I’ve been working over this last week to get ready for NCYC, a national youth convention organised by the Uniting Church, and few other things happening in the women’s prison and in the basement during the next 6 weeks. We’re curating a sacred space for 1400 people next Wednesday evening at NCYC – an extraordinarily tricky event that is waking me at 3 each morning with its impossible permutations – and i’m also doing a workshop on Lament on Monday afternoon. I’m not sure i’ll get to much else during the week, disappointingly, but Shane Claiborne is speaking and he’s always brilliant…
So there’s not much time for writing here, but before i forget it all I wanted to get down a few things from the last couple of weeks… It’s a bit disjointed, and i’d keep it as a draft but maybe it’ll make sense to someone else too!
Christmas day in the prison was lovely, but very, very sad. Like last year, there was ten minutes of absolute silence at the end of the service, out of which the men gradually came and started telling their stories – speaking of families who would be visiting them the next day, or those who would be conspicuous in their absence; of things they wished for, prayers they wanted.
I’ll put up the service because it worked, though the words don’t communicate what it was like [download it here: ptphilipxmas]. The service again was evidence of how words are always changed and interpreted by the context in which they are spoken. What seemed pretty optimistic in the planning was actually very subdued and melancholic in reality. But then the story of christmas isn’t actually about happiness, and to make it such turns it into a story for everyone else.
I’ve been thinking about that while I’ve been watching the news this week as the situation in Gaza unfolds. It seems ironic that this is all happening at a time when many churches are telling the story of Jesus’ escape to Egypt – which has to be one of the most fraught passages in the New Testament. For some reason it’s all been bringing to mind a phrase I read in an article last year written by a Rwandan community development worker: ‘God spends each day travelling the world, and comes back to Rwanda to sleep’.
The absence of God has been a theme of the last year – unintended, as these things normally are. I began the year inspired by the story of restorative justice in Rwanda, and have used that as a foundation for some of the work we’re doing here. It’s perhaps appropriate, given how difficult all that has been this year – how unending and complicated the task is – that i read this article last week. I’m so profoundly grateful for the way the article ends because, you know, that’s the truth of so much of what we do. Just turning up and being faithful doesn’t guarantee success. Quite probably most of what we are trying to do will fail. And we’re playing with heart-breaking stakes.
If the beginning of last year was defined by hope and great dreams, this year it’s coloured with a prayer that hope isn’t what’s needed to survive or keep going. I think i ended last year feeling pretty flattened by reality, but with some perverse instinct to keep doing what we’re doing. Hope doesn’t factor into it; just a knowledge that it’s only by doing this that we find – and keep – our humanity.