By the Rivers of Babylon

Written on Friday, 2nd October, 2015

One of the readings for Mass on Wednesday, 30th September 2015, was taken from Psalms 137: 1-4.  It reminded me of a popular song that I am sure we all know:

By the Rivers of Babylon/where we sat down/there we wept/when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars, we hung our harps/ For here our captors asked us for songs/
Our tormentors demanded songs of joy/ They said ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion’/
How can we sing the songs of the Lord/ while in a foreign land?

I know the Boney M version of this song, which my mum and late father had LP disks of and which we therefore grew up listening to. When this Psalm was read in church that Wednesday during lunchtime Mass, it took me back to those days of our LP record player which Anguo (our dad) imported during one of his work travels abroad when we lived in Malindi, in the mid 80’s.

Besides the nostalgic memory that this reading aroused, the sermon given by the priest made the song even more poignant.

You see, I had never quite understood the context of this song. I learned properly, that Wednesday, and thereafter upon more research, that it was sung at a particular time when the Jews were in exile in Babylon. They had been taken away from their land by King Nebuchadnezzar, who by the way, I came to learn, was a very short man and that he ‘made up’ for his lack of height by being extremely cruel. As we all know, Adolf Hitler was also quite short. But this is not about short people, and certainly not about cruel people.

The Jews felt insulted when they were asked to sing the songs of Zion in Babylon. They asked, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” This line spoke to me strongly. I thought of how at times we feel that we are out of our comfort zone because of problems happening in our lives. You may physically be in the same house or place where you always are, but when things are tough or rough, it feels very much like you are in exile. It feels like you are away from home and have been captured by cruel captors- whoever they may be, whatever they may be.

At times, the woes are to do with relationships, maybe a relationship that is going sour, between you and a friend, or partner, or between you and family member. At times it’s financial, when ends just are not meeting, or at times a job is not coming through and yet you have been praying for one for ages. Other times, it is a death in the family that leaves you with more questions than answers. Or a situation where you feel like your life is in limbo, or that you have been disappointed by someone, or worse still, that you have disappointed yourself because you have reneged on a promise or commitment that you made to yourself or to someone. In this sense, there are many ‘Babylons’ in our lives- so to speak.

Now, hold that thought and let me take you also to the First Reading of that Wednesday  Mass. It was taken from the Book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah, who was an Israelite prophet, was asking a king of a place where they had been exiled to, to allow him to go back to Jerusalem to build the Lord’s temple which had been destroyed during the capture of Jews. Nehemiah did not expect a favorable answer from his captor because this King was a non-Jew, but he- Nehemiah- asked God to grant him favor. In an interesting twist of things, the king granted him not only permission to go but also materials to rebuild the temple.

How does it connect? You see, a huge part of why the Jews were feeling so lost in Babylon, besides the cruelty of Nebuchadnezzar, was that they were being forced to worship the gods of the place where they were. Their temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed and it felt like God had left the temple. Can you imagine that? God had left the temple. The place where God was supposed to dwell. The place that was specifically built for Him to dwell.

Here is where I connect the two references. For those who are believers, we are often told that our bodies are the temple of the Lord. Literally this means that God dwells in us, in our bodies, in our heats in our minds. And when we are feeling troubled because of some of the reasons I mentioned above, it is easy to feel like God has left the temple. At times we feel that maybe we have done wrong and have thus ‘destroyed’ the temple and have been captured by whatever the bad forces are, and thus God surely cannot still be living with us.

But that’s the point I want to make that I learned from the reading that Wednesday. God never quite leaves us. He still dwells in us. In fact, what the priest said at that Mass, was that even when our hearts are sad, desolate, empty… our hearts can still be the temple of the Lord. So we mustn’t give up. We must just work on rebuilding it. He is always willing to stay and when we feel empty, it is not because He has left, it is because we let the ‘captors’ blind us. He never quite leaves. Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that comforting?

In concluding, if you feel like you are in Babylon right now, sitting by the river, weeping, remembering Zion, remembering a time when you were happy, when things were in order, when everything was happening as it should, don’t despair. You will ‘return home’ one day, or home will return to you. Or perhaps, you will even create a new home and it will be as good as, or better, than the one you left. You will have reason to sing the Lord’s song again. We will have reason to sing again. Let us sing, then, even in the meantime. As hard as it is, we are required to remain hopeful not despite being in exile, but especially when we are in exile. The city will be rebuilt. The temple will be rebuilt. And, if you allow Him, the Lord will show you that He is still in the temple, still on the throne, and He will stay in there, for better for worse.

I hope these thoughts uplift you as they did me. By the Rivers of Babylon.


All Souls Day, 2016

Wednesday 2nd November 2016

For all loved and missed souls on this 2016 All Souls Day.

Those who left us, who went ahead of us, we remember you today with much love and affection. We miss you. We still love you. We are thankful for the time that we had with you. We are hopeful that we will meet again some day, and what joy there shall be!

Wonder if you will still be the same? Wonder if you will laugh the same and smile the same. You remain in our hearts forever. We cried for you, we still cry sometimes when we remember what you were and what could have been if you were still around. But such is life, we are only here for a while.

What is it like to be gone, dear ones? Are you gone, gone like for real gone, no hearing anything, no seeing anything, no feeling anything? Just like that, gone for good? How intriguing, how sad.

Yet here we are, living our lives as if the universe owes us. Living our lives as if we are better than those before us and those behind us. Yet, we are just passing by too. Just here to make our mark and then leave. Just here to experience this thing called life with all its surprises and shocks, here to be each other’s keepers, fellow voyagers.

One day and we have no idea when, we’ll reach our stop and we’ll have to get off the bus. We may have time to wave goodbye or maybe not. What will that be like, I wonder? How much will we have done before that, I wonder? How much good? How much nonsense that makes no impact at all? How much hurt will we have healed? How much pain will we have alleