The trees are black in winter rain
Black against the white sky.
Bushes, bereft of flowers and leaves,
make black mounds against the ground.
The profile of the hills is black as well,
like piles of withered stalks melting into compost.
But blackness, like the night sky, is full of life!
After all, it is carbon that sparks life in the compost.
These trees, these bushes, these hills
are already dreaming of their new life.
Clinging to Hope During times of Drought and Darkness
I write this today, the 5th of April, a time when in normal conditions we would be having lots of rain pouring down on our land here in West Pokot County, providing the seeds we normally would have planted two weeks ago with sufficient water it needs to break down before it can sense the sunlight and start to germinate. Sadly, this precious rain has eluded us and our land for so long that today we made the decision to continue pausing our plans to plant seeds simply because the land is too parched to nurture new life from these seeds.
This delay in planting worries me because I know that if we plant later, the shortened season of rain may not be enough to sustain our crop through the critical period of growth. Which means that just like last year, we may end up losing our harvest and have to depend on buying food from the local market, an option that is not sustainable for us because it normally gets very expensive during and a few months after the period of drought. Which may make it difficult for us to sustain the food needs of the 40 women who are taking their tailoring training with us at the Jitokeze Center in Kapenguria.
The disaster management experts here have rated this drought as a being one of the worst disasters in the history of West Pokot County, that they are calling for organizations and individuals to donate products and services that can aid the people most adversely affected by this drought. Seasonal rivers and boreholes have dried up, leaves of thorny trees that are normally the last vegetation to dry up during the drought here, have also dried up so now even goats and camels don’t have enough to eat. Chickens are the only livestock that seems to be surviving this harsh drought and so families that did not invest in sufficient chickens, seem to be struggling much more at the moment.
In one home in Central Pokot, children could no longer cope with the pangs of hunger in their stomach that they hunted, killed, cooked and ate small lizards that would climb on the walls of their earthen houses hoping to get some relief from hunger only to find themselves paralyzed and dependent on the kind doctors and nurses in Kapenguria district hospital who worked tirelessly to keep them from dying from the lizards’ poison.
In times like these, we experience so much suffering and grief that it takes such great effort to imagine that the future could be any better, what makes it even more difficult is to hear news that President Trump has succeeded in stopping the enactment of the Climate Change Policy that in my opinion held a promise of facilitating the current generation of the American people to do their part in recreating a world where the future generation may have a chance of surviving the devastation that the previous and current generations have wielded on nature and on the people whose basic survival directly depends on these natural environments.
Just as bad as Trump succeeding in reversing this climate positive policy is the reality we face here in Kenya of government officials in places of power who are paid so much by the Kenyan taxpayers already and yet dare to steal from the same taxpayer by failing to deliver on services and goods that the Kenyan taxpayers pay them to deliver to the nation. The same officials require tendered vendors to plough back a percentage of every government payment made to them in order to secure their tendered business. Besides that they still go ahead to misappropriate the funds budgeted for food security and disaster response and management activities, which are vital for the survival and growth of our nation.
Amidst this darkness, this drought and faced with these giants, can we as individuals and collectively as a people find the encouragement and the courage that we need to put even more effort towards creating the better future that we hope for. Because without this ability to put out hope into action we cannot cope and we will be tempted to perceive those who compromise on a fair, just and peaceful world as the enemy, forgetting that once we perceive another as an enemy we dehumanize them and when we dehumanized the other we dehumanize ourselves too.
Personally what normally helps me to cling to the hope that I have and to act on it is to remember the struggles that I have had to fight through in my past.
These struggles that in the past caused me so much grief, so many tears so much loneliness, now bless me with affirmations of the truth of who I am and what I am made of. I am a person made of a spirit that is hopeful, courageous, strong, resilient and compassionate. I believe that many of us who face and overcome any kind of adversity in life, get to discover that these traits have always been in us and that these traits are very common in our communities.
So in times of darkness and drought it is vital that we embrace these traits in us and among us, so that when we feel overwhelmed, we may be humble enough to allow ourselves to break down and be kind enough to let our spirit rest for as long as it needs to so that when we pick ourselves up and rise from our grief we will have inside of us, that which we need to continue our fight for a future that we dream of, a future that is better not just for us as individuals, but for us all as a collective community of humans and the rest of God’s creation. Embracing the fact that we are one and there is no other, even the one who threatens us with terror from his/ her seat of power, is not an other, he or she too is like us overwhelmed by darkness and drought and in need of redemption just as we are.
May the resilient and strong spirit of the Pokot children who are fighting their way out of paralysis remind us not to give up our fight for love peace and justice no matter how dark or dry our circumstances may be at the moment. Let us cling to hope and act with hope.
“Light of the World” Cave Quest Lyrics VBS = Vacation Bible School Song from June 2016
Sung by Giselle (5 ½) and Luis (8 ½) Garcia Dugdale
They chose this song for CBC’s Lent devotional because of its message of hope: God’s love for us throughout the world!
VERSE 1 & 2:
The world is searching for an answer, a ray of hope in a hopeless world
Who can we turn to? Where is our rescue?
There is someone. He’s the answer. He’s the light and he’ll light the way.
His name is Jesus and he came to save us!
He is the light light light, light of the world
And he shines shines shines, all over the earth
Shining bright bright bright. He is the light of the world! (repeat Chorus)
The Psalmist writes, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5). Reading this passage reminded me of another Psalm, a long-time favorite of mine:
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negev.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves. (Psalm 126)
Maybe because I grew up in farming communities, the pastoral psalms speak to my heart in a singular way. I never feel quite as at home in a city as I do in the country, never as thrilled by buildings as I am by fields and mountains. At the opening of Psalm 126, which speaks of fields and flowing water, the Psalmist has experienced a good harvest. This Psalm is a Song of Ascents, a prayer the Hebrew people might have spoken or sung as they ascended the temple mount in Jerusalem on a special day. At different times in its history, this Psalm may have been used to celebrate the joy of harvest as well as the deliverance of the people from exile and bondage. There is joy because the Lord has restored the fortunes of Zion; everyone is laughing, and there is rejoicing because of the great things God has done. It’s party time! God’s people have been delivered, and they are celebrating. They are enjoying the fruits of their labors. “The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced,” proclaim the people. Understandably, there is a sense of hope and of thanksgiving. When the harvest is safely gathered in, it is easy to feel the assurance that God is good and all is right with the world.
The opening of Psalm 126 bursts with the hope of harvest, so why is it that by verse 4, the Psalmist must pray, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord”? Clearly, between verses 3 and 4 we have suddenly been bumped from praise for God’s acts in the present to petitions for God’s acts in the future. Hope for restoration is now in the future rather than in the past tense. As in Psalm 30, the people are enduring a time of weeping. What’s interesting to me, though, is that even though they weep, they are still sowing seeds. Through their tears, they somehow continue the work of planting new life. Even though they are filled with grief, they are choosing to engage in an act of hope. When one can see only dirt and dry seeds, it is often difficult to believe that anything green will ever grow and be fruitful. Though the people sow in tears, the Psalmist is confident that they will “reap with shouts of joy.” Though they “go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,” they will “come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” Though they cannot yet see the harvest that will come, they sow with tears and dry seeds, in hope that the harvest will one day come.
It is so difficult to have hope for ourselves and for the world when everything seems to be falling to pieces around us. I once knew a man whose favorite phrase was “get over it.” No matter what your trouble, this man didn’t really want to hear it. You’re depressed? Get over it. You’re stressed out? Get over it. You’re worried? Get over it. I would submit that this attitude, while popular with some in today’s culture, leads not to healing, not to growth, but to a subversion of reality that will lead only to more despair. “Get over it,” we may say to each other. “Chin up, don’t cry.” Psalm 126, however, paints a very different picture of the true healing that leads to hope. In skipping the tears that come with sowing our seeds of anxiety, grief, and very real worries for the world, we deprive ourselves of flowing waters that were meant to help us grow and heal. Dr. Dan Bagby, my exceptional and wise pastoral care professor, wrote, “Tears have celebrated our joys, stated our frustrations, and carried our grief. Tears have presided over the most significant moments in the human journey.” Hope may be hard to find. But the Psalmist’s gardeners sow their seeds with tears, somehow still hoping that the God who sees their tears will bring a harvest from dry ground. God does not expect us to “get over it” but invites us to sow with tears so that new growth might come from this sacred struggle.
As we care for others and strive to change our world for the better, we may grow weary. At times, we may even feel despair, overwhelmed with the tasks that are before us. Our community has discussed the importance of self-care during this struggle, because if we don’t care for ourselves we may indeed lose the ability to engage in this very important work. Some of our self-care may involve grieving together when this is needed. The tears that flow through our community remind us of the common humanity that we share and the common task that we face, because we do not face it alone. We may grieve, but we will continue to plant. We can sow our seeds of hope while weeping, knowing that through God who is in the waters of deliverance as well as in the tears of our sowing, we still have hope that new life will come. Amen.
Pieces of Her Life
by Melissa Clark
“Minnie, you’ll be a beautiful bride! Can we see your wedding dress before we start?”
It’s a sunny day, warm enough for the two quilting frames to be set up out on the lawn although there is a certain steeliness to the northern horizon. Birds are gathering in flocks, ready to fly south for the winter, their voices mixing with the trilling of the canary on the porch and the laughter of a dozen girls.
Everyone goes inside and puts her contribution for the evening box social in the kitchen, each boxed meal wrapped and decorated in such a way that it could be identified (hopefully) by the right young man. Jars of pickled beets, green beans, and carrots are glowing in the sun, ready to be opened for lunch. In the center of the dining room table, which covered with the lace tablecloth normally reserved for Sundays and holidays, stands a seven-layer cake. The smell of a chicken and onion casserole and freshly baked rolls fills the house, and jewel-like bottles of rhubarb juice stand by the punch bowl, ready to be added when the sugared water is mixed with the ice already chipped off the big block in the icebox.
Minnie runs up the steps to her rose papered room, and comes down with a very plain, dove-gray serge dress, unornamented except for small pearl buttons. “John said if I was spending money on a new dress, it should be serviceable, something I can wear for a long time. I expect he’s right,” she says, but with a tiny doubt in her voice.
“You’ll look beautiful in it,” says her friend Martha and, glancing down at her own generous figure, laughingly adds, “and unlike me – you won’t even need to wear a corset.”
“Let’s get to work, girls – we have ten quilts to knot and two to quilt before evening and the men arrive.” Minnie, whose engagement bee this is, has been piecing the tops since she was ten. Eleven of the quilts are records of her life, pieced out of her dresses and those of her mother, as well as flour sacks and material she had traded with her friends. Most are simple patterns, either nine-patch or log cabin, to be stockpiled for the babies that would probably start arriving every year or two. One quilt, in a pattern called Bird In A Cage, had been pieced and signed by her friends, and would go on the guest bed. The wedding quilt is a Baltimore Album appliqué quilt that she has worked on for two years. It is the only one made of new store-bought material, the unfaded colors glowing vividly. For her entire marriage it would be displayed on her bed whenever company came.
“Addie, why don’t you and Ellen work on knotting the everyday quilts – your stitches still aren’t fifteen to the inch, although you are getting better.”
“All right, we’ll spread them out on the grass.”
Spreading out a nine-patch top, Addie suddenly says, “Look, Minnie, here’s a piece of your confirmation dress. And this is from the dress you wore the first time you sang solo in church.” All the girls gather around the tops and start to point out material that has pieced their lives together.
Settling down to work, Martha asks, “Minnie, what are you singing tomorrow?” “The Old Rugged Cross,” she answers. “It’s my favorite, and this is my last Sunday of singing in the choir.”
“Why,” asks Muriel as she ends her thread and rethreads her needle.
“John says coming to town for practice and for church on Sunday isn’t good for the horses, he says they’re needed on the farm. And he says a farm wife has too much to do to go gallivanting. I’ll just have to read the Bible at home,” Minnie replies, glancing north to where the farm is located under the foreboding gray horizon moving towards the village.
Martha says, “It’s hard to believe you’ll be a farm wife in a week. You’ll be a good one, though. You’re great at cooking and canning.”
“I’ve been canning produce when John brings it; we should have plenty for the winter.”
The girls settle down to work, needles flashing in the sun. They are finishing the last one, the wedding quilt, as the young men they are dating arrive in buggies to take them to the box supper the young unmarried group is having at the church. Taking it out of the frame, they hold it up to admire it and then add it to the top of the stack.
Handing John the stack of quilts, Minnie says, “Put these in the buggy and take them out to the farm. The one on top goes on our bed. Isn’t it pretty?”
He replies approvingly, “Lots of quilts here. They’ll reduce the amount of firewood we’ll need this winter.” He puts the quilts in the back of the buggy and says, “Clouds are rolling in. We’d better be on our way.”
Minnie says, “This evening should be fun. Even though after next week we’ll not be part of the young unmarried group, we can still see them. It’s almost time for apple buttering; let’s have a party in our orchard.”
John replies, “That’s a lot of foolishness. I joined the group to get a wife and I have. From now on we won’t have time for parties. We can do the work ourselves and keep all the apple butter.” The rest of the ride is in silence.
During the supper a massive storm moves through the area. Everyone has fun, although an angry look crosses John’s face as the other young men bid up Minnie’s box. He pays up though. After the dancing John takes Minnie home and heads out towards the farm, hoping to beat the aftermath of the storm.
The week passes and the next Saturday John and Minnie are wed. Leaving in a hail of rice they start on the journey to the farm and their life together. When they arrive John says, “Go on in. I’ll be in as soon as I put the team away.” When he comes in the farmhouse Minnie says, “John, you put the wrong quilt on our bed. The Bird In A Cage quilt is for the guest bed. Where’s the other quilt, our marriage quilt.”
John replies, “The buggy got stuck that night after the storm. Grabbed the top quilt to use for traction. We’ve got plenty of other quilts though. That one’s in the barn. We can use it when the cow throws her calf.” Seeing her expression he then adds, “Minnie, the buggy was stuck, I grabbed the one on top. I’m not one to worry over trifles. I’ll bank the fire. You go ahead and get in bed.”
An hour later John is asleep. Minnie, however, sits propped up ’til dawn, her aching body preventing sleep, her hand tracing the seams of the quilt over and over. In the early dawn she sees a flock of geese flying south and the thought comes into her mind, “I want to go where the wild birds go.” Glancing over at her sleeping husband, she shudders, and then gets up to get dressed and start the fire for his breakfast.