Dear community members, family, and friends,
Our world is one of shifting sands these days…..As I write from this desert land, that seems like a good image for this moment in time! And…Mary Oliver writes in “Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness”
And therefore who would cry out to the petals on the ground
to stay knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married to the vitality of what will be.
We are now in Ordinary time.....and our time is anything but ordinary!
Life here changes each day. It turns out that my last commitment, as of this week, is now the community retreat toward the end of July. Therefore, I am waiting to see when the airport here will re-open so that perhaps, I can make arrangements to return home sooner than originally planned. Of course, I expect to go into two weeks of isolation/quarantine when I arrive. My community at home is on the mend and they are assuming some sense of normalcy with opportunities for common prayer and meals together at least.
I have now been in Namibia since last September. As I write, I am looking forward to these next weeks of farewells with my directees and endings for my classes. Although our night temperatures are in the 30s and even some weeks in the 20s, I continue to enjoy the starry skies that brighten our nights and the brilliant sun that shines wonderfully each day, I am preparing myself for leaving this community and this African country, which I have come to love and admire.
Namibia seems to have done well, until now, in preventing the spread of this horrible virus that has had such treacherous effects around our world. Until one week ago, we only had 25 Covid19 cases here, all of which were in people who had traveled here from abroad. Now, the number of cases has increased to 90 and no deaths have occurred as far as I know. Most new cases are in one area of the country but a few are in Windhoek where this priory is located on the outskirts. Over the last month or so, the government has been bringing Namibians back home and paying to quarantine them at tourist lodges for 14 days. The new cases began to emerge in one section of the country (Walvis Bay - on the Atlantic south of Swakapmund) and the government put that region back into Phase 1 (lockdown). This past week schools opened with strict requirements and monitoring and introduced Phase 4 (now of 5 phases….) for the rest of the country. This means that gatherings of 250 people or less are allowed.
The Namibian government, as with leaders of many other countries, is trying to balance the health and economic crises they face. The President recently said: “The pandemic we face today is unprecedented, but I am confident that by working collaboratively, we will respond effectively to minimize the spread of the virus ... and restart our economic activities," The Namibian government last week announced an 8.1 billion Namibian dollar ($478,000) economic stimulus package in a bid to minimize the impact of COVID-19…” This country is plagued by several other diseases that cause many deaths each year – malaria and tuberculosis. They are trying to be pro-active regarding Covid19 but, as elsewhere, some people are not being cooperative.
This next week I will be going to the north with one of the Sisters to see one of the missions and then, to Namibia’s big game reserve with four others. I had been thinking that neither one of these trips would be possible so I am grateful for the opportunity and will write you about them before I leave Africa for home.
Since I last wrote one of these missives, on Easter Sunday, we have
had a first monastic profession for four young women,
celebrated Africa Day (a day established by the African Congress to promote unity among the 54 countries on this continent),
welcomed back three juniors who had been in Tanzania since December,
begun a class in Christology for the one novice (I hope to attach a link to a video of her dancing at the profession of her companions.),
had several classes on Benedictine spirituality with the four postulants (they are delightful!), and
had two classes with the four aspirants in human development so far.
Preparing for these classes has been enriching for me, to say the least. I was privileged to lead the four novices in a five day retreat prior to their first profession and will include a photo we took on the last day of our retreat. It has been a full time for me. In addition, I have begun to meet with Abbot Godfrey for an hour each week to learn more about the history of southwestern Africa. He has been here in South Africa and Namibia for more than 50 years so knows a lot through first hand experience. I come with many questions for him. Our discussions are very enjoyable!
On another note, some of you have asked about how Bethany House is doing in the midst of all these crises. Darlene Gramigna, our Executive Director, and Sister Peggy Geraghty , BVM, the interim Board President, are doing a wonderful job. Bethany House has now moved from the northwest suburb location to a wonderful building in Hyde Park which has given the young women more opportunities in the city. We are partnering with a men’s religious order at this new location and they have provided the space to us rent free which has kept our expenses in check during this time of lockdown! The new building allows us to accommodate more young women so that is a blessing. I look forward to reconnecting there upon my return.
During the month of Ramadan, one of our faithful supporters organized a special fundraising effort for us and for Viator House (our brother-program for young men) and that provided Bethany House with a marvelous donation of some $22,000. As I walked across the monastery property here in Namibia each evening, I watched the moon during that whole month and gave thanks for all the generous people who gave to this work during the month of Ramadan in such a special way!
