Thursday, March 27, 2014
Upon the Altar
The moment I arrived in Grahamstown I hit the ground running! My first full month has been filled with delicious lunches and dinners, tours accompanied by history lessons about this small town that is bursting with rich stories woven into other rich stories, weekend trips to South Africa's breathtaking beaches, visiting congregants at their homes to play scrabble (and losing), planning Sunday services, and helping the Cathedral Student Ministry plan the big Cathedral Garden Revitalization Party (Project Eden) that will take place on Sunday September 22nd. Needless to say, things have been evolving quickly--relationships and projects alike.
However, for the past week the students from Rhodes University--the university that most of our Cathedral Student's attend--have been on vacation. They recently ended their third term, and are preparing for the fourth and final term of the year. It is indeed a well deserved vacation that they are on. And it has also given me the opportunity to center down and assess what has been revealed to me in my first full month. Their time away has given me a bit of space to be more thoughtful about how I am spending my time: to think about my health--exercise and diet, to think about my intellectual growth--books and articles that I've been reading, to think about my prayer life--how much time I spend in an intentional posture of thanksgiving while studying the Word and other theologically grounded material, to think about how the socio-political realities of Grahamstown have affected me, to think about what I'm doing for fun and entertainment; and, to just be.
On Monday I signed up for a gym membership and a personal trainer. On Tuesday I spent a great deal of time reading and catching up on the current news cycle--helplessly trying to deconstruct or understand the U.S.'s potential military engagement in Syria. And on Wednesday I went for a light jog and bought material's to set up an altar in my room.
Although I attend Morning Prayer at the Cathedral, since Wednesday I have prayed the rest of the daily office at the altar in my room--midday, evening, and compline. The altar faces east, toward the rising sun. Above it is a crucifix--an ambiguous crucifix. One can not readily determine whether the character hanging from the cross is male or female, or of any particular ethic or cultural background. And in that ambiguous crucifix, I see myself. I don't belong to any of the ethnic and cultural groups here in South Africa--I'm not coloured, I'm not black, and I'm not white. Yet, somehow, within myself, I am acquainted with a genuine belonging in this place. In a sense, I am strange but I am not a stranger. Xhosa blood does not course through my veins, but Sweet Honey in the Rock's antiphonal and ancestral request of "Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah," sounds of the American Negro, blaring from my iTunes was a familiar sound to the Xhosa woman who insisted that I play it again, and again. And this is a beautiful strangeness, a powerful strangeness. Many people, until they speak to me, cannot locate my particular socio-cultural background, but I have been treated as though I belong. One cannot locate the particular socio-cultural characteristics of that crucifix, but it belongs above my altar because of what it represents. I do not know what kind of Jesus hangs on that cross; however, I know what comes about as a result of that symbolic sacrifice. I know what is at the heart of that symbol and sacrifice, regardless of who is making it.
Directly below the crucifix is a bouquet of Lilies. They have yet to blossom. I can only imagine what those Lilies must be feeling. If they're anything like me, tightly packed with information and ideas and experiences, they want the beauty that is hidden within those three pronged ovular shaped buds to show forth, to bring life to some mundane space, or joy to some longing heart. If they're anything like me they are aware of all that is within.