Why do I even do this? I ask myself several times a day when I am tending Congo matters. How did I get myself into this difficult situation, who am I to be doing this? But the question is always rhetorical, not because I know the answer to it but because I know I will keep doing whatever it is I am doing, even though it is difficult. The situation I’ve gotten myself into is exactly where I want/need to be, even though it isn’t always pleasant.
But I try to address the question head-on every now and then because motives and reasons can sneak around and bite you in the back if you don’t keep an eye on them. They do keep changing, even if your actions remain outwardly the same. If you aren’t aware of the changes you can start lying to yourself, unwittingly, and that is never good. The better side of this is that as time goes on motives may become clearer, and it is always rewarding, always a good thing, to understand yourself better, to understand what is happening to you that causes you to behave in the way you do.
The situation I am referring to is that I continue to take a very active interest in a particular Christian community in perhaps the poorest country in the world, a country ridden by impossible conflicts, though those conflicts are largely outside the territory of this community. So, it’s not because I think I can do anything about the chaos and suffering in eastern Congo. It’s not, in fact, because I think I can do anything about any kind of suffering in Congo, including the suffering of poverty. Relieving suffering is not my motivating force, not what calls me, although it may be a blessed side effect of some things I do.
I do hope not to create more suffering for others though that, too, can be a side effect. So maybe I will create suffering, unpleasant as that may be for me to witness, because suffering is necessary for growth. I’m finding this in my own case and who am I to say growth should be easy for other people? I am suffering a little right now, asking myself, why do I even do this? Because it isn’t easy; it is, in fact, sometimes agonizing.
Early on what got me into the Congo thing, which has intensified over the last year and a half, was a combination of nostalgia (for a previous experience in the distant past), love of beauty (Congo Cloth), and serendipity: the unfolding of a series of circumstances that came together in quick succession, making certain actions and developments seem right.
Then, quickly, it came to be about relationships. When you start relating to a new group of friends, become involved in a new network, certain things become possible and certain things are asked of you and you respond. Relationships require communication and lead, inevitably, to responsibility but they are also sustaining. So I can say that I need this new group of friends; that they are becoming like another very extended family for me, creating warmth and home and familiarity in ways I could not have imagined two years ago.
But none of this gets at the big, mysterious Why. Why Congo, why me, why now?
I could put it down to feeling called. It is that for sure, but the answer does not satisfy me so why should it satisfy you? I have done a lot in my life without the (maybe sometimes dangerous) certainty that goes with feeling called, and so I don’t think a sense of call is necessary to compel me to do odd things like work for nuclear disarmament or wrack my brains over environmental policy. But I have done these things out of a similar combination of circumstance, attraction, relationship, responsibility, and mystery. And with the similar frustrations and agony that come with doing anything difficult (even apparently impossible).
The common thread here seems to be, “difficult things.” Why do I repeatedly go for the difficult, the impossible? It seems to be in my DNA, but it is also a result of how I live, that is, by such airy methods as prayer and paying attention to dreams, and in an everlasting quest for wisdom (knowing I will never have enough of it to make sense of myself, let alone the world). These difficult situations are the practical results, for me, of living as a mystic.
Living as a mystic gets me into difficulties. I get focused on something and can’t turn away. Prayer and dreams trick me into taking bold steps that make no logical sense. But living as a mystic also gets me through difficulties. It does not, believe me, keep me from making mistakes. The mistakes, however, usually get transformed into wisdom and learning, and correcting them requires more bold moves in a good direction. Away from fear, toward love. That movement, propelled by spiritual power, is what it is all about.
Mystics, unite! The world needs us, getting down and dirty, getting into trouble.