Around 6:30 every morning, I wake up to the sound of children laughing in the street and to the warmth of the rising sun shining through my open window. It’s become a lovely ritual, not waking up to an alarm clock, but instead waking up to the beautiful music that is found in the rhythm of the streets of Kigali. As has become a tradition in my life, I read a poem every morning from Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. I’ve never been one to read poetry, but when I was introduced to this book, I found that when I read poetry in the morning it all makes sense. The words flow together and create beautiful imagery that so many can see all the time, but I am only able to see it in the mornings. My mind is without thoughts, the day is fresh and there is nothing to distract me from the artistic words spilled onto each page of the book. A few mornings ago, this poem stuck out to me and I have been carrying the words with me as I encounter new people and new stories.
She who reconciles the ill-matched threads of her life,
and weaves them gratefully into a single cloth-
It’s she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration.
Where the one guest is you.
In the softness of the evening
it’s you she receives.
You are the partner of her loneliness,
the unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
and she stretches beyond what limits her
to hold you.
Rilke’s Book of Hours (I, 17)
Each poem in this book is a poem written to God. As Rilke began to experience a new world, he wrote these poems and I am reading them and soaking them in as I too experience a new world. In this poem, the subject is a woman. A lonely woman, perhaps a widow. Perhaps an orphan. Perhaps no different at all from the thousands who walk down the streets of Kigali each day. She is sad and she is vulnerable, but she has found hope in Christ. Everywhere I go, I see similar stories. Though she is alone in this world, she is never truly alone. She calls out to God and He listens.
The first line in particular stands out to me: She who reconciles the ill-matched threads of her life and weaves them gratefully into a single cloth. I often think about the circumstances in which the people of Rwanda find themselves in. So many are living in shacks without electricity and running water and these are the places that they call home. Mothers are raising six children alone. Ten year olds are raising their younger siblings. There are children here who have never known what it feels like to be a child. There are women who have never felt the love of a husband. I read this poem and I see Rwanda. The people here take their hodge podge of unfortunate circumstances and turn them into something good. I am able to see an unbelievable amount of joy here unlike anywhere in the world. I am amazed at the way people do not look at their circumstances and say, “We don’t have enough.” Always there are answers like, “We are able to eat,” or “We have enough for now.” The ill-matched threads of poverty and injustice are woven together with Christ to make a beautiful picture of a minimal life where life in Christ is enough.
Looking at the last line, I am struck again with a picture of Rwanda: She stretches beyond what limits her to hold you. It is so easy for me to sometimes look at my circumstances and give up all hope. Life is too stressful, I work too hard, I’m tired, I’m hungry, I wish things were different…don’t we all use these phrases all too often? Someone has commented to me here about the difference between children in Africa and children in America. The parents wonder how children in America have any faith. When I asked what they meant they went on to say that in America you can have everything you need, so how would we ever understand what it means to be dependent on God? It’s easy to thank God for giving you everything you need. It’s harder to thank God when everything is taken away and we are left alone in a room with nothing but a God who we are frustrated with. Yet what I see here is that when everything is gone, the people are drawn even closer to God. There are many limits: no food, no roof, no job, no family. Yet the people of Rwanda stretch beyond these many limits and embrace God so wholly, I don’t even know how to respond. Perhaps what is missing in America is the fact that not enough is missing. We are beyond blessed and it too often turns into a distraction.
At Bethany, the Spilling Hope campaign encouraged you to live simply. The purpose of that was far beyond just saving money to donate. Though the money donated went above and beyond the expected amount, that is only half of the equation. The other half was to show you that by living simply, others are able to live with the bare essentials we so often take for granted. Clean water is something we all need, yet it is something that not enough of us have. Look at the world around you and see the need that is everywhere. Step outside your front door and ask yourself who is vulnerable in your community. Is it the neighbor across the street? Is it the man selling Real Change under the Ballard Bridge? Is it the person on the other side of your cubicle wall? Help those around you to reconcile the ill-matched threads of their lives and together you can weave a beautiful tapestry of love, justice and mercy in our world.