interlude iv: june newsletter – moonlit hours

loved one,

there’s something so sacred about the moon as it rests above us. its great pull, the way it guides the waters that have the capacity to rage wildly. the subtle nature, the way it shades itself for days & in its own cycle, fully reveals to remind all of the great wonder. this great beauty it holds from a distance pales in comparison to the accounts of its beauty by those granted a chance to explore it near. a land that lacks gravity, with craters & potentially undiscovered life.

that land is vast & incomprehensible to me – so the same with this pending transition back home to the united states.

loved ones, i write to you in the night fall of my time here in south africa – month eight of ten, to be specific.

i don’t write you with any new discoveries. instead, i come before you shrouded in mystery, with a burden of anticipation. i am coming home to you with many stories that i am excited to share, but in this time i feel it necessary to just to sit in awe of the view before me.

my eyes have witnessed many things in this time – sights of love & trauma. they’ve all converged together to make a year away from you that has been full. of course, with the anticipation of returning home to you, there’s also a great sense of loss that has overtaken my being. i am leaving not only sacred land, but a sacred people conjoined as one body, with a sacred story that i will cherish until my dying day.

i get chocked up when i think about life without this body of people. this context has become a daily reality for me. the way of living i’ve come into, though familiar in some ways, has shaped me in new form. a part of me selfishly hopes i’ve done some shaping work also in these relationships.

this darkness hums over me, but do not confuse this darkness for some sort of negative agent. i’ve had to fight a battle within myself over the last month, refusing to let the sentimental way of being that has taken over me, snatch me away from the present – it can’t, though it’s capable of doing so. because the moon above me is guiding me as i be, as assigned by the divine creator.

i am carried in strength by all phases of our moon in this evening hour. from dusk to the approaching dawn of my return home. what i love most about the evening hours, is the space it gives me to create from an introspective angle following the buzz of the daytime. & this has indeed been a time of reflection of all that’s been before me to witness.

what i’ve created in this time of silence is words of gratitude – to you & to this community. in our morning devotions before work, we’ve been focusing on the forming church following the ascension of jesus christ. the themes that sing aloud for me are the acts of not only the apostles, but of the larger community. i think this theme continues on throughout the epistles. each and every single person contributes to the mission.

each & every one of you have been guiding me with gentle whispers as i’ve walked this path of service. i send gratitude & thanks again, because you’ve guided me to new things.

so, as i sit in this moonlit hour reflecting on all that has been, with eyes slowly but surely welling up for a great release of tears, that i hope i’ve made you proud.
i’ve accomplished dreams here – of ancestors, alive or perished & of my own flesh. it still boggles my mind how i made it through this entire year, not merely surviving, but thriving with love & a story to tell.

i sit on this patio, where the wind whips across my face & the stars illuminate the scene around me, with a grin. this moon above me is the same where you are & the sky is as beautiful where you sit & in this, we’re connected. i wonder what has been of your life since we’ve last spoke, if ever. i wish you love & the full experience of life alongside it.

with love & peace,
rjmy

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interlude III – march newsletter: pilgrimage

greetings, loved ones & peace to you all. i write to you in the sixth month of this year of intentional service that i have been privileged to experience here in south africa. i am sending love to you from this side. i hope that your days have been filled with love& light, alongside the fullness that comes with this experience we call life.

as time continues to do nothing but progress, more so than at any point in this year thus far, there’s a need to remain present. remaining present is at the center of many of the challenges in the remaining duration of this year. not so much being alert for the sake of doing so, but keeping an awareness that allows my body to not lose out on the life that is being lived right here, right now.

remaining focused on the collective body that is this community.

this body i am walking alongside has entered into a sacred space – lent.

for as long as i can remember, i have been observing lent with loved ones. if you had asked me before this year how i would describe the lenten season, i would’ve told you that it is our journey to the resurrection. i have long believed that easter was the moral of the lenten story – the culmination that defined the whole.

in my time here, the body has presented a counter-narrative to that long standing belief of mine.

thus far in this time of lent i have come to not only see validity in the journey to the cross, but see that in many ways, the journey takes propriety over the resurrection. to see the last supper & good friday as more of the vital part of jesus’ story to be told is radical to me.

you may remember my conversation with a go-go about how many people of christian faith here in south africa cherish good friday more than they cherish easter. everything i’ve experienced thus far in this journey validates that notion. i’ve also come to believe that this is true, because i find the south african story to resemble the lenten story.

both stories are about a pilgrimage to the fullness of freedom.

this year has been quite the intense lesson in south africa’s past, present & future – none of which can be spoken of individually without naming the way the others have given it shape& form. in this same way, this body i’ve called home for over six months now has shown me that the lenten story is of the same ilk. the lenten story, in all parts, define it’s true meaning & virtue.

i’ve come to see that not only does my community’s story resemble the lenten narrative – they very much embody it. moreover, the reason that this community embraces good friday fully is because they are waiting for a good friday of their own.

good friday is not the end of the story, of course, but it in many ways is it the culmination in the story of redemption in jesus christ. it can never be over looked as a monumental benchmark on the road to freedom.

when i use the word freedom in this context, one’s mind may challenge the claim – if apartheid has come to an end, how then can it be said that the body has not yet experienced freedom?

i would say that holding humans captive is not always overt – it also can be subtle denial of the promise that true liberation holds. when looking at the narrative told of christianity before the life of jesus, we see that while humanity appeared free, bondage still held a captive vice over the body. on that good friday, when the spear was placed in the heart of jesus & he exclaimed “it is finished,” freedom was then released. in that light, while some may look at apartheid as the metaphorical good friday in the south african story, it can be said that the fall of that empire 23 years ago was a step in the pilgrimage to freedom, but not the culmination.

