Sunday, February 27, 2011

Into the Fire

I’ve just returned from the loveliest Mass at Holy Trinity in inner-city Johannesburg served by my dear old friends the Jesuits. The parishoners are wonderfully diverse, ranging from Zimbabwean immigrants & Cameroonian refugees to the elite, students at Wits University and their professors.  The Schola Cantorum sang wonderful hymns, both in the Gregorian style and traditional Sesotho and Zulu gospel, supported by the most wonderful organist.  I feel like Dorothy in Oz, saying, “It’s a long way from Kroonstad, Toto!”  Now I’m back at home where you’d never know there were five other sisters here with me.  The silence is wonderful.  I told my sister Maria on Skype yesterday that I feel as though I’m on a Silent Retreat that happily continues for weeks instead of ending all too soon.  The regularity of morning and evening prayer during the week as a community has already proven so fruitful… As has the cooking rotation of which I’m now a part because it’s helping me finally become a quasi-decent cook.  The community, and consequently the palates, range from English to South African and from American to Zimbabwean, and from ages 24 to 70.  I’ve already used Mom’s staple recipes like beef stroganoff and my Auntie Judi’s chicken… thankfully there are a several cookbooks in the kitchen in crisis moments. 
Children+Fire+Center+Aids+Young+African+Burn+-I-MlrwMXVhl.jpgWork at the school/home for blind and/or severely burned children keeps me exhausted with endless opportunities to grow in humility, trust, and grace.  I try to spend at least an hour daily with Dorah.  Serving her and engaging with her feels like the closest I’ve ever come to Christ in another person.  Left (perhaps intentionally) by her mother in a burning shack at 6 months old, she was rescued in the final critical seconds when she could possibly have survived.  She has been raised at Children of Fire and is now 16.  She has no lips, eyes, nose, or hands, and only one ear.  Taking her for walks or to use the toilet, I'm continually in awe of her... I’ve never met a more vulnerable or a more authentic person.  There can be absolutely no affectation or pretense in anything she does, any "word" (sound really, as in "doy-yet" for toilet) or any giggle.  I made up a simple song on piano called “Dorah’s Song,” and she likes to hum along while I sing.  Usually she doesn’t try to play with her “stumps” (as what was saved of her wrists are called) because she can’t play less than three keys at a time with them, so she doesn’t like the sound.  When I take her for walks, passersby stare and flies start to pester her, eating the mucus that’s dried where her eyes and nose once were.  I used to try to swat them away.  I never thought I could be so outraged by flies and their insensitivity!  And taking Dorah to use the bathroom or helping her eat is always an opportunity for receiving and sharing grace.

Both in community life with five wonderful sisters and at work with such vulnerable children, I find I'm growing every hour except those in which I'm sleeping (and even there, my dreams are occasionally invaded)!

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