I'm almost as old and almost as shy as Garrison Keillor. I'd venture to say he would wholeheartedly agree that shy persons from the midwest -- perhaps especially those who are transplanted to New England -- do not pray in public.
Except in Kenya. When in Kenya... even shy persons are asked to pray impromptu prayers and preach impromptu sermons. Life and death and love and hate and faith and doubt are so tangible here, there is little privacy about anything.
So I found myself praying aloud at little Joshua's grave site last Saturday afternoon in Darajambili. The simple cross on his burial mound was made of sticks, tied together with a vine. (Sometimes a grave in the family's yard is marked by a wooden cross; sometimes -- but rarely, and only at much more affluent homes -- it is marked by a cement one.) We stood silently in the sunshine for a few moments afterward, bound together by our love for a very special child.
Since I was on home leave at the time, Linet and I traveled together last weekend by matatu to Darajambili (and many more kilometers past the junction, on foot) to pay our respects to Mama Joshua. We were greeted warmly and spent an hour reminiscing about Joshua, amidst tears and smiles. Just as I thought we were about to depart, several neighbors appeared to help Mama Joshua serve us a very large, very traditional, very delicious meal of ugali, sukumawiki, curried eggs, cabbage, salad, beef, "soup" (broth) and chicken. And oh, yes, some rice for the mzungu. But first we prayed.
Afterward, everyone (neighbors and family alike) moved to a large mat made of reeds that was placed beneath the shade of acacia trees. We shared even more stories about Joshua -- in Luo, Kiswahili and English. His young life was an all-too-brief blessing to everyone who knew him. Linet and I watched children and chickens and puppies and kittens play at the Luo homestead for another hour before we apologized for needing to get back to the hospital. Mama Joshua put her arms around me: "Asante sana," she said. "You came all the way from the U.S. to pray with us." (I really just came from Maseno.) Neighbors gathered to bid us farewell. But first we prayed together again.
We may sometimes be surrounded by grief, but we are always surrounded by prayer. It is I who must say and pray (both silently and aloud), "Asante sana." Especially on All Saints' Day. Thank you, God, for giving us Joshua as long as you did. Thank you for holding him, the saints who have gone before -- as well as those who live among us still -- and every one of us in your loving arms.