Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve 2009

I have finally recovered from a computer crash. What a hassle!

Getting back to Little Portion after being away since July 18 was a relief. I left Copenhagen and went to Yorkshire, schlepping across Denmark in a snowstorm and missing the connecting boat at Esberg. Through a series of phone calls we got connected with a Lutheran pastor there who put us up over night. The next morning we decided to fly back to UK. In Yorkshire I preached at a combined Christmas Carol and parish memorial service (For once the liturgy expressed the ambivalence so many people talk about at Christmastime!)

Christmas has been lovely. It was the first snowy Christmas I can remember in a long time. We started off Christmas Eve with a really nice Eucharist in the middle of the night. The best part of Christmas Day was giving some young friends presents. Br. Tom's Yorkshire pudding crowned the evening with glory.

So now it is New Year's Eve, and I am thinking about the year past. In light of the recent Northwest Airlines bombing attempt I feel extremely grateful to have traveled safely. I don't like to think too hard about what might go wrong when I strap myself into yet another airline seat. It is a classic case of denial: "We'll be fine!" I tell myself. As a traveler I have trusted the airline security people to keep me safe, and I have complied cheerfully with every check they have invented. But now I need to add my voice to the pubic forum demanding that government departments and agencies share information. It is a shame that a near disaster is required to highlight the ineptitude at the highest levels. But the ships, railways and PMV's in Africa and the South Pacific have been more terrifying than any plane ride: skidding around hairpin turns in an overloaded bus; plunging through waves in a tiny boat, water sluicing the deck where I was trying to sleep; standing in stalled, darkened trains watching moisture seep through the concrete tunnel walls; walking narrow paths and pausing to let the snakes slither away.

But the travel has only been a means to an end: to share the real life experiences of my brothers, the way they must get around, the foods they eat, the houses they live in, meeting the friends who help them and make our Franciscan life possible, finding out about the ministries they have around the world. Perhaps because I am so aware of the fragility of life, I find all that goes on to be amazing. There is a Franciscan genius in finding ways to be with people. Brothers serve hot drinks to day laborers standing on cold street corners, we visit the sick in hospitals, sometimes at 4:00 a.m. in order to be sure the patients are seen before medical procedures. We lead Quiet Days, speak in school chapels, march in demonstrations for peace and justice. Many of us engage in subsistence farming; all of us have to make small financial resources stretch. The hardest thing of all, since it is the least glamorous, we welcome people into our homes, sit with guests, cook endless meals, change bed linens. In some places these linens must then be washed in a river and dried on a clothes line. Others take the sheets to the laundry! I think many brothers would willingly risk a plane crash over cleaning a guest house. And yet we do the daily work; different kinds of adventures lurk in unlikely intersections of life. God is definitely with us, helping us to grow more and more into the image and likeness of Christ, and to find ways of connecting with people.

As I unpacked some old journals this week, I read a few entries. One was a description of an accident in March 1996 in the Solomon Islands. we could have all been killed, and one brother was permanently brain damaged. But moments before it happened we were singing in the back of the truck. It seems to me that this is the only option we really have. To take calculated risks, sing God's praises, and do our best when and if disaster strikes. As we remember at Christmas, the only guarantee we have in life is that God is with us in it.

No comments: