There was an inaudible but deep sigh from the small audience as the poet read his two-lined poem entitled “Compline.”  Something had pricked our spirits. I felt the whisper of tears, a recognition, as if an uncrafted longing had been brought to life through another writer’s pen:

“Into thy hands                                                                                                                                         I commend my spirit.                                                                                                                             It fits in them                                                                                                                                        Exactly.”

Another line from a later poem caught my attention: “We are released from prayer into wonder, into longed-for space.”

Sometimes I feel we trod  the same paths of prayer until they carve valleys between mountains.  Some would argue that this is good, that it is merely persistence.  That could be true sometimes, but perhaps other times we need to look up from the path and head up the mountain.  Prayer as wonder opens up possibilities in our spirits and understanding, reorients us to God who does not fit into our neatly packaged categories.

As Jonah put it after his brief ‘Dark Night of the Soul’  experience in the big fish: “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” (2:8).

Our Christian routines can certainly become idols—may we be freed from them into spaces of grace.

Poems “Compline” and “Beethoven Quartet Op. 132”  taken from: Christopher Southgate, Rain Falling by the River: New and Selected Poems of the Spirit, London: Canterbury Press, 2017.



Around the Village

Yesterday evening, I went to the village to go visit and pray for some people struggling with illness from The Little Darda Church. I returned home 3 hours later with a live pepper plant, a plucked chicken, two jars of ‘zimnica’ (food canned for the winter), and a large bag of onions.  Pepper

“Are you alone?” people kept asking me.  The rest of the Darda leadership team has been doing children’s programs  in Roma communities down in Serbia for the past week.  So yes, I guess in that sense I’m alone—and to be alone in Roma culture is a both an oddity and a travesty.  However, this apparently can compensated  through gifts of food.

The late afternoon’s crisp air hinted at the fast arrival of fall—and everyone was busily working in a frenzied race to have all their preparations done before winter—wood gathered, chopped, and stacked in sheds, animal food (for pigs and horses) dried and stored away, zimnica prepared, and houses repaired to withstand the cold.

I sensed that I was interrupting their work, which because of their unbreakable ethic of hospitality they would never say.  So I made short visits, just to check up on people, catch up on some news,  and pray for them.

“Her doctor doesn’t care much for old people,” N. told me. “And he…,” she made the sign of drinking  a bottle.

“He drinks on the job?” I say. “Can’t she find another doctor?” M., the elderly woman we are talking about is in a lot of pain.  She broke her femur last winter and currently has osteoporosis which is affecting her spine.

“Last night it hurt so bad I cried like a baby, ” M. told me. I have a feeling her pain could be managed by a doctor who cared, but apparently all the other doctors already have too many patients.

D. gave me a tour around his backyard to show me how his winter preparations were shaping up.   Pigs in various stages of growth, drying corn for feed, and mounds of wood still needing to be piled in the shed.

“I don’t have time to come to the weekly prayer service, although I want to.  I must finish all this while the weather is good.” D. is a new Christian and was just baptized two weeks ago.  He was looking  at me with anxiety, trying to assess my reaction.

“Of course you must do this,” I tell him gently.  “Do you what you need to do to take care of your family. You don’t need to be at a prayer service to pray.”

At another house, I sipped Turkish coffee and got caught up on the family’s news.  Yesterday, they had just traveled 2 hours each way on their horse and cart to go buy bulk onions in a small village.  They were hoping to sell them around Darda to earn enough money to pay for their electricity and water bills.  They didn’t have enough money to buy wood for the winter, so these 63 year old great-grandparents were having to go out in the forest to accumulate enough wood for the winter.

Survival is a daily creative struggle, and it grows more difficult by the year.

L.  told me he was hardly eating anything these days because of pain he was having in his stomach.

“What did the doctor say?” I asked.  He made the sign of someone drinking a bottle.

“He just told me it is because I am fat.”

“That’s the same drunk doctor that M. has!” I exclaim.  “Can’t you complain about this doctor or get another one?”

He shrugged. “Soon he will go to his pension and then hopefully we will get a new one.”

An accepted powerlessness—is this because of prior experience, expected prejudice, a lack of resources to know how to self-advocate or demand one’s rights, or simply weariness since most of one’s energy is going into survival?  I have accompanied numerous people on hospital visits, but cannot pick up on enough cultural cues to get to the bottom of this.

He pointed to his wife.  “The doctor put her on medication for 4 years  for her stomach and a month ago she had to go to the hospital and the doctors there said that it was wrong medication. For four years she is taking the wrong medication.”

As I drove home, I found myself in a deeply conflicted web of thoughts. How is it possible that our lives are so completely different, based on different eras and yet intertwined in this fashion?  How is it possible that I am still doing so little to help in a practical way?  I wake up at night thinking of the kids who are 10 and going to school but somehow can’t read,  or the people who are having serious medical issues but are either ignored or have the wrong medicine thrown at them.  How can our church be a blessing  and an advocate in the community in a sustainable, holistic way?

I feel the same sense of accepted powerlessness that L. exhibited.  What are my reasons for this feeling?  Is it insecurity in language and culture,  or fear of how much time would be required, or laziness, or an ignorance of the system, or a sense of being overwhelmed by the problems?

And how is it possible that with all these problems, illnesses, and difficulties, the people wanted to bless me because they were worried about me being alone?