I am in the middle of this place of conviction in the midst of a village of community in the middle of this nest of surrender in the midst of these clouds of stillness. And I am still. I worshiped tonight in a chapel in a convent among women who have given their heart and soul to a God whom they have never seen nor heard nor touched. Yet they have surrendered – all. A L L.
Tucked away at the end of a long gravel road in the middle of the woods, I drove in anticipation and my heart began to race a bit. I am rarely nervous. Rarely intimidated. I was – both. I had put on my best headscarf and wore my longest dress. And, yes, I was even early. I was told that the sisters were on retreat, but they were opening up their chapel time to the community. Given my surroundings, I anticipated being the only “community member” there. I was. I was told that the worship would be in silence. I am not good with silent, but wanted to learn. Passing by a quaint and remote cemetery……. then a garden of wildflowers…….then a garden of vegetables…..and then their home…….and then the chapel. I have been in awe of this lifestyle for quite some time. Being drawn to the great minds of old monks and mothers, there is a certain kind of freedom that comes with surrender that intrigues me. It seems once one is able to give up the life of sexual intimacy or marital coupleship – there comes a freedom of thought that allows you to pour your soul into God at a deeper level. Somehow purpose becomes clearer and the understandings of the Creator less tainted. Or so it seems.
Coming in, I was greeted with great surprise. I believe they are not used to having visitors. Especially somewhat younger visitors with strange headscarves and big smiles of wonderment. The chapel was small and silent and facing a window that seemed to proudly announce: “We are at the top of the top of a tall green tree flourishing Tennessee Mountain” without saying a word. The sisters were dressed even more casually than I – in pants and t-shirts and in simplicity. I was quickly greeted in whispers and instructed on the hymnal and worship schedule. I was then given three books – then told there would be another one underneath me. Being raised the daughter of a Church of Christ preacher, I felt a bit out of my element. But wanting to learn. And I did.
Chapel began. I think I soaked in my surroundings much more than I actually worshipped. My mind drifted to the last time I worshipped amidst the cloth. Amsterdam. Psalms 23. Wow – I hadn’t thought of that in a long long time. As the sisters began to sing a psalm, I listened.
“Where are you oh, Lord. Do you hear their cry. Do you hear the moans of your people in the darkness?”
“Does the one who created the ear not hear. Does he who created the heart not hear their cry?”
Thinking about the nine year old girl that I read about today who had been gang raped in Congo. Telling the journalist that she was 15 because, somehow, 15 and being raped seems somehow less tragic than nine. It is tragic. Regardless.
He who created her ear hears her words. He who created her heart hears her cry.
I return to Amsterdam in my mind. At a Catholic service. It was a stop on the way back from Sudan and Uganda. I had opted to spend a few extra days there to take some shots. It was cold. So cold. I was sitting in a pew in the back of the church. Not understanding one word of what was being said or sang, so I opened up my bible. Psalms 23.
I had not cried. Not really. In Uganda I had heard horrific stories. Horrific. Stories that I have only repeated once. Stories so evil that they would have to be told by an eye witness to believe them to be true. They were. True. As I read Psalms 23, I remember strangely beginning singing Jesus Loves Me in my head. My mind was stuck on one part. One part. Over and Over and Over.
“Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong.”
Stories and stories of children being captured and tortured and forced to do horrific acts of evil. I sat on that pew. reading……..
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…………….
i w i l l f e a r n o e v i l”
For the first time since entering Uganda. Feeling a calling on my heart so strong it overwhelmed me. and i cried. and i cried. and i cried. silently. sitting in that pew in one of the most beautiful cathedrals that I had worshipped. I cried for them.
Looking out of the window over the tops of all of the mountains I had driven up to get here – my mind comes back to my surroundings. I look down and the sister in front of me is looking over her shoulder at me to make sure I am turned to the right page. I am not. But I smile back and shake my head and turn my page. Looking to my right, the sister who first welcomed me lifted her book to show me I was holding the wrong one. I smile. She smiles back. I reach down to get the right hymnal. We sit in silence for some time, and I am grateful. For the silence. It is finished and we all leave. In silence. The sweet sister in front of me winks at me as she leaves. I like winks. My greeter walked out with me and whispered….
“Thank you so much for coming…….it is good for us.”
“Thank you for letting me join you”
I am humbled by them. At their reverence. At their surrender.
I am here now on the porch of the local community nightly hang out. Rain pouring around me. The smell of dampness in the air. Lightening making its presence known. Grateful for this day, Lord. Grateful for your presence in mountaintops, in hymns, in forgotten memories, in raindrops on my computer screen. Simply –
I am grateful.
and I am, forever and completely,