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188h Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2012

Mid-Atlantic, Flight LH 426, half-way out


“There is no way to write this asthmatic diary of mine with any continuity.”  (Pedro Casaldaliga, from diary entry: 29 December 1974)

 Where do I begin this beginning of an end?

A week of nights without sleep, days without rest: to connect some dots; to erase others; to travel across borders to connect to further travel, to arrive at further borders, but not to cross into, but to wait for others to do the arriving, for meetings, about the present, about the future, about fresh plans, and needed avoidances.

To talk about the power of a thought expressed and shared at a most fertile moment.

To talk about ‘sleeping.’

To talk about remembrances of heroes and heroines who have passed on.

To receive data, to hand out requests for more.

To board a flight into Europe: to hole up in a hotel room, to wait to fly again.

And at the end: no closure: more open-ended questions, whilst reading Casaldaliga coaching himself  “just ‘to be’ a little, always, with everyone, everywhere.  Supporting without demanding, assuming without imposing.”  Back, in the spring of ’73.  And later, the same spring: “I feel powerless, responsible, lost.”  What courage for a bishop to be so brazen and intimate in public with strangers, with his critics and enemies to his posseiros.

I know myself to know that I dance around my words too much to be so simply so, so unworried, so trusting in nothing beyond Providence.  His words mirror my fatigue and my own doubts, from time to time, that rise up from somewhere deep down: temptations and taunts, clutter that clouds clarity of thought and that frustrates purpose.  But his words do give me courage: to grow: and to entrust it all upward.

Revisits on this week: thinking it all back:


2 August 2012: 6:40 a.m.

On the 0630 bus to Gisenyi: Kigali comes alive between 0600 and 0630.  Leaving the capital, pushing past buildings whose mullions belong more to Mumbai than to this continent’s sense of taste.

Listening to music on my iPhone (converted into only an iPod) for the first time in six weeks: I use the playlist to pull me along through my lack of sleep, for my need to stay awake, and to wake up further into a state that can listen and focus and give meaning to this last outing: to the border: to wait and to meet and to draw lines of closure around various items, even if only for this week and no longer.

I take my music into my ears, to drain out the muffled sounds through poor speakers: of morning news and radio talk show, in Kinyarwanda.

And in my haze, I pull thoughts from the stream:

We live in a world where a middle-aged American can be instantly in and out of Africa, on a bus built in China, at the same time, in the same ‘frame,’ double- or triple-exposed: Rwanda atop America: music instant-access grafted on this addled event: real but manufactured: a solipsist’s fancy.

Music: from Istanbul, from a medieval monastery of the Latin Church, from the lips of an Internet social media flash-in-the-pan posing as an ingénue from across the sea.

The sun rising-the only constant: all else under it may or may not be so solidly so.

8:00 a.m.

Missing is mea culpa from the magisterium: to take off the cloak of being so terribly certain: to disrobe out of infallibility: to wrap the aging corpus in rightful ash and sackcloth.

The next day, at Mass, will be read Jeremiah, 28:1-9, and people will listen but not focus on the priests in the temple: men dedicated to keep guard on the rituals to praise God: but guilty all the same: even the priests and the politicians, the pundits and the prophets come to judge God’s word False: and elect to sentence to death His messenger, heavenly sent: the elected can get it gravely wrong.

Years ago, imbued with a newly kindled faith in Christ, and things Christian, including the Holy Church, I came out of my shell to confess my years as a prodigal, to be honest and to seek support and guidance and acceptance by a community of monks, cloistered, a community that would be only to happy to find a man turned back toward a shared Way, I had thought, after years of my reading into Merton and the Desert Fathers—I had read Luke—I assumed the one lamb’s missing would be valued as much as the ninety-nine already safe and converted.  This prodigal came looking for assured love from the proverbial Father surrogated in the parable, in the hearts and minds of His intermediaries, those ordained in His church and her orders, “who [teach] a community how to articulate, to profess and to speak out its faith.  And to live it… to [tell] the truth, in the presence of the whole people.” (Casaldaliga, 24 September 1971)  But the prodigal was judged and sent to go away: he was rebuked as was the adulterous woman in front of the Son by God’s priests and His scribes, who should have seen clearer, who could have done better.  But tried, and exiled, and scarred, this prodigal would flee no more from them and such kind in disgrace.  He kept coming back, finding his way, through the cockles and brambles in the dark.  He kept knocking on windows and kicking against doors.  He kept trying to imitate the callings of his Lord.  And over time he found entrance, not always, not even often, but often enough: granted by honorable men and honorable women, who would step forward to include him, to shelter and instruct him, and help him back into the fiery light.

Sitting on the bus winding across Rwanda, I feel—in this moment—spent—stretched—starved.  I feel need: need to recharge: need to rise back up.  More to do.

Looking into the morning fog, which fills each valley and ravine, I see my life in regret and waste—coulda, woulda, shoulda, whatifa—I ache all over and through and down deep, to the center of each cell and each genome.   In a moment: aching: like a tragic flawed fool from story from Sophocles, all walking about, bloodied and blinded, banged about in the dark, in rags, mute (no tongue; cut out), no hands (cut off), a walking sarcophagus filled with blanches bones and myrrh, and with so much subsequent wisdom to pass on to others just starting out, lessons to be shared, cautions to be shouted, but with no means left with what is still left.

8:50 a.m.

On the way to Gisenyi, in the town just before Shaba, there’s a red brick mosque that makes me smile each and every time I see it.

11:34 a.m.

Met with O.:

Received: data from the villages.

Discussed: new opportunities for correspondence and for participation.

O. excused himself: to cross over the border: to make his way back into the interior.

11:45 a.m.

Waiting for X.

With my back to Goma, sitting in a corner of a building converted out of a modernist mansion into a disco for rich wazungu on weekend nights, with a sound system shouting out imported dance music with no one around to dance, with a view out to the south along the Rwandan side of the lake, on an open-air terrace that could double for an ‘80’s hangout in Malibu.

Waiting on X.—politicized and postmodern.

Waiting to make minds meet: to listen: “just ‘to be’ a little, always, with everyone, everywhere.  Supporting without demanding, assuming without imposing.”

Waiting on X. to speak, to finish before Z. arrives, to share a pizza and to quickly visit.

I itch.

Yesterday was impossible, was a long journey, was a test on so many levels— today too, so far: each maimed beggar at each bus station, at the border crossing: a test of praktika and poise, of profession, of the depth to one’s divestiture of this world.

Yesterday: the leper woman with the beautiful face at the border crossing.

This morning: the young man without an arm, the Rasta dude without legs: asking for pocket change: asking help: begging passengers boarding the 0620 bus.

This morning: the old woman wearing double Rosaries, whom later I espied sitting on a stoop in the middle of a sea of youth and young energy—she, lost against a wave generated by a country rebuilding itself into a younger self, globalized and now anglophone, aping California.

Yesterday morning, at the bus stop in Masaka, before sunrise, there was the announced news: no seats on any of the big buses heading from Kampala to Kigali this morning.

Yesterday, there were the minutes spent in panic: no seats in the morning, not safe to travel by night: how to be in Gisenyi on the morrow?  How to get to Kigali airport to catch the flight (with a non-changeable, non-refundable ticket) home?

Yesterday, amid thoughts of what now?—the sudden arrival of the hunter green Mercedes jeep with ‘Congo plates’ and two characters who looked ‘rough’ from nights ‘up’ during nights out in Kampala, driving now to Kigali, stopping in a gas station on the outskirts of Masaka picking up passengers, whomever.

There is J., at that moment, stepping forward, inquiring, negotiating, shaking a head, and then turning to me whispering not to pay until Kigali…

… There was the driver, some time later, demanding full payment at a petrol stop, still 100 kilometers north of Mbarara.  There was the muzungu left floating in uncertainty, thinking too vividly that he would be dumped somewhere, anywhere, in the middle of nowhere, along the road, away from town or city or police station, away from cell service—then what…?

The driver did not look like the kind of Congolese who would or could own a Mercedes jeep. Beyond that, I would only falling into conjecture and prejudice and judgment.  But this feeling left me spent with worry throughout the hours, silent, drafting in my mind, what-if’s, and alternative ways to seek my way to Kigali.

What if they were drop me, dump me, desert me, leave me with only the only bag in my lap?

To stop all of this: to breathe: to smile: to pause and pray: to trust, if not in my hosts, than in much more: to call home at the border to simply say hello and to let them know, I am in transit and will call, tonight, from the sisters.

Yesterday, there were the delays on both sides of the Uganda-Rwanda border, on account of the shady chauffeur and the incidents with his and his car’s papers, and the requisite fines-cum-bribes, and the DRC plates, against the tensions from the fallout everywhere from the M23.  Nothing terribly unheard of: as countries posture to convince themselves and their populations for the need to invade their neighbor.  But terribly stressful, all the same.

And then: the final push to Kigali, taking curves at insane risk and speed, almost running down the foolish but innocent child on the bicycle, foolishly meandering down the middle divide on a busy highway, not thinking.

And then: the arrival at the petrol station across from Kigali’s main bus terminal: all anti-climatic denouement.

And: a motorcycle taxi to the sisters: and an eventual bath, and an evening stroll, and a beer in a walled-off beer garden, where locals only congregate after work before heading home, plus one blanc.

X. arrives, late by a half an hour, and stays.  Z. forgot her idea at home, and so will be delayed in crossing over, so things worked themselves out in their own way.

She speaks of the disconnect between the young and restless and the old guard who still guards, and tries to guard well—yet there is no bridge between the two, this being indicative of the root cause behind the latter’s misplaced reactionary counteractions.

We speak of vocations and motivations and inspirations.

We speak of the power of a single well-placed thought: an invitation from outside this place and this present time: to incite thinking to evolve into a pedagogy.

