We opened chapel service this morning with the song, ‘Have you seen Jesus my Lord?’ and I smiled to myself, because that’s exactly where I am at right now.
For those who don’t remember here are the lyrics:
Have you seen Jesus my Lord?
He’s here in plain view.
Take a look, open your eyes,
He’ll show it to you.
Have you ever looked at the sunset
With the sky mellowing red,
And the clouds suspended like feathers
Then I say…
You’ve seen Jesus my Lord.
Have you ever stood at the ocean
with the white foam at your feet,
Felt the endless thundering motion?
Then I say…
You’ve seen Jesus my Lord.
Have you ever looked at the cross,
with a man hanging in pain
And the look of love in his eyes?
Then I say…
You’ve seen Jesus my Lord.
Have you ever stood in the family
With the Lord there in your midst
Seen the face of Christ on each other?
Then I say…
You’ve seen Jesus My Lord.
It was such a heartwarming reminder that our faith is exactly about that. That faith is not dogmatic truth, but rather a choice that we make about believing in something bigger and more luminous and more loving than we could ever get our heads around. That God is in creation and in the world around us. But what really struck me is the final verse. Have you stood in the midst of your family and seen the face of Christ on one another?!?
TRUTH MOMENT (!!!!)
I have a new family here at SMMS. There are 110 Seminarians in first, second and third year. We are from a variety of backgrounds, cultures and ethnic groups. I am the only white female. I wish in this day and age that that didn’t make a difference and in some ways, I hesitate to even write the words because it shouldn’t matter!! It shouldn’t matter what sex I am or what colour or what ethnic background I come from, but, in order to be authentic I have to be truthful and so, truth be told, it does matter. I feel a little alone, a little ‘sticky-outy’.
On Saturday afternoon my covenant group got together to share in a meal, to eat together and get to know one another and to bond. The braai was due to start at 2.30pm and so at 10am I went shopping with one of the other ladies in my group to get supplies and came home and did some cooking. Anyone who knows me will know that this is already a stretch for me – the ‘women’ doing the ‘women’s stuff’ whilst the men… um, do men’s stuff is my worst. I dislike braai’s because of ‘salad girls’ and ‘fire boys’, I always have. I resist sexist behavior in any form. (added to that I am no domestic Goddess, cooking is not really my thing).
At 4pm, (remember that the start time was 2.30pm) the group started coming together bit by bit, piece by piece to start to braai. I tried so hard not to get annoyed at the lateness of the gathering, I mean that’s what surrender is all about isn’t it, but Saturday is our free day, our Sabbath day and I had spent mine trying to get ready for an afternoon with people I hardly know, who were now late. And here is the lesson that I know in theory and have to learn in practice, surrender is about tolerating each other’s differences and accepting things like “African time” and the role of men and women in this society. By 4pm I was starved out of my mind and so had already eaten part of the potato bake I made for my vegetarian portion of this inherently South African meat ritual. Did I mention it was raining? Gotta love a braai in the rain! All I wanted to do was stay in doors with my book and my comforting God (don’t laugh at me God, it’s not funny!) and instead I had to stand around a fire, in a drizzle – beeeeg sigh.
I eventually joined my peeps to stand in that fabulous light drizzle around some cooking flesh (!) and prepared to engage. Small problem, I don’t speak Xhosa, Zulu, Twsane or any other African language (hangs head in shame and promises to try and learn as soon as is humanly possible for this old dog). Ok, so not much engaging because I didn’t understand the conversation. Comfort zone? What comfort zone! I felt so uncomfortable, embarrassed, awkward and self-conscious that I wanted the earth to just open up and swallow me whole. (I may even have had a small cry, in between running up and downstairs to fetch stuff for the men folk – talk about pity parties). So it wasn’t really a fun experience. I really tried, but I was awkward and I was defensive and I was being teased in a language I don’t understand (not nastily mind just kinda embarrassing). I felt alone and it was a kak feeling!
The last few years for me have been about journeying to a new understanding of who God is and how God works and loves. I have seen prayers go un-answered, mine and other peoples, I have wondered how God works when I see greed and poverty and prejudice and hatred and mistrust all around me, whilst working in a church that is (for the most) comfortable and loving and secure. My ministry position last year was comfortable, I ministered to people who looked and spoke just like I did, so it was difficult at times to see God at work, why would he need to work, we had it all worked out ourselves!? And that challenged my faith, in hindsight, it was probably because my faith was becoming too intellectual.
So often we are told that if we want to see God we need to step out of our comfort zones, we need to go to the places where Jesus will be, with the poor, the blind, the lame, the prisoners, the hurting and the broken.
Here at seminary, for the first time in a long, long, long time, it is me who is blind and lame and poor. I am a prisoner in some respects by the colour of my skin and by my gender. As a woman, I am not important, not a moan, a fact, a fact that is no longer an academic construct ‘for others’ but something that is becoming glaringly real and obvious and which affects me personally. I am blind to what’s going on around me because I cannot understand a lot of the people in my community, but, BUT… I am also surrounded by others who are in much the same place, travelling with me on this uncertain and unfamiliar road and I have seen angels here, angels without wings.
When I came back to my room after the braai on Saturday, when I was still feeling vulnerable and terribly insecure, I asked myself the question, can I do this for three years? Can I be so out of my comfort zone and so alone, for this length of time?
I am on twitter, as you some of you know, and it has become my link to the ‘outside’ world and a link to people who think in a similar way to me, culturally and theologically, it has been a comfort and a release for me, that and facebook of course. Well, twitter on Saturday, rather than offering me comfort made me want to scream and throw my phone over a wall. It was full of people saying things like ‘peace is what you choose for yourself’, ‘go quiet and all will be well’, ‘your attitude defines your well-being’, ‘we are all connected’,’ life is good…’, blah, blah, blah … I wanted to scream ‘all that loveliness and peace is of course infinitely possible when you sit in a room behind a computer and don’t engage with the real world, peace is wonderful when you’re surrounded by … well, peace!’ (Lesson no 432!) When you engage with the real world, it is messy and uncomfortable and painful. I was so irritated by what I saw as empty words. (of course they are only empty if you don’t use them in moments like this when you need to find the peace within! Lesson no 433!)
My friend and lifeline (the gay husband) phoned at the just the right moment and said, ‘So HOW are you doing Darl?’ – Quietly and with resignation, I said, ‘I’m struggling … I am really, really struggling.’
He was warned before I left in December that if ever I said the words ‘I want to quit’ that he would have to talk me out of it and so he reminded me of that conversation. But good friend that he is, he also asked me again, as he has so many times, ‘is there no other way that you can do this without being there? Can you not answer your call without this discomfort?’ And of course the answer is no. If I can’t get this right, if I can’t be uncomfortable and learn to be with people who challenge me and my ideas of God, then I have no business being in the ministry. If I walk away from this, I walk away from my calling and I know that that is not an option.
Is it overwhelming? Sometimes, yes!! When I look around me I see challenges everywhere, but when I look for God I see him too. All it took on Saturday was a few well placed friendship calls and a trip out with a kindred spirit to see that I am not alone and that in fact in this place at this time, those angels without wings, are the perfect antidote to my vulnerability and isolation. God shines in the people who have drawn alongside me in my short time here. I see him in the other seminarians who are also blind and lame and poor and yet who are strong and courageous and defiant and grace-full, I see him in my room, my sanctuary, of all the flats I could have been placed in, this is by far the best place for me to be. I have privacy, I have space (lots of it) and I have a considerate flat mate, in fact I have much to be grateful for. I have a roof over my head, food in my belly and a support group in friends and family and fellow travelers. So, I see God, at this point, in the people around me, in the glimmers of love and hope that shine even in the darkest places. The last two years of my life were about learning to see God in the quiet, learning to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit when it was just me. Now there is little quiet time, but I am learning to see God in the people and experiences that happen on a day to day basis.
God is all around, if only I choose to see…
Does God love me? Of that I am in no doubt and so I have to look out for that love, there is no way that I would be sent to a place and not be given the resources and the support that I need to get through. God doesn’t give us more then we can handle isn’t that right?
There are good days and bad days, I still have some battles to face, some challenges to overcome, but I am not alone! Why? Because God is IN the people who are here with me each day, every day. God is revealed in so many ways and so the choice before me is to choose to see that – open your eyes, he’s here, here in plain view.
That Saturday night I read a post about a woman named Lauren Winner who has written a book about her faith journey called ‘Still’ and the writer of that post, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, said this about her:
For the past few years, I’ve had the chance to watch women…learn the craft of paying attention from Lauren Winner. Watching these women study with Lauren, I can say this: she’s good. Her quirky taste in eye glasses aside, she knows how to see deep-down things. What’s more, she knows how to help others find the truth in their own lives through writing.
What a beautiful description of someone of faith, she chooses to see God, to see beauty and she helps other people to see God and to see beauty and if I learn one thing whilst I am here (hopefully there won’t only be one thing) but if I learn one thing whilst I am here I hope that it’s this, that I will also be trained to see deep things, to see real things, to see God at work in all aspects, even the difficult and challenging day to day issues of community living (and in our country and in our context at this time, that I will learn to see beauty and truth in divided, cross-cultural environments.)
I didn’t sign up to be a Disciple for the sake of ease, I signed up for the sake of truth and so this is my choice, as a Disciple: Today God, I will Jesus in the mountains, I will feel him in the cooling rain, I will listen for the whisper of him in my quiet moments, I will stare at the cross and remember that surrender is about letting go and letting God, but most of all, I will choose to see Jesus in the people around me.
Today, I choose You and because I choose You, I know that I will see You, all I have to do is open my eyes.