Thursday, January 3, 2013
Christmas in Africa
December 6 I flew from Jerusalem via Ethiopia to Johannesburg, then to Port Elizabeth. A driver met me and transported me to Grahamstown on the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The Order of the Holy Cross has a magnificent monastery here: Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery (Mary Mother of Hope). I've been here a couple times before, and last time, the brothers asked me to come stay for a longer time than 4 or 5 days--anytime I wanted! So, not having to be asked twice, I booked in for the time between Jerusalem and Australia in my itinerary: alomst six weeks. I was able to join them for their long retreat (the ideal way to prepare for Christmas--in silence!), and then with pounding drums and carols in Xhosa, Afrikaans, and English we welcomed the newborn King.
New Year's Eve day, Br. Daniel OHC, the prior of the Monastery, and I drove to Addo Elephant Sanctuary, and--joy of joys!--found ourselves in the midst of a herd of them. We also spotted ostrich, warthogs, kudu, springbok, and countless birds. Along the highway we passed other wildlife refuges and I was able to add giraffes and water buffalo to my tally.
Closer to home I sometimes have to negotiate with a troop of baboons who live on the same road as the monastery. I was warned by the brothers, if I saw any baboons to give them a wide berth. So, as I was nearing the five mile mark on one of my jogs, I looked up and saw a large baboon peering down at me from a tree stump or maybe fence post. Others looked up from their foraging at the roadside--I suddenly realized I was surrounded by them. I stopped. They shifted to look at me better. I turned and started running back the way I'd come. Give me dogs any day.
But mostly my time here has been uneventful: prayer, rest, rejuvenation. On the retreat I was able to take stock of my life and ministry. Learning of my Uncle's death while I was on the retreat I found myself wondering how much longeer I have to live. Ultimately I decided I can never know, but the thing is to live everyday to the fullest. Right now that means really being here, in this place with all my heart and attention.
I adopted a kooky Franciscan method of Bible reading during the retreat, not having a program to follow: I opened the Bible at random like Francis did, three times each day. Wherever my finger fell that was my text for prayer. Francis discerned the first Franciscan rule this way. The Spirit nudged me to passages that said "don't be afraid!": Acts 27:24, 2 Cor 4:16 (we do not lose heart)and similar passages. On the last day I read: "For this very reason you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2Peter 1:5-7).
So that is my rule for 2013.