We speak of the need to learn the languages of all of the parties participating in this realpolitik.  Of learning the models cited always by the wazungu and by those in the driver’s seats as justifications for keeping and approving of things to be kept and to be as they are as they have been.

We speak of the need to sleep, and the wisdom of when to awake.

She goes.  I stay.

Z. arrives: pizza and coffee and beer, and family confidences, and annoying news of the same old indiscretions of visitors around town, and the fallout accordingly.

And Z. goes back over the border.


And I catch yet another bus, now back to the capital, to spend another sleepless night, too exhausted to let go, wanting steak, wanting exercise, wanting a hot bath.

And in the middle of Casaldaliga’s autobiography, I stumble again into Freire, as the bus is late by an hour, and the sun grows faint and dips behind a cloudy horizon, and the bus driver begins to cause the bus to swerve, rubbing his eyes:

“The oppressors, as a class that oppresses, will never liberate their victims, nor will they every liberate themselves…

To be a man of the Third World means renouncing the structures of power, the ‘establishments’ which, in this world, represent the world of domination.  It means being with the oppressed with those ‘condemned to the earth’, in an attitude of authentic love, which is not an attitude of trying to reconcile the irreconcilable…  The time has come when Christians should be able to make the obvious distinction between true love and its counterfeits of sadism, masochism or a combination of them.  Contrary to what most people think, the opposite of love is not hate, but rather, the fear of loving, and the fear of loving is the fear of ‘being free.’ 

I read this—I copy it immediately into my Moleskine in pencil; and then it hits me: after all this time since Paulo wrote this, and Pedro placed it into his out-of-print autobiography, after two plus generations: how obvious really is “the obvious distinction”?

I think of my paltry progress, and I think back on all the years wasted in not sense this real opposite of love, and the reality behind this ‘”fear of ‘being free’.” And I sense Camus lurking…

And how to move the rock, without losing faith or momentum?

Casaldaliga calls monasteries the “vanguard of the vanguard”.  And given all that Mokoto signifies and all that Victoria signifies—I cannot help but affirm that this is still the case, in some places, in these days, places under the yoke of so much stress, so much oppression, so much injustice, so in need of a return to the fiery light.

“I feel powerless, responsible, lost.”  These words from Casaldaliga I could easily own, when I look only to myself, and my supposed strength seem to show themselves to be my actual handicaps.

But, in community, trusting in Providence, and not falling down by fooling myself in myself—in community: in common, in conjunction, in collaboration, in creativity, there, out there, not alone, there begins hope, there begins a body collective, there begins a body that defines a real and living church, a possibility, a strength, a calm that turns back and begins again a hope.  One brings the lamp; another brings the wick; another brings the oil; another brings the stand on which to set the lamp; another brings the match.

There seems to be no eschatological sense to the saving of a singular self: it goes against everything calling from the gospel, everything that extends out from the past, and the false starts, and runs right through the sanctifying heart of the Incarnation, driving a wedge between that which was and could only have been, and that which is all that is now alight in promise.

Saint Isaac once said out in his cave, out in the wasteland in the south of Persia, said, whilst his church in Nineveh was too pre-occupied with infighting and ridiculous divisions and quarrels over nothings so as to be blind to the advancing Saracens, said something to the effect, and I must paraphrase from memory, as I fly across the Atlantic, miles above the sea, that we are called to love, to love so much that we are called to risk even the possibility of the kingdom of heaven.  He feared that even the thought of worrying about the eschaton would be enough of a disabling distraction to take the eye off the focus of the moment, the calling to love whomever coexists in that moment, and with the eye off, the window would be open for temptations to enter one’s thinking, thoughts to self-interest and to vainglory, creeping in and festering and to causing the soul to rot.

Everything is dependent upon Matthew 25, at the end.  Everything is dependent on the neighbor.  Our life, but also our death, so believed Abba Anthony.  We cannot be to become except through such dependency.

The Samaritan, the woman caught up in adultery, the workers hired at the day’s end, the centurion who loved his servant so much, the tenth leper, the blind man outside Jericho, they are all pointing, they are all calling into question, all cul-de-sacs and all auto-da-fés.

The commandment of the Incarnation: to love: enemies, marginalized, lepers, sinners, those deemed by the old law to be guilty up to the point of being worthy of the punishment of death.  To love: until our own sacrificial death [John 15:13].  To love: so much as to lose all focus beyond such love, beyond even winning the kingdom of heaven.

The cross is a necessary component.  The divestiture is a necessary condition.  The re-orientation of all significations through abandonment in a special trust, in the promises of Christ: and so, to follow.  Radically to imitate a spirit, that goes against how we collectively have come to believe ourselves to be wired: a spirit constantly calling the believer to convert, again and again, and to never stop, so as to able to be born fresh anew in each and every future moment and ready to fully participate in each and every encounter.

We complicate the simple.

We make drudgery of that which was always and only meant ever to bring joy.

And this need not be so.  And this mustn’t stay so.