Friday, May 28, 2010

Some Space Required

I have been living in Burundi for a year now. This has become a space for me to try some new things, learn some lessons and even confront some personal unpleasantries, to be candid. As I've shared previously, one thing that has changed rather naturally here is my diet. We began last year with a family routine that included meat on the dinner table about 4 times a week. But then last summer the electricity in the city started to be off more than on, and this presented some challenges for preserving meat and ensuring its freshness. So we ended up eating less meat - none at home and even little elsewhere. We also had a change in house help, and the new person cannot cook tender beef, but he can cook succulent fish. So we began eating fish a few times a week instead. Here we are a year later, and we now are pretty much a meatless household. It just happened in this context, and I am learning that I can eat less meat and still feel healthy and even happy! This space has given me the chance to try something new and learn that it fits me.

I was thinking this week about space, and how you cannot underestimate the unexpected things that can happen when given a bit of undefined space. Last summer we had a couple of friends living with us here in Bujumbura. Here, of all places, they decided to start learning Spanish together. Not Kirundi or French, which are in operation here, but Spanish for their return to Arizona. Every night they would be hold up in their room making flash cards, conjugating verbs and working toward an authentic accent. What happened in that bedroom in Burundi that sparked their interest to learn Spanish with such dedication? I still do not really know. But I can say that they have continued in their linguistic efforts and will be living in Spain this year. Something happened when they had this space to explore something new and try it on. And as a result of taking advantage of that space, they are onto a new adventure!

Another friend came to Burundi and found space to exhale from a toxic relationship, to find space to imagine a life lived differently, to muster enough courage to make a decision and find a bit of healing in the process. We had no expectation for her visit, other to enjoy her presence. But in a place with little expectation there seemed to be an abundance of freedom to explore new possibilities for a new future.

So this has me thinking about space...

I recall, without academic clarity, an image from my seminary days. My Hebrew professor was exegeting an Old Testament text about intercessory prayer. And the concrete image the Hebrew language employed to describe intercessory prayer was one of creating physical space. The picture, she explained, was of a person hemmed in on every side by trouble and hardship, a person with no room to move. The action of intercession, according to the Hebraic language, was making space around the person, pushing back the things that constricted the supplicant, so that there was room to move, to breathe, to exhale. So when we intercede for others, we are asking God to create space around them, to give them space to move free from external pressures. Maybe it is a prayer that allows them just enough space to reach out to God. But while I cannot recall the text or actual word, I have never forgotten that powerful image. When we pray for another, we are making space for them.

And what I am discovering about space is that it is a creative, constructive and cathartic place. Somehow there is space where things within you can unfold. Maybe the space allows new potential to surface, to emerge like green buds sprouting from the dark soil of life. Maybe, as it has been for me, space allows you to try some new habits and see if it fits. There is a non-judgmental place where you can experiment, discover and investigate things you might never try at home. I don't know... I just know that I seem to need lots of space and I definitely benefit from it!

Friends have told Claude and I that we have a way of 'creating space.' We have no idea how we do it, really. We just show up and invite others to do the same. We set a table, put out some food, and are often surprised at what happens when we gather.

So is space a zone we inhabit or a gift we give to others? Is it both? It seems to be hard to define and yet so crucial for those of us longing for transformation. We need space to move, to explore, to try new things and heal from old hurts. Maybe we need to go somewhere for such space, maybe we need to find someone to be that space for us. But I don't think I am the only one who needs space in my life!

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