With keen awareness of the many-pronged crises back home and the many who are attempting on some levels to address the endemic racism which persists, I am including a story that a friend of mine shared as part of a reflection on that reality and, with his permission, I quote from it:
I have borrowed the story, with some minor changes I have made, from a spiritual writer named Henri Nouwen; he borrowed the story from the Talmud Hebrew Tradition.
Many, many hundreds of years ago when Jerusalem was not a divided city, travelers from far away and people who lived at the margins of the City would enter it through the principal City Gate. And by this gate certain men and women had the role of hospitality, welcoming the traveler, the stranger, and the marginalized… They offered them directions, support, immediate services if needed, and sometimes healing ointment as they made their way into the heart of the City. Many of those entering the city had bandages from wounds or cuts suffered along the way.
One of these greeters was a woman who also had herself a couple of bandages on an arm and a leg. She was excellent at showing hospitality, providing services to the traveler and the marginalized, and offering much healing care. She would spend most her day by the gate ministering to those who came through it. She was especially good at helping them with their bandages and with ointment for their painful wounds. But she would also take a couple of breaks during each day to go to a shady corner nearby and unwrap her own bandages, touch her own wounds with her healing ointments, and often touching the pain that they produced; but then, after rewrapping them with a fresh bandage, she would return to her post by the gate. She was truly a wounded healer. She knew how to touch and take care of her own pain and suffering; and because she did, she was very capable to do the same with others and help to provide them with healing for their own wounds.
As the story goes, two other greeters were also at the gate. The second one was a man who also had bandages like the woman who was the wounded healer. But he was too afraid and unwilling to unwrap the bandages and touch his pain and the wounds. He never did so. So he acted as if they did not exist. And he dealt with all the wounded travelers and strangers the same way. He ignored their real needs and their pain. The third greeter was a woman who also had very similar wounds and bandages as the first two. She, however, spent most of her time in a shady corner nearby constantly taking off the bandages over her wounds and constantly putting ointment on them and especially feeling very sorry for herself all the time. She could not handle or really touch her own suffering and pain. As a result, she hardly had any time for those entering through the city gate.
It was only the wounded healer who could touch her own wounds, who on a daily basis kept offering the much needed service and healing of all those entering through the gate.
There are, of course, many ways to have and experience wounds. Certainly there are those physical wounds that occur from an accident, a surgery, or even a violent encounter. But prejudice and discrimination and systemic discrimination because of our race, or ethnicity, or gender, or sexual orientation, can also especially cause deep wounds in our souls. Experiencing police mistreatment, being profiled, unfair civil and judicial systems, being accused falsely and not being able to defend ourselves, they all bring about much pain and suffering that result in us being wounded.
Women religious in the United States are trying to respond to the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests engulfing cities by affirming the Black Lives Matter movement, acknowledging their congregations' history of white supremacy and personal white privilege, and calling for peaceful and concrete action toward racial justice. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, whose 40,000 members represent 80% of U.S. sisters, said in their May 30 statement that they "acknowledge our own complicity in institutional racism; we ask forgiveness of our sisters and brothers of color; and we pray for our nation's healing, and we know that is not enough."
The National Black Sisters' Conference elevated the voices of black activists and writers of the past 150 years: Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. Echoing the writing of Wells, the conference titled their statement: "21st Century Lynchings in America: Our Red Record Statement."
"America's sensibility is still hardened in the twenty-first century. Black Americans still scream in horror. We still cannot breathe. Black Lives still do not Matter," they wrote.
One-hundred and twenty-four years later we are still writing the same story! African American men, women, and children are still being lynched, murdered, and executed for playing with a toy gun, watching television in one's own home, and mistaken identity, driving or jogging while black, and being choked to death in cold blood by law enforcement officers, who have sworn to serve and protect.
…and I recall the time when Traevon Martin was killed as he jogged. His death prompted the Black Lives Matter movement some years back. Perhaps now that effort will bear some new fruit…..
So much to think about! I am seeing it all through the disbelieving eyes of young Namibians these days. May our world evolve for the better in their lifetimes!
Sister Patricia Crowley, OSB
A song you might enjoy (from a friend):
Jim Croegaert's "Was It A Morning Like This".