Waving like the Rose Parade Queen at the Funeral

Mourners line up to pay respects. Photo by JMD

Saturday morning Nancy, Nina, and I pack our bags, preparing for our immersion into Kinshasa life. Nancy and I will spend a few days with Gaston and Marie-Jeanne while Nina stay at Pastor Francois and Felly’s home. Then the plan is to switch places.

I am feeling anxious, not knowing what to expect. Francois and our translator, Izir, arrive and we wait for Marie Jeanne and her driver. At last they arrive, we climb into Marie Jeanne’s SUV: me in front, Nina and Nancy and Marie-Jeanne in the middle seat, and Francois and Izir in the very back with our luggage. Suzanne stands outside my window saying good-bye. I am beginning to panic and I don’t want to leave Suzanne and her home. I get teary-eyed and she takes my hand and reassures me that all will be well. She tells me in a quiet voice, “They are not going to let anything happen to you. You are safe—don’t worry about your physical safety. You’ll do fine.” She kisses the back of my hand and says goodbye to me then says good-bye to the others.

I wipe away my tears and feel comforted by her words and kindness. As we drive away I replay her words and pray: “Yes, God, I am safe. Help me to be free and not so fearful.” At this moment I feel my heart open up—my binding fear is loosened and I can breathe again. I feel eager to experience DR Congo.

Originally we were to visit a hospital but plans were changed when the wife of a prominent Mennonite pastor died and the funeral was scheduled for this day. The challenge is that no one is exactly certain where the funeral is located so we spend a lot of time driving down narrow roads, asking for directions, backing up and turning around. (See Nancy’s terrific description here). At last we find the location tucked in the back behind some building. The funeral is in an open area with folding chairs set up for a few hundred people. The funeral has started and we are latecomers creating a distraction as we walk past a group of people in the back. I begin greeting them—they are looking at us anyway. I say, “Bonjour, bonjour” and receive “Bonjour” with smiles in return. I begin waving to people like I’m the Rose Parade queen, loudly whispering, “Bonjour, bonjour.” Thankfully, Izir is behind me and whispers, “We need to keep going” and directs me to the left for us to be seated. I am in the front row between Nancy and Izir, who tells me what is happening as the portable sound system pops and hisses as people speak in either French or Lhingalla, a dialect. I sit back and watch everything, occasionally asking Izir what is happening.

*I see the head usher working hard at directing people, or turning them away, consulting with the pastor, all trying to discreetly keep the funeral moving along. I think of William Carlos Williams poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow”—with apologies to WCW:

So much depends
upon

the head
usher

forehead glistening
with sweat

near the beloved
pastor.

*I see different families of the deceased wearing clothing from the same fabric as a way to identify themselves.

Members of the same family wear clothing created from the same fabric. Photo by JMD

*I see a group of mourners from the woman’s home village sitting around the coffin but allowing enough space for the guests to walk past to pay their respects.

Mourners from the village. Photo by Nina B. Lanctot

*As we pay our respects—trailing behind Pastor Francois—I see the woman’s husband greet Nina in English: “We are so glad you are here. We’ve been waiting a long time for you.” And he embraces her with the traditional pressing one’s check to the other face three times.

After we pay our respects we leave. I wave again as I walk past people saying, “Au revoir!” Izir keeps correcting my pronunciation but I don’t fret—I am feeling safe and free and ready for the next event in our Congo adventure

“What are you doing for Lent?”

 

“Return to me with your whole heart,” Joel 2:12

“What are your disciplines for Lent?” my spiritual director asked me.

“Oh, I think I’m gonna give up watching ‘Star Trek’,” I told her.  “I watch it every Monday evening with my roommates. It’s kinda a ritual for us but I think it will be good for me to give it up.”

She studied me for a several seconds then sharply responded: “If you do that you will miss the whole purpose of Lent.  You will end up with more pride–you will be proud of yourself rather than seeking transformation.”

I was shocked at her response.  I was shocked by her rebuke as she was a gentle, humorous woman.  I also was shocked by her statement about Lent–I thought the whole purpose of Lent was to give something up.  I’d always heard about people giving up chocolate for Lent or red meat or television watching, so I figured I was on the right track with the whole Lent thing. Lent was a new concept for me.  In the church tradition I grew up in we never talked about Lent. We talked about Good Friday and of course, we celebrated Easter, but never Ash Wednesday or Lent, or even a period of preparation for Easter, the grandest day of the year.

The word “Lent” comes from Old English, meaning “spring” or “lengthen” as in the lengthening of the days.  This is not the image of a spring of pleasant warmth but an image of change–of transformation, of conversion.  In the lengthening brightness from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday–our Lenten spring–we are called to offer our brokenness to God. In offering our own brokenness we can then offer the world’s brokenness to God.

Lent spring is 40 days (plus Sundays), echoing the 40 days of temptation Jesus experienced.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week.  During these weeks before Easter, the church enters into a time of reflection, repentance, prayer and fasting, and renewal. Early in the history of the Christian church, new converts were baptized on the Saturday just before Easter Sunday.  Prior to baptism, these new converts participated in an intensive spiritual formation which included instruction, mentoring, practice in spiritual disciplines, and the development of the disciplines or habits of service, justice, charity and witness.  Also at this time, previously baptized persons reflected deeply on their own conversion and ongoing transformation.  At the Saturday Easter vigil people renewed their baptismal commitments along with the new converts who were baptized for the first time.  Everyone together participated in a festive communion celebration to welcome the arrival of Easter.

As Lent begins again, I ask myself these same questions: what in me needs transforming?  What transforming does God wish to do in me?  This year, I am praying for an open heart.  It is essential for me to open my heart to ask deeper questions of God and of the world around me and to keep my heart open to hear God’s answer.

What drew me to the image above is the young woman clutching this bust of Jesus to her heart, holding him close and dear. Additionally, Jesus is pointing to his heart, as an invitation to come closer to him. This is my Lenten discipline this year: to open my heart to Jesus’s invitation to embrace his heart.