09 March 2011

Anatomy of exile

This month's synchroblog, in the week in which Lent begins, is on Experiences in the wilderness. March Synchroblog – Experiences In The Wilderness – 3/9/2011 | synchroblog:
During the season of Lent we are reminded that all of us experience wilderness times in our lives – times of searching, of mourning, of anticipating, of waiting, of watching, of unknowing, of struggling, of preparation. Join us during the season of Lent for this month’s synchroblog as we reflect and share insights and thoughts about “Experiences In The Wilderness”.

As I look back on my life I can recall several experiences that could be said to be experiences of the wilderness, some literal, some figurative.
I won't go into all the details of all these now; for the sake of those who might be interested, I've linked a couple of them to other posts that give some more details.

The first, flight into exile in the UK, was not a real wilderness experience, though it felt like it at the time. I had finished my BA degree at the University of Natal, and was working as a bus driver in Johannesburg to try to raise money for postgraduate study in the UK. I needed to be in the UK at the end of September, but in January a man from the Security Police phoned me and wanted to see me. I thought he was either going to give me a banning order, or confiscate my passport, so I scarpered the same night, driving to Bulawayo and catching a plane to London from there. When I got back two-and-a-half years later they came and confiscated my passport. It wasn't really exile, but it felt like it because of the sudden and unexpected parting from friends and family and arriving in a strange country with no money and no job. I felt, in a very mild way, what refugees must feel like.

The last, churchlessness, was when we left the Anglican Church in 1985, and asked to join the Orthodox Church, which entailed writing a letter to the bishop. The bishop referred the letter to the Pope, who said he must refer it to the Holy Synod, but then died before the Holy Synod could consider it. The Anglican Church sent a lawyer after me, who unfairly and unjustly accused me of stealing church property, and was extremely nasty about it. So we were left in a kind of ecclesiastical wilderness, and at times both Val and I entertained thoughts of going up to the railway line that runs over the road from us and throwing ourselves under a passing train. Neither of us told the other about these thoughts until long afterwards; it was definitely a spiritual wilderness experience.

After being deported from Namibia I read a book called The anatomy of exile: a semantic and historical study, and though I can now remember very little of what it said, it made me reflect on the experience of exile, and to realise that what I missed most was not so much places, as people.

But in Lent, and especially in the first week of Lent, we are reminded that all our earthly experiences of exile are actually pointers to a larger exile, and the hymns of the church focus on the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.

In Western theology there is the idea of dwelling in the Land of Unlikeness, where we have lost the likeness of God in which we were created.

In the Orthodox Church we have the picture of of Adam weeping at the gates of Paradise and lamenting:

The Word of God the Father,
begotten before the ages,
in the latter times willed to be incarnate of the Virgin
and endured crucifixion unto death.
He has saved mortal man//
by His Resurrection.

v. (6) If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You.

Tone 6 (from the Lenten Triodion)

The Lord took a handful of dust from the earth.
He breathed into it, and created me, a living man.
He made me lord and master of all things on earth;
truly I enjoyed the life of the Angels.
But Satan the deceiver tempted me in the guise of a serpent;
I ate the forbidden fruit and forfeited the glory of God.
Now I have been delivered to the earth through death.//
O my compassionate Lord, call me back to Eden!

v. (5) For Your name's sake I have waited for You, O Lord, my soul has waited for Your word; my soul has hoped on the Lord.

When the Enemy tempted me,
I disobeyed Your command, O Lord.
I exchanged the glory of my mortal body for shame and nakedness.
Now I must wear garments of skins and fig-leaves;
I am condemned to eat the bread of bitter hardship in the sweat of my
The earth is cursed and brings forth thorns and husks for me.
O Lord, You took on flesh from the Virgin in the fullness of time;//
call me back and restore me to Eden!

v. (4) From the morning watch until night, from the morning watch, let Israel hope on the Lord!

O Paradise, garden of delight and beauty,
dwelling-place made perfect by God,
unending gladness and eternal joy,
the hope of the Prophets and the home of the saints,
by the music of your rustling leaves beseech the Creator of all
to open the gates which my sins have closed,
that I may partake of the Tree of Life and Grace,//
which was given to me in the beginning!

v. (3) For with the Lord there is mercy and with Him is plenteous redemption, and He will deliver Israel from all his iniquities.
This post is part of a Synchroblog, in which several bloggers post articles on the same general theme. This month's theme is "Experiences in the Wilderness", and here are some other blog posts on the theme.


The Singular Observer said...

Steve, you are touching some very raw wounds, and some very tender spots.

Have a blessed Lent.

Anonymous said...

Like you my most painful wilderness experiences have included the loss of relationships and community.

PS I finally got my post up. Here's the link: http://gracerules.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/beauty-in-the-wilderness/

Jeremy Myers said...

I like that you posted a story of your wilderness experience. It helps me connect with you. Thank you for sharing.

Tammy Carter said...

Thanks for your honesty, Steve. Such a HARD place to be when thoughts take you to "throw yourself under a passing train". I appreciate the sharing of the Orthodox scripture, "call me back and restore me to Eden". True hearts cry to desire freedom in His original plan/purpose for me.

Beth P. said...

I didn't post to this synchroblog prompt, but wanted you to know how inspired I was by the sharing of your experience of exile/otherness. Thank you for sharing it. It is the human condition--on some level we all often feel like we're in exile from the Heart.

Blessed Lenten season to you--


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