Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Let us never live in stone houses"

I would like to share an exerpt I read in a book I am reading. It is a prayer of a man in Kenya which went lik this: “I pray that we never will live in stone houses.” The significance of “stone houses” is houses that we westerners live in or “rich” people meaning houses with doors and locks and cement. Here is what the father replied with: “People here live in little huts, and huts have no doors. That’s why your family is my family and my family is your family. But as soon as you move into a stone house, you build a door. And on the door you put a lock. And behind this door you begin to collect your belongings, and then you have to spend the rest of your life defending those belongings.” I can learn much from this attitude of openness as I think we all can. When was the last time you welcomed a stranger into your home or lent or gave your possessions freely to another person? We live in a culture completely on the opposite side of the spectrum where each individual family lives for themselves and relies on themselves. This applies obviously to individuals also where we desperately try to do everything ourselves without relying on the help of others. When we have to ask someone for help it is humiliating because our precious image of self-reliance and strength may be lost. We have this false idea that we need to do everything ourselves. Our doors are locked to others and we do not let others enter our homes to help us. Imagine if we lived without doors, where everyone felt free to enter their neighbours’ house to drink tea or to ask to borrow their lawnmower? What beauty is found in living in community where your family is my family and my family is your family. One experience I will not forget was in Ariwara where we visited the mother of one of the Sisters here. We arrived at the house (a hut to be exact) and were greeted by a dozen kids and were welcomed to sit and relax. When we were leaving the mother came out with a goat for us as a gift. This goat was not any old goat but the best and fattest goat. This offering meant that the family would most likely not eat meat for that month. Later Sr. Charlotte told us that they live by the motto: when you give, you give the best. The people here truly give their best, they are not stingy in giving. This reminds me of my birthday when my friend Bienvenue baked me a cake, which for Congolese is a special gift offering. She did not just bake any old cake but a cake which for me felt like it had 10 eggs in it and tasted as if it had 4 kilos of sugar.
To live with our door always open means detaching ourselves from our possessions, and when we detach ourselves from our possessions we become free. This reminds me of my arrival in Congo when I didn’t have my luggage for the first 2 weeks here. I can honestly say that this was a gift in disguise for me because I felt free without it. There was no worry about having my possessions stolen or damaged or thoughts about what to wear; one pair of clothes and the basic hygienic needs was all I needed. It was a weight off my back, just like living in huts without locks where we have no possessions to worry about.
The reference to the stone houses also refers to our hearts: our hearts that can easily be locked to others. So many times our hearts are locked to others and we put up barriers to keep people out of our lives. We fear others opinions, judgments, our own weaknesses and insecurities so we hide ourselves behind locked doors and our true self is not revealed in its unique beauty. When one is able to break free from these chains that hold us down what joy is found in this rebirth. Here in Africa I have realized how many insecurities and fears are created from simply living in a culture where you feel you are constantly being judged upon your status in life, your job, your education etc. To be able to simply live, this is a gift, this is beauty. This leads me to a quote by C.S. Lewis:
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."
C.S. Lewis

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