Sunday, June 19, 2016

2016.2 - Not Unusual


“…we do not expect people to be moved by what is not unusual. The element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the course emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling for all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.“ – George Eliot, Middlemarch.

I started a new book today which begins with this quote from George Eliot. I had to read it several times before starting the novel to take in the beauty and poetry of the words. It seems a fitting quote to reflect upon at the end of my first week.

It’s been an eventful 7 days in Cairo since my arrival last Monday afternoon. I’ve been to the doctor, attended an ordination, enjoyed an evening falucca ride, met three new students and become re-acquainted with many more. But it’s eventful in very ordinary sorts of ways – traffic, heat, trips to the pharmacy, enjoying a cool breeze, catching up with friends. It’s daily life which doesn’t always make for interesting and dramatic blog posts, but it’s what I love about returning again and again to Egypt.

The first time I came to Egypt, I remember saying to Hans that I felt alive in cells that I didn’t know I had. I’ve learned since that this kind of reaction is a fairly ordinary response to new surroundings and new experiences. While I don’t have that same sort of response each time I return, I’m aware that my time in Egypt allows me to hear a little of “the other side of silence,” which Eliot writes about. Ironic considering the constant din of horns, barking dogs and other assorted sounds that rise from the streets outside my open window.

In this place with no clouds to obstruct my view, every night I take notice of the size and shape of the moon and the position of the stars as they move through the sky. In this place – so monotonous with browns and beiges – I notice the spots of green, the blooms of flowers, the scent of jasmine that fills the air. In this place, I stop the movement that is so much a part of my life and I sit in silence and pray – or at least try. In this place, I rejoice at the familiarity of the Ordo of a Latin Rite Mass and rejoice to harmonize during The King of Love My Shepherd Is as it’s sung at Saturday Mass down the street. In this place, I give thanks for my baptism in Christ which gives me an identity which allows me to enter this place as a sister and friend by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.

That which is “not unusual” in this place still moves me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

2016:1 - Welcome to Egypt!

A little like the traffic I experienced. 
I’ve not yet been on the ground 48 hours in Cairo and my time is off to a rousing start. My journey from Boston to Cairo via Frankfurt was mostly uneventful. Immigration was a snap and my bag was waiting for me when I arrived at baggage claim. I can’t say the same for the drive from the airport to the seminary in the midst of Ramadan traffic. It started out fine, but as we hit the worst of the traffic, we were that car weaving in and out of the traffic, driving between minibuses and delivery trucks in the space between the lanes. At one point we were the car driving on the sidewalk. I was never so glad to arrive at the seminary as I was on Monday afternoon just before 4 local time.

By the time I arrived, a weepy and inflamed eye that had been developing through my flights had reached full-on infection. A good night’s sleep did not lessen the inflammation so I asked for the opportunity to see an eye doctor on Tuesday morning and was taken to the Italian Hospital where Sr. Pena is in charge. Nothing serious is wrong with my eye, just an infection for which I’ve been prescribed various drops, creams and ointments and an enormous white eye patch. My vanity is worse shape than my eye.

It is good to return to see friends and students. It was good to begin teaching and preaching this morning.

All that said, my heart has been heavy throughout my journey by the news out of Orlando early Sunday morning. I’m only able to pick up bits and pieces as I don’t yet have dependable Wi-Fi access in my room. But the grief and loss caused by hatred is clear.

Today I preached on Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 15. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; remain in my love.” I think we have a lot more loving to do before we can say we are remaining in Christ’s love.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

2015:5 - Ramadan Kareem!

The holy month of Ramadan is seven days old today. The moon is approaching half full out my window. In the month of Ramadan, pious Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset each day. In places like Egypt this also may mean that people work a shorter work day to preserve their energy during daylight hours. The fast is broken at sunset when the call to prayer comes from the local mosque. I’m told that it’s tradition to break the fast with a glass of water, a date and then your break-fast meal – iftar. Often shops close in the hour or so before sunset so that people can make their way home in time to break their fast with family or friends.

Today Rita, Linda and I headed out to run a couple of errands before dinner. We left the seminary at 6:30 pm forgetting, until we got on the main street, that it was likely the shops where we were headed would be closed. The sun sets just before 7 pm in Cairo these days. Rather than turn around, we decided to make our way to Road 9 just in case they were open. The street, normally bustling with cars and pedestrian traffic during rush hour, was quiet.

As we expected the first shop was closed. We headed to the market, which remained open, though we were the only customers. We made quick business of our shopping to allow the workers to break the fast in peace. But as we walked out of the market and onto the street, we saw workers gathered around an enormous pot of b├ęchamel (in Midwest speak, hotdish with meat and a cheesy cream sauce). We couldn’t help but admire the delicious looking food when suddenly we were invited to join them in breaking the fast.

An enormous helping of b├ęchamel was served and as the call to prayer began we spoke to each other the Ramadan words of greeting.

Ramadan Kareem
Alahu Akram

A generous Ramadan to you!
God is most generous!

Together we broke the fast with delicious food and tamarhindi (a sweet juice made from the tamarind plant). It was delicious. It was generous. It was pure hospitality. It was everything I have come to love about Egypt and Egyptians.

I may not share the same faith as my Muslim brothers and sisters throughout the world, but I do share a faith in an ever-generous God who provides us with all life and sustenance. For a brief moment tonight on Road 9 in Ma’adi, we communed with a most generous God and shared one heavenly feast.

Al-hamdulillah! Thanks be to God!