A small boy, charged with the herding and tending of cattle for his family. The desert stretches out in a long and shimmering waste, the heat intense. He’s heard that a war is coming, heard the fear in his mother’s voice when his father brings it up around the supper table. On this day though, there is nothing but the blue sky, the cattle, and explosions. Gunfire.
The little boy runs. He finds a camp where he is made welcome and safe. And then he has a choice, he can stay, or he can run again. He chooses to run again. He makes a thousand mile journey across the Sudan, through a river where alligators and drownings steal his companions. A thousand miles.
Now, go and pin that on a first or second grader that you know. A Tess? An Ave?
Picture that child walking a thousand miles, fording a river amidst alligators, only to be safe.
Kaia had an assembly this week, a lost boy (this is what the boys who came to our area several years ago from South Sudan were known as, the lost boys) came and talked to them about this journey. She told me about it later and was remarkably emotional about it. She said, with tears leaking out of her big green eyes, I mean (sniff) MOOOM! (teenage eye roll), he walked a thousand miles to be free.
Yes, yes he did.
Tonight some of us postulants visited a Greek Orthodox church. We came in and Chuck lit a candle and we took our coats off and we met Fr. Honeycutt. As we entered the nave there were three people already there. An elderly woman, a man, and another elderly woman. I regret and admit, I am terrible at names, I remember one of the three.
A very old woman who clasped my hand in her soft and papery one. I said, what a lovely name that is. She told me how she was named Sophia, but at her christening her godfather pronounced, Magdalena! And so she is, though, she tells me, I may call her Magdaleni, all her friends do.
We attended a vespers service, which I expected would be like the Westminster vespers services I’ve listened to (I have no idea why, Greek Orthodox is not Anglican), or like our own compline services (again, I have no idea why my expectations are not in line with what actually occurs, this happens a lot).
There was a lot of standing, not much sitting or kneeling, and not much participation from the congregation. There were two recitations of the nunc dimittis (which did not sound like the link if you clicked on it, and you TOTALLY should.) A lot of listening as verses were chanted. At the end though, a woman was churched. This is what happens after a woman has a baby, she comes back to church, with the baby, and receives special prayers and blessings before she can even enter the nave itself.
Fr. Honeycutt took the child from her, he walked him proudly up the aisle as we all bowed. He took him up to a rendering of Christ, and then he took him over to altar, which is in a separate space. He took the child to the feet of Christ on the cross. And then he gave him back to his mother.
I asked him, after, what the forty days are for? He said it is a kindness, really, to allow the mother her forty days of peace before she re-enters the church.
To me it was emblematic of the forty days of lent, 40 days alone in the wilderness, and with a screaming child to boot.
I know he would have explained it more fully had we all had the time and the willpower to stand there and discuss it. I do not doubt this. He and his congregation made us so welcome.
But the 40 days and a little boy in the wilderness are the pieces that stick with me tonight. And a welcoming old woman called Magdaleni.
This journey, out of postulant and into confirmant and then into full fledged member of the community, it is not one that any of us have taken on a whim. There is nothing whimsical about spending your Sunday afternoon learning about the reformation period of the church or where exactly the Book of Common Prayer came from.
40 days of darkness are upon us soon. 40 days to consider and to reconcile, to meditate basically on what awful people we are and why, though there is no reason and that is the point, we are deserving of any sort of grace.
40 days of rest for a new mother. A churching, this is like 1502 stuff as my friend Isadora said.
And almost 40 more days of being together on this wonderful journey. Then the Great Vigil and we will belong to ourselves once more, but not really.
My brother is in the Dominican, and he visited Haina today, on a long trip to solidify his Spanish skills in hopes of building a Latino community at St. Johns. It isn’t 40 days, but it is a long time away from his parish and his wife, his family.
He is inspiring me, from all those miles away. He says, will you write about this? I say, the moving men are moving, but I’m not sure what.
And then Kaia tells me more about the thousand mile walk, she tells me how alone he must have been even though surrounded by other children. And I think about how this walk, though taken together, doesn’t mean we don’t branch off on our own paths from time to time. Our own personal tangents.
And then it all sort of comes together in this missive, this note, from the front lines.
Read that and tell me what it says.
I am in an in-between place. Not Christmas-tide, not Lent. In between. It is supposed to be a green time, but it doesn’t feel green. It feels like I am grasping dead grass, singing old songs, like I am in the wilderness, trying to decipher the way forward.
I’ve tried to make it clear, tried to make you understand. There are people, three spring to mind, who have distanced themselves from me as I’ve walked this path. I’m sorry that it is all that occupies my thoughts, if it is resonating inside of me and the echo leaves room for nothing else. Try to grow with me, keep walking with me, see it from where I am, at this one sunny spot on the road that happens to have a log nice enough for sitting on a minute.
I am not leaving you. I am leaving me. But only in parts, only in bits and pieces. I am still me. Though changed, burned in a fire and coming out gleaming, I hope, a new creation.
I love you. And I know that you love me too.
That’s all I know for now, all I have on this phase of the journey. More to come, I’m sure.
I remain, your faithful sister and daughter and friend,