mainestewards

September 27, 2011

Shana Tova!

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 3:19 pm

On the first Sunday after I arrived in our South African village, I got up, motivated the family, and headed out to the local parish church, naïve to the challenges of worshiping as an Episcopalian in the Anglican Communion. They had a supply priest that Sunday; he was great. We went back the next Sunday; not so great.

But it was only July; there was still plenty of Ordinary Time remaining. Surely we would be settled in somewhere in time for Advent. I proceeded confidently to the internet café, looked up all of the parishes in our area and noted the service times for those offering Eucharist in English. It was a short list. A few more tries and we realized that if we were going to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers, we were going to have to be creative.

If you’ve never been in this particular wilderness, let me tell you: Christmas without Advent is just plain weird. First there is the simple issue of timing and preparedness: I literally forgot to start shopping and nearly missed getting parcels in the mail on time, all because I didn’t have those four candles pacing my preparations each week. My heart was untethered as well: How would I welcome the Christ Child if Mary didn’t journey to Bethlehem? How would Emmanuel come if John didn’t prepare the way?

It was hard.

While all of this was unfolding within me and in my home, I was also learning to navigate the village. I was figuring out which shops were closed from 12-2 on Fridays while their proprietors attended prayer. I was accepting that “sundown” was a moving target. And I was getting over my disappointment that in our little pocket of the country Sunday was the quietest day of the week—in my mother and father in law’s neighborhood the singing went through the streets for hours; I missed that.

It was in my second year that I finally learned the deeper lesson that for this time, my sense of groundedness would come not from the colors on the altar or the progression of liturgical seasons. It would come from a little deeper inside me, and a little further down in the Baptismal Covenant, where I vowed to love my neighbor as myself, to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

Here’s what happened.

I bumped into a colleague I hadn’t seen for a few weeks. The last time I had talked with her, she was really excited about going home for Dewali, so I asked after her holiday. She glowed with the joy of time with family, then touched me lightly on the arm, “And you’re next! Will you travel for Christmas? It must be hard to be so far away. What are your plans?”

In that simple and heartfelt gesture, she opened my eyes to a change that I hadn’t even realized I had absorbed. I had learned to move through a different unfolding of seasons. Instead of a liturgical calendar, I rode a wave of faith and family that began with the solemnity of Ramadan and the lavish delight of Eid Al-Fitr. The High Holy Days marked a time of renewal and reflection…and before we knew it the fabric merchants had moved bolts and bolts of fabulous sari fabrics to the front of the store for Dewali.

Then it was my turn. And when it was my turn, I had a new understanding of my faith in context, a new way of seeing my traditions and celebrations. When my colleague said, “You’re next!,” she was loving her neighbor as herself. She was practicing stewardship of otherness. She was encouraging me to be myself. From that awakening, I really did have a Christmas unlike any other—as we moved through our celebrations, my imagination danced with other families, celebrating other holidays, each just as happy in their moment as mine was in ours.

I’ve been thinking about my neighbors a lot this week, with the approach of Rosh Hoshanna and Yom Kippur. Whether by faith or in some other aspect of self, each of us is other. Each of us is bound, whether by baptism or by another rite, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

Look around. Enjoy one another. Shana tova; gmar chatima tova

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