You could see it in their eyes, mainly, a look of endurance. It was the toll that poverty, drought and sheer exhaustion had taken on a nation. I was on a mission trip to Mozambique in 2002, and in that moment I rocked a baby boy named Tivo. Tivo was part of the forming generation of boys and girls, many born to HIV and AIDS-infected parents. Stricken by war, overcome by poverty and grief at their losses, women turned to desperate measures in order to feed their children. At 18 months Tivo bore all the signs of malnutrition and starvation. Abandoned by his mother, he refused to be held close. So angry at the pain and hunger that would not subside, he held himself away from me rigidly for hours until he collapsed, exhausted into a fitful sleep.
In 2002 the country of Mozambique had not yet recovered from the numerous assaults against its infrastructure: civil war, floods, drought, all amid unbelievable poverty. Nearly 15 years of fighting had temporarily displaced nearly five million people, and one million people lost their lives.
Statistically this appears as sterile numbers on a page. As I walked the streets and visited the families, I was completely undone.
Endless mountains of burning tires and garbage created a haze of smoke that made it feel as if the city itself was on fire. So many homeless. So many with HIV and AIDS. The gaunt, aimless look in their eyes tore at my soul. Since the war had claimed an entire generation or two of men, most of the families were comprised of widowed women. With a disease so rampant and destructive as AIDS, many women lost hope and dropped their children off at an orphanage, then returned to their hovel to die. The young boy that I carried on my back and rocked in my arms for hours on end would never know that I cared. At least, not this side of Heaven.
The Oxford Dictionary defines the word tryst as “a private, romantic rendezvous between lovers.” It further states that ‘tryst’ comes from the Latin word trista, ‘an appointed place in hunting’.
An appointed place in hunting…I like that.
So much of life’s journey has been filled with uncertainty, survival, longing, searching for, and choosing the narrow gate of life.
There have been a few occasions when my life has spiraled out of control, in terms of the demands it made on me. During those times I would say that I had lost sight of who I was, and what was really important. I would find that I had not kept tryst with myself. Perhaps I kept the same routine and relationships, but I know that I had lost my footing. My ability to be at rest.
It seems like my best work, whether through employment or in the home, is directly rooted in a place that might be called a tryst, or even a sabbath. There must be a time and place where my creative energies are renewed, and I am allowed to simply be. I could venture into the spiritual aspects of this place but its deeper than just a quiet time alone with God. God is absolutely in the midst of a sabbath. He created it. But abiding in this place is more about my willingness to release all of the demands on my time and attention….my willingness to lose my identity in all of the externals, and retreat to that quiet place within.
As a follower of Christ, at times I have leapt to the erroneous conclusion that if I spent too much time in that place with self, I would become self-centered, or (gasp) “New Age-y”, and depart from the ways of God. The truth is that if I pause there, I might discover that my religious veneer is pulled away, and the gritty substance of my self glaringly evident. What if my networking and e-connecting has resulted in poverty of self? Avoidance prevents disappointment. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we’ll never lose our way if only we maintain a religious routine of prayer with God, and reading Scripture. It’s really our religious answer for the problem of substance.
C.S. Lewis, in his book, Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer, says
“What seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling. For these may come from a deeper level than feeling. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard.”
A deeper level than feeling…God seems to enjoy the “off guard” me. This comes through when I push away the veil of life’s superficial demands, and simply sit. In this window of time I can come to terms with who I am, my circumstances, and the possibilities. The cry for intimacy that God has placed within me is stirred, if I let it. I naturally cry out to Him in the stillness, renewed in the knowledge that nothing else fulfills me and no one else knows me like He does. It’s here that I exchange ashes for beauty, and poverty for joy. I become a wellspring of life for those around me.
There is no substitute for keeping tryst…