the witness is in what the eyes see when traveling throughout this country. issues of food & water deprivation, poor medical care, disease, racial caste, etc. all point to the fact that the culmination has yet to come. full culmination is found in the equity in all lives. humanity is not a privilege – it s a right.

the death of jesus on the cross was the direct statement from god that all humans deserve the grandeur of relationship to god – not just pharisees, chiefs & high priests – the entire scope of humanity, including the marginalized body.

this journey has humbled me thus far. to experience the folding posture of bodies as they enter the sanctuary, the trembling in the voices as hymns are sang & sermons are preached, & the grief that fills the room during times of worship has caused me to do as such – not out of resignation, but in an appreciative solidarity to what this pilgrimage means to the body here. i would be selling this time short if i weren’t to say that this season has shown me the heart that gives this community life – the life is the pilgrimage to freedom. not to say that the body looks at life as a problem to be solved, but instead as an experience to be felt in full.

the good friday that is scheduled on the calendar this year & the metaphorical good friday for this body will come & will be met with thankfulness & remembrance. i look forward to this day anxiously, but strive to join this community in just being here in the midst of right now.

the culmination of my pilgrimage here will also come, but on this day, i’m in the midst of it & there’s no need for me to be anywhere else, but in the embrace of these arms that have clinched me tightly thus far as i witness alongside the body this beautiful struggle.

as we continue to journey to the cross, i pray that you find peace in the entire story also. not only in the story of lent, but the story of your life. if anything i have found here, it is to experience the entire process that is this life. this life is a pilgrimage,& though we many not know in full where this path is leading us, the journey can never be solely summarized in the goal, it must be known that the journey has as much to do with the story as anything else. grace & peace to you as continue to walk. though your feet may get weary, there is rest beyond the river. amen.

interlude II – january newsletter

loved ones,

 

we are now 5 months into this journey. to me, that’s unbelievable. i can so tangibly remember the time & space leading up to the beginning of this year. i feel very removed from what my expectations were in that time, but yet & still, a sense of nostalgia has already crashed over me when i think about the road that led to this very moment as i am writing to you at the end of the first month of a new year. this writing comes from a place of a lot of unanswered reflections meandering around all of my body. indeed, it is a new year & that has put this time, a metaphorical mid-point to this year, into focus. there has been glory & grotesque & all the humanity found in between, but to be here, able to experience any of it, is still remarkable to me.

in this frame of time, i imagine that my fellow peers in this program are also circling around in the quiet of their minds about what has & hasn’t been upon this time – there’s something unique about a story that we are in the middle of. our bodies can feel the subtle & overt changes, but there’s still a road just as long as the one you’ve traveled left to go, with things you’ve yet to encounter or fully wrap your mind around.

in this middle, i’ve been fussing with this question: am i centered? is my mind, body, soul also positioned in the middle? surely, time has informed me of what is present, but do i find my being there also? in the thick of this story being written in community. it is very plausible that we can reside somewhere physically, but be so removed from that reality that, the fullness of who you are, is not present. i’ve had to ask myself what then does presence mean & how do you bring your full self into a space?

umphumulo is my present – indeed a present that has nourished me with love, fun & undying hospitality. i’m in a community of humans who want me to be human with them, for better or worse.  there’s been rich lessons found in this rawness i’ve been invited into.

umphumulo has shown me what it is to commune with people. sharing everything, down to the bare-bones resources you have as a means of investment in the humans around you. that’s radical for me. this type of investment is teaching me what real solidarity looks like. to invest in a person’s journey so deeply that you give them your last roll of toilet paper when the shed is too far away & they have to use the toilet immediately, in my eyes, is great sacrifice.

this middle point of the year has also brought forth new challenges as well. i’ve began work at the primary school just down the road from me. it’s an endeavor i’m anxious about, mostly because i really love children & i wonder if they will be able to focus on their work when they spend most of the class time allotted staring at me, because i’m “probably the tallest person ever!” i’m also anxious, because, again, we are in the middle of time here. umphumulo is a close knit community & practically everybody knows 5 things about everybody, but to start a huge part of this journey in this mid-point will be different.

we are also entering a new church year. at the offices of the church centre. we are moving on from the wonder & glory of advent & we now transition into the humbling pilgrimage that is the lenten season. i’ve come to enjoy a lot of the things i’ve learned about umphumulo’s perspective on lent. during a conversation i was having with a go-go (grandma) here, we were talking about good friday & easter. i was sharing how i grew up in a context that enjoys good friday in solemn reflection, but, in my opinion, is an easter church. the culmination of a prophecy fulfilled; in this, i said, christians, (of course i failed to be specific in naming my context) experience a feeling of liberation that would cultivate love.  go-go explained to me that for the most part, if you surveyed south africans who practice christianity, most would tell you they cherish good friday more so than easter. she didn’t elaborate on why, but i sense it as wisdom on her end to let me discover this myself. so, i’ve been wrestling with what fuels both culture’s perspective on holy week. i’m excited to journey in the lenten season with this community & see a new angle on the sacrifice of jesus.

five months signifies a lot for this journey. it’s a time that has also shifted my thinking into what’s next after i’ve completed this year. the challenges that are ahead & the overwhelmingly wide uncertainty of tomorrow in full. when i think about presence in this time, i again have to fuss with what being centered is, both personally & in community. i’m beginning to wonder if the ability to sense that the knowledge that you’ve been witness to a lot, but also knowing that there’s a lot of great uncertainty ahead is middle ground enough. in fact, maybe this is what life is as a whole. i can’t lay that down as a universal truth, but for me to know that this year has been full & that yet i am continuously being filled by this community is a place where i can draw some contentment from. time indeed is a reliable friend & untrustworthy enemy all at once.

continue to be in it while you can.

love & light & lavender,

rjmy