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Interestingly, I received a message containing the African proverb, “When a mountain is in your path, do not sit at its foot and cry. Get up and climb it.”
Meant as encouragement, the statement came to me precisely at the moment when my personal mountain of pain and disability had me prostrate at its foot crying my heart out. Discouragement and despair marked my waking moments and disturbed what little sleep I could muster. All was not well, no matter the empowering words I had been given. On this day, I could not receive them.
It was but a few days later that an angel appeared at my bedside. He was a nurse who came to this country from Kenya to study and work. To describe him would be an attempt to put words to an inexpressible presence. I can only say that he was...and is...a beatific smile. Before long, his work as an evening tech faded into my awaiting his presence.
Our conversations were always uplifting, strengthening and filled to the brim with optimism. One episode stands out in my mind because it describes the many mountains that had been in his path and his response to them. Additionally, he presented me with an understanding of Christianity, lived Kenyan-style. Most assuredly, the reality is meant to be universal. It is as much Christianity lived in our neck of the woods as it was with him in his native land.
Rashaad stood at the doorway of my hospital room, an aura surrounding him. With his face wreathed in smiles, he spoke to me and Hubby Dear about the biblical way of life his people embraced. Unwittingly, he was bringing to the surface the many failures of our own spiritual life and the impact of our North American sense of the divine. His stories revolved about the concept of being a traveler with its accompanying adventures.
If Rashaad wanted to visit his people while he was yet in Kenya, he used available funds, but now he was the traveler, subject to the woes and blessings of that situation. He mentioned it was the desire that was paramount. Cost was not a consideration. On one occasion, he had a 50-dollar bill to cover his expenses. The fare was far less...in fact only 50 cents, but he had no other currency to offer. So, he smilingly gave the driver the $50. When questioned about the fairness of the situation, his response to us was, “I wanted to get home. Do you put a dollar amount on that desire? I do not.”
A traveler in Kenya, as he told the story, would never be left to his or her own devices. If directions to a specific destination were sought, the request was answered immediately. The traveler was perceived as God, Christ in human attire. The responder would leave his home, walk the traveler to his destination and then return home. No recompense was expected. No explanations given. Only a profound sense that we are all travelers in a universe God created for us.
With a degree of sadness, Rashaad compared the North American sense of hospitality to what it means to be a traveler with the understanding held by believers in his native land. His experience of traveling in the States and needing directions when he lost the way demonstrated the reality that we are far more restrained in our offering of assistance. We give directions. If need be, we give financial and physical support. What we retain is ourselves. We do not give completely and without question.
In fact, we consign a traveler to the position of being a nuisance and a beggar. We define the traveler as one who will be left to his or her own devices; adrift in a world they did not create.
What does this mean? Does it mean that we are stingy by comparison? Perhaps. Does it mean we are not good people? I think not. I think it means we have found a unique mountain in our path, the mountain of belief that God is present in everyone we encounter, however we encounter them.
I think it means we all need to reassess our understanding of Immanuel, God-With-Us, always and in all ways, until the end of time. I think it means we cannot afford to sit at the foot of life’s mountains and cry. We are called and commissioned to get up and climb them.
With Rashaad’s understanding of being a traveler, all of that changes. We are now one in God’s Spirit. We are truly human, rejoicing in the same successes and empowering others to become the persons God has created them to be. Traveling together, we enter more and more profoundly the reality that we are family, God’s family. Your mountains become mine; and mine become yours. Together we give ourselves space and time to sit at their feet and cry. Together, we tether ourselves, get up and climb those death-defying places.
Together we are travelers who have given our very selves to each other, a substance no monetary offering can match. Together, we become one.
To prove the validity of this way of life, I’ll close with the response Rashaad gave when Hubby Dear asked him why he decided to marry his wife, a native of South Carolina, who has steadfastly clung to her fears and refused to visit Kenya. Rashaad smiled his broadest smile and said, “You ask about love. When you love, you give all. There is no explanation.”
I suspect this is the mountain Rashaad climbs daily, without crying about its path and replete with recognizing its beauty.