Thursday, February 17, 2011
Could love not be captured more beautifully than in the smile of a child! Physically these children may have next to nothing but they have the whole world in their tiny hands. They have a world where there is no war, but peace; a world where when you fall down there is someone there to pick you up; a world where wealth is shared and you never eat alone; a world where communities welcome the stranger and our house is your house; a world where suffering is turned into joy; a world where peace comes from holding no grudges, forgiving and moving on. A world like this is not a dream or a fantasy. It is possible. We can cross over the stream and get our feet wet. We can embrace our neighbour and show love in the ways that only we as an individual can. The answer is not in how much we do for others and how many projects we undertake, but simply in the amount of love we pour into every person that we encounter, into everything that we do. With love we can create this world into the wellspring of love and joy that we envision it to be. Throw away the old-self, put on the new, arm yourself with the shield of righteousness and step forward into a battle to fight for what you believe we as human beings should be living for: a world where love is present and felt each day which could be as little as receiving a smile from a passing stranger. And with God we will not lose battles because He is always the Victor!
I have taken out into the deep and have seen many things that my heart did not want to feel, that my eyes did not want to see. I stepped into a world so far removed from my own, so vast in differences that all I could do was jump in and take part in what lay before me. Just as Tennyson writes in his poem Ullyses, “I am a part of all that I have met,” so was I in the little town of Aru, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a country where life is ruled by simplicity, family as the rock, God as the centre and joy which springs forth out of suffering. When you make yourself vulnerable and put yourself into positions where you know there is a high chance of failure, growth will take place. I learnt that by making the effort to enter into the lives of these people I made a greater difference than I thought. The ridiculous Lingala that I spoke or the way I ate their food, held their babies, imitated their hand shakes and attempted to wear their cultural dress although made me feel incapable at times and silly brought much joy to their faces. I believe that by slowly entering the culture of another’s we come to learn from each other. I am thankful God gave me the courage to become vulnerable in this way. This year I experienced many times of frustration mainly based on the misconception that I had to “do” something and accomplish great work here in Aru, D.R. Congo or else my mission was useless. Soon enough I realized that the Devil was putting these thoughts into my mind and that despite my feelings of uselessness or, “this is a waste of time,” which Sr. Daniela would kindly remind me was just “teaching me patience,” I decided I would focus on relationships and putting more love into everything I was doing, including my many hours spent selling bread at the bakery. It was in these moments where I felt true freedom, not freedom that we think of in North American society which tells us we are free when we have no cares, no work, no expectations, we can go where we please, buy what we want and we will be “free.” The freedom I felt was an interior freedom, as though nothing could tear me apart or push me over; I felt an inner strength that was with me throughout every moment of the day. This I can attest to the words of Canadian philosopher and founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier which says:
“To be free is to put justice, truth, and service to others over and above our own personal gain or our need for recognition, power, honour and success. When we cling to personal power and success, when we are frightened of losing social status, then we are in some way denying our humanity; we become slaves to our own needs, we are not free.”
When we are afraid of losing face, being insulted, ridiculed and feeling powerless we are not free, we are imprisoned in our own beings. God created us to be imitators of Him, and did Christ ever fear away from ridicule and insults? Never. If we look at Jesus in the New Testament we see numerous examples of how he was bold, and not “nice” (as Tomas from Czezh would say), and never timid. Christ gave us power from the Holy Spirit, a spirit not of timidity but that of strength and power. We need to take hold of this gift of the Spirit and cultivate it. I am realizing here in metropolitan Vancouver how much work I have before me. I need to carry with me always this spirit of strength so that others may see that with faith in God one has more strength than any quick-fix or addictive drug. The strength to face the darkness comes from within. We are all children of light. In Aru I saw more light than I have ever in my life. Their light is always shining because this is their only lifeline, they have nothing else, God is everything. At home here in the trendy city of Vancouver you walk down one main city block and see classy women and business men holding their Starbucks coffee while plugged into their ipods and you walk down the next and it is lined with drug addicts, homeless aboriginals and prostitutes. There is a light in all of these people despite their different exteriors and masks worn. We are all children of the light. Maybe some people just don’t know it. It is up to us to let them know. I was a missionary in Africa but I am still a missionary and will carry my bright new light to those who live in darkness, as I hope do all of you.
To finish I would like to share the words of St. Teresa of Avila who encourages us on our missionary journey:
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours;
No Hands but yours;
No feet but yours:
Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion looks out into the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
...Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.”