The other day at the Y, walking my 30 laps around the track, I hit upon something that seemed too clever by half. Sometimes the juxtapositions of sacred and mundane surprise me.
I’ve tried combining walking with meditation but that doesn’t work for me. I need stillness to empty my mind. I’ve tried praying while walking, too, but it was hard for me to keep my attention on prayer for any length of time. This time, though, I tried praying for one person per lap. That seemed to work. It got me to concentrate on prayer–and on focused prayer for individuals, both of which can be hard for me to do when I’m just sitting-praying–for a good long period. And it made the laps go by faster.
What prompted this was my resolution to enter into an extended period of prayer for my women friends in Congo. I’m just back from a three-week trip that I’ve found hard to describe and sort out. It was not your typical mission trip. At the Methodist Presbyterian Hostel, which is Protestant central for people passing through Kinshasa, a missionary-type woman asked my friend Sandy and me, “What are you here to teach?” Well, nothing. We were not there to teach but to learn and listen.
We were, as our friend Sidonie Swana put it at the end of our trip, ambassadors. “Les ambassadrices.” We were sent to build relationships between Mennonite women in the USA and Congo. We went to listen to some ideas that had been proposed and to solicit others. We went to touch base with groups of women in three different cities. We went to learn how we American sisters can walk with our Congolese sisters in their days in which grueling life and glorious faith are never far apart.
While this kind of mission can be hard to explain back home, Congolese women had no trouble understanding it. This was a journey of love. For them! We had come for the women, and nobody ever comes just to see them. We were received warmly and intimately. The relationship-building part of this mission was not hard to do. Nor was it hard for us to listen, or for them to speak their minds, woman-to-woman.
What is hard is to know what to do as a next step, or as a result of this visit. What is hard is not to be overwhelmed by the enormous needs, the huge material gaps between us and them, the plight of all who live in this huge, beleaguered country. Read David von Reybrouck’s fascinating Congo: The History of a People, as I did throughout my trip, and you’ll find yourself shaking your head, right up through the stories of Congo’s very recent past. How can this be? Congo has got to be the unluckiest country in the world.
When in doubt, do not rush into next steps. When in doubt, pray.
I am not a regular pray-er. I tend to wait until the need to pray comes upon me with some intensity. But some big things call for sustained and disciplined prayer attention. This business of walking alongside our Congolese sisters is one of those big things.
And so I find myself calling down blessings these days as I circle the track. Thirty women a day, a tenth of a mile per woman. For now, this is my way of walking with my sisters.