Sunday, March 28, 2010

Presence is Possible

This Spring Break I have been reminded, again, of presence.

I have spent the last week at Point Loma Nazarene University. I came to be with two friends from Uganda; Holly was my roommate in Uganda, and BJ (aka Brian) was my friend. Both of those were true again this week as I bunked in with Holly all week and hung out with BJ often. However, I was blessed with much more than reuniting with Uganda friends.

BJ and Holly had classes all week. I knew this was going to happen, but it dawned on me when I arrived that this meant they would be doing things throughout the week I couldn’t join them in. I would be alone. At first I was ok with this. Then I remembered how much I hate being alone. I freaked out and contemplated not hanging out for the week and going somewhere else. However, I learned in Uganda not to run from hard and awkward things, but to sit in them in active patience and let them wash over me.

So I sat. I told myself to trust God and see what would happen. Beautiful things happened. First, BJ’s friends very suddenly became my friends. They would call me or find me and ask me to be with them. People I had only met when I was here for a brief weekend in February invited me to sleepovers and hikes and meals. BJ’s friends became my friends and I was brought into a community that eagerly accepted me. I felt no need to be a different person for them, either. I felt free to be me!

They were present with me. They were present by bringing me into their community and loving me. When I said goodbye to them last night and today I found myself grieved over leaving this community. It didn’t feel like I had only known them a week, it seemed like I had always known them. Their presence was real and tangible in my life and I experienced a flow of life between us.

On Wednesday night I went out to do homeless ministry with BJ and many others from PLNU. I was scared. Homeless people scare me. BJ told me I could hang with him, so I did and didn’t feel quite as scared then. One of BJ’s friends is named Michael. Michael is homeless and he spends his nights at a certain spot on the sidewalk near downtown San Diego. BJ has been hanging out with Michael for a while now it seemed and I soon found myself sitting on the sidewalk with these two men. Few words passed between us, and anyone eavesdropping would probably have found the words awkward and meaningless. However, I experienced a presence in that space that I hadn’t known since being in Uganda. Words weren’t needed, it was ok to sit and be together. Call it solidarity or whatever. We were together and it was a full together. Words weren’t even expected. In Uganda this happened a lot; I would find myself in a Ugandan’s living room without much for either of us to say. At the time it felt awkward and uncomfortable because in the US we expect words to happen all the time. If we aren’t talking we aren’t being productive or using our time wisely. With BJ and Michael words weren’t expected. In Uganda I wanted to run from this or fight against it. This was the first time I had experienced this situation since being back and my soul felt such peace and rest in it. How delightful to not have to say anything. How beautiful to be totally present with someone, a stranger to me, without any expectations. This is presence.

Then tonight two nights ago I finally got to talk with Deanna, another Uganda friend, on the phone. We haven’t talked in a couple weeks and we had missed each other greatly. Though we were on the phone in different states and different time zones we felt more present with each other than we felt with anyone we had been in a room with. The connection between our spirits transcended the limits of time and distance and it was as if we were in a different realm or dimension. A realm where time and distance are immaterial and what is real is what cannot be seen. So thick was her presence with me that I could smell it, taste it and touch it. Such freedom was between us that our whole selves were able to mingle and inter-digitate without fear or pretense. In this place we could totally care for the other without having our self taken away. Both of us could take up space without fearing offense of the other. In this presence we could feel the Holy Spirit passing between us and sharing true life, abundant life. We both felt alive. More than our hearts beating and our blood flowing, life that goes deeper and wider than our bodies; life that is eternal.

Presence, and the ability to be present with people, did not leave me when I returned from Uganda. The need for presence has only grown stronger in me. When I am found by it I lap it up like a dehydrated dog. Presence as I have described is rare and so hard to find. When it is found, however, my soul seems to soar within me and sing truly. Not a song I can hear, but one that is truer than anything I can sing with my voice. How good it is to know I am alive tonight.

There must be a key or something that unlocks this kind of presence. Right now these events feel random and mysterious, however, in writing about them I noticed a theme. What I experienced in each of these events was freedom to be me without expectations of anything more or less. Because of this freedom I was able to let myself take up space and I was also able to let others take up space. There was no competition between us or expectations that could not be met. All there was in those moments was freedom and space to bring my whole person.

Is this something I can only find with certain people? Or can I bring it with me wherever I go? I am beginning to think presence isn’t something that can only take place with certain people at certain times, but something that can take place within myself all the time. It is also something I can bring to people. If I give myself the freedom and space to bring all of me everywhere I go then others will also have that space around me. Presence isn’t random, though it is probably more full when everyone is practicing it. Presence is practiced, just as patience is practiced. It takes work and willingness to be disciplined. Presence and patience aren’t virtues but are disciplines. This means anyone can practice both; I can practice both. I give all of you permission to hold me to this discipline, as well.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Reflecting, floundering, searching.

Hello Friends,

It has been a while since I updated you on Africa and my journeying there. Mostly cause I got back, so my journeying has taken a different form. Today, however, I got to pause for a few moments and words flowed out. I wrote them down (luckily) and would like to share them with you all. If you weren't a part of USP then some of this won't make sense, for which I apologize, but I didn't want to get to bogged down in explanations.

Today my eye doctor, after learning I went to Africa, asked me if I had heard about the slaughtering in Nigeria that happened yesterday. 500 people hacked by machetes. I think he even used the word hacked. He looked at me, waiting for my response but I didn’t have one. He then talked about meeting Africans and said they were always the nicest people, but apparently they aren’t that way to each other.

My full reaction didn’t come until later as it hit me that 500 people were slaughtered with machetes. I know what those machetes look like, my Uganda brother chopped wood with one every day and my house mom, Irene, cut banana leaves with them. I also know Africans. Though Nigeria and Uganda are entirely different places, the continent of Africa still has something common woven through it. I think even African’s would agree with this.

Then there is Rwanda. I do not often think about what I experienced in Rwanda, nor the things I saw. I don’t often want to return to those feelings of shock and overwhelming sadness and anger. Today I did, though. Drew’s song, Sula Bulungi, played through my head, “I have seen children’s clothes lying bloody next to broken skulls… all these things must come to pass, all these things will happen again.” I have seen skulls with cracks from machetes and I have seen piles and piles of bloody, rotting cloths once hung on the bodies of Rwandan’s now dead. It has happened again in Nigeria between Christian’s and Muslims. Children’s skulls have been hacked by machetes, pools of blood next to broken bodies with missing limbs. It has happened again.

The eye doctor seemed to have many opinions about the condition of Africa. His first question about Uganda was, “How’s the government there? Pretty unstable?” As if he could assume everything in Africa is unstable and chaotic. Then it seemed like he expected a huge emotional reaction from me upon hearing about the killings in Nigeria.

I didn’t have a huge emotional reaction, though. I got very quiet, feeling as though I had no right to speak or give my own reaction to what I had just learned. What could I say after spending a week in Rwanda and four months in Uganda? What does it matter that I am sad about what happened in Nigeria? What does it matter that I feel a deep connection to what happened though I have never met a Nigerian? What does it matter? What can I say or do that would actually be meaningful?

The truth is I am so full of emotions about these killings in Nigeria that I don’t know what to do with them. My heart is heavy, and something very close to the Rwanda shock is near the surface of my heart again. What do I do with it all? Why I am so upset over this? Why isn’t everyone else upset about this? 500 people were hacked to death with machetes. Brother killed brother. I sit in my kitchen, smelling cookies baking in the oven, stressing about papers that need to be written. I am speechless at the disconnect between what I feel and what I do; people were murdered and I am eating cookies.

Probably a lot of these emotions are leftover from Rwanda. I was there in September, 6 months ago, and then emotions feel just as fresh and shocking as they did there. I am still speechless at what happened there and what my life is. I have no idea how to take that I experienced and integrate it into my life. It feels like I have only two options: become paralyzed by it all, or forget about it in order to live. However, we learned in Uganda that Jesus proved there is always a creative third option. Do I know what it is? No, I have no idea what the third option is here. I am searching for it, though, always searching for it.

Today the third option was teaching myself Sula Bulungi by watching the Teahouse movie. Playing that song connected me to USP friends, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Seattle. I was able to hold it all in my heart as my fingers held chords, my hand strummed gently, and my voice reverberated off the kitchen cupboards. I don’t know if I will find the third option tomorrow, or if it will even cross my mind to look for one. Hopefully it will, though, because I think the more I am conscious of finding a way to hold that part of my heart with all the other parts of my heart the more I will find myself connected to people, places and myself.

Love to all,