer before during my last visit.
Out on the flood plain without rains, in a dry season drier than usual, with too much morning fog, too much unnatural natural evaporation.
This is the 21st Century in rural East Africa. This is the reality that religious communities out on the range face.
Despite cell phones and modems and a pick-up truck, life here has not pushed out of the day-to-day from two centuries back.
Clothes are washed in a bucket, by hand, and hung on wires between wooden posts to dry.
Water is boiled to be drunk. Food is cooked on wood-burning stoves. Bread and pies and cakes are baked in wood-burning ovens. And can often end up burnt for lack of a working thermometer. And quantities of wood must be found, sawed, and split with an axe, before any preparation for any meal can be begun.
Power, when the solar is working, is restricted.
There is no ice.
There are no fans, no A.C.
There is little wind during the dry season, and much heat, even into the night.
There is no humidity.
Today the men who dug the well last year, who come from somewhere “up North”, came back, and they took pick-axes and exhumed the contents of the well, and re-hoisted their equipment from the summer before, in order to dig deeper in search of reserves of needed ground water.
There is hope. And there is also tension to be felt. Divining (dowsing) has a tendency to cause both.
Here water is not a negotiable commodity.
At day’s end, the clouds pushed on towards the Congo, and the war there. And this might mean sun tomorrow, which in turn might mean a weekend with clear skies to charge up the batteries. One can only pray and wait with patience.
Last week, in a moment of conversation about starting over here in Uganda, after having to leave Kenya during the post-election violence, the superior pondered if in fact this is what monastic life is in earnest about: facing the challenges of life, together, in community, in concord with the Rule, with full trust in God, and to rise to the challenges and to endure with grace and with a shared sense of dignified endurance.
And I think, quietly, that this is in fact what life itself can only really ever be about. Within a cloister, or out alone on the open road. Life is about trust – it is about faith – it is about intentional action in quiet response to challenges quiet and not so quiet.
A life can be defined as a competition or as a collaboration. One choice does not require the acknowledged significance of the Other. The other choice cannot exist except for such an acknowledgement and with much concerted effort accordingly.
According to Abba Anthony, our lives and our deaths depend on which choice we make.
To be imitations of Christ, there is only one honest choice.
To survive here, out on the frontier in southern Uganda, and to ensure that everyone survives, the old, the infirmed, the strong and fit, and the disillusioned, it requires a collective fortitude and devotion – a paradigm for us all.
This here is not a fossil of a monastery. This is not a prop to an archaic expression of Christian devotion. This is a living, struggling, challenged, and usually successful enterprise. And each day is fully and existentially unique, hewn from the circumstances of the day, the weather, the natural world, and the political world manmade.
Out here one works through strata of technologies: modern, old, very old school; and this bricolage boldly signifies the Present and severely tests the ability of the participant to navigate the Present.
There is a richness out here, a vitality, a now that permeates everything and everyone: a razor edge.
And between crucible and cross: an opportunity to introspect, to affirm, and to follow.
And out here: An opportunity: to expand upon the love springing up, at every moment, from the ever-in-the-present Incarnate God, the Risen Lord, from the Paraclete every-ready, ever-dwelling in the recesses of each and every heart, and above it all and through it all, from the Father, Abba Pater, who will not “execute” … “because I am God, and not man” (Osee: 11: 9).
Against the pulling of secular rationalisms and the inquisitions of the magisterium, stands the Christ, bloodied in the bloody body of the fellow traveller left for dead by robbers who fell upon him on his way: standing wondering who will give him aid and succor, as he mopes about alone, injured, soiled: the holy ma? the chosen man? the man with means? or the man, who on account of his birth and tribal affiliations is considered pre-damned, cursed, and less-than-human…? Which of these men will have had the life struggles already to kindle the appreciation of the Other, beyond circles of comfort or convenience?
It all always plicomes down to the accounting found the final verses in Matthew, Chapter 25, and the words of Christ himself without intermediary.
Such an opportunity once led many a dissatisfied soul away from the rarified rhetoric of Rome and the New Rome, Constantinople, to simple silent praktika fashioned into unadorned lives lived out, in perpetual prayer, in the wadis and wastes of the Western Desert, south of 4th Century Alexandrian Egypt:
“An elder said, ‘This is the life of the monk: … to give rather than to take away with one’s hands…’”
(THE BOOK OF THE ELDERS, 1.32)
A life – in imitation of Christ – is still such: here in Uganda, across the border in the Congo, across the ocean in America. Every moment in a life is still a supreme moment, a potent opportunity, to simply follow and to participate in the adventure that builds from such a moment and such a commitment.