Friday, April 16, 2010

Psalm 84: A Song for Kenya

One of my favorite psalms is appointed for today in the ACK lectionary. Psalm 84 is a song of Emmaus, of Eastertide and, increasingly for me, of East Africa -- "the cradle of civilization."

It is a song about joy from sorrow, heights from depths, faith from despair. It is a song of celebration, about recognizing Christ in community and about being home in the heart of God. It is, perhaps especially now, a song for Kenya as its people prepare to vote on a proposed constitution in the midst of their much needed season-of-long-rains: "Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, for the early rains have covered it with pools of water... They will go from strength to strength, and the God of gods will reveal himself" (Ps. 84, v. 5,6).
The psalms are timeless testaments of faith. There is nothing new about poverty, pain, drought and deprivation, but there is much to be learned from them all. As "your" missionary nurse, it is a gift for me to serve with faith and grow in gratitude, and to tell you the stories of resilience and joy that I am privileged to share. Our sisters and brothers in Maseno smile not because life is easy but because life is good. "Karibu!" they say: "Welcome!" There may be little to eat, but there is great willingness to share it -- from chai to chapatis and, almost always, ugali. Our bread is always blessed by prayer, broken with conversation and leavened with hope.
We read a great deal about the corporate corruption in Kenya, but we don't read much about the individual integrity. I think of the Linets and Emmahs, the Florences and Carolines, the Kenneths and Kwendos, the Benjamins and Leonidas... We don't read much about the women, mostly mothers and grandmothers, who are literally carrying the burdens of this country on their heads and backs. We don't read much about the people who are working to save their hospitals from dissolution and their rain forests from decimation. We don't read much about the female students who know that the best jobs are still given to those who sleep with a "big man." Those are just some of the Kenyans who will vote in June for a new, if still-imperfect, constitution with the hope of righting some very old wrongs. They are people of hope in a place that needs hope.
If you've been reading my blog, you've also been reading too much about illness and death. You haven't read enough about health and life... about the children who collect household firewood at dawn, then shovel stones into potholes by day in order to save a few shillings for school fees, for their "free" public education. You haven't read enough about the brick-makers who toil daily along blazing roadsides in order to earn a living. You haven't read enough about the AIDS support group members who have learned new skills to create handcrafts for income. You haven't read enough about the female farmers who recently planted striga- (disease-) resistant maize to feed the families of their villages. You haven't read enough about the community that just built a shelter for homeless women and children. These, too, are people of hope in a place that needs hope.
You probably haven't read enough, either, about the processions of white-clad mourners whose daily drumbeats make music along the road. They raise high their banners, lifting higher still their velvet-lined caskets, as they sing the bodies of loved ones home and their souls to heaven. You haven't read enough about Nan & Gerry Hardison, who have been laboring together with love in God's Kenyan vineyard for over 10 years. They have saved, enhanced and empowered the lives of countless children and adults alike here. From orphan feeding programs for 19,000 kids, to water projects that supply life-giving "maji," to education for seminarians (role models of the future), to the establishment of a fledgling Rotary Club, to diverse and exceptional medical care -- in spite of limited resources -- their work is yours, mine and God's. Your prayers and support make it possible. Asante sana!
Yes, there is despair in our world, but there is also hope in our world, even in this little corner of it. There is Good News. That is the Eastertide message. It is the message of God's love and truth and power. As The Rev. Dr. Francis G. Wade, the retired rector of St. Alban's in Washington, DC, recently said in his address to The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina:
"If I were to see our church in a specific Gospel story, I would suggest the Road to Emmaus. In that account, two people were walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus on Easter day. They were fully aware of the crucifixion and had heard rumors of the resurrection. They were doing their best to figure it all out. During their conversation, Jesus, unrecognized, joined them and guided their discussion to a deeper understanding. At the conclusion of their journey, they had a meal, and it is said that they recognized the Lord in that great Eucharistic phrase, 'the breaking of the bread.'"
He continued, "I would suggest that our church is still on the Emmaus road, confident that, when we are in conversation, our Lord joins us and deepens our understanding. I would also suggest that, in the original story, if Jesus had simply shown up and broken a piece of bread without the preceding conversation, no one would have recognized Him at all. Conversation is the key. Maintaining the conversation is a vital and difficult ministry... throughout our church [N.B.,and throughout the world -- DS]. I commend you for your efforts to keep the conversation alive..."

Our Benedictine tradition reminds us, "Always we begin again." The Eastertide road to Emmaus begins in Maseno, Kenya; in Edgartown, Massachusetts; in Jerusalem, Israel; in Jiquilisco, El Salvador. It begins in all of our hometowns, wherever we may be. It begins in our hearts, whenever and if ever we decide to step out in faith and walk in one another's flip-flops. That is where we, too, might recognize the welcoming smile of the risen Christ. That is when we, too, might discover deepened understanding. We are all people of hope in a world that needs hope. Let us keep the conversation -- the truth and power, the hope and love -- alive. Let us break bread together wherever we are.
I will soon "begin again" to work in the U.S. in order to return to "begin again" to work here in September. "Happy are the people whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way" (Ps. 84, v. 4). There is a song in my heart today. It is a song of hope.


helen said...

Thanks for your beautiful post, Dianne. I miss you and everyone else in Maseno!

Catherine Grace, CHS said...

Karibu!! This is easily the best Easter sermon I've ever read/heard And I see you just passed a birthday, so many, many happy and fruitful returns! (We were born within a few weeks of each other, by the way. It is my considered, and of course extremely humble, opinion that spring babies are particularly good'uns!!)

Dianne, Dee, Mom, Granny said...

Asante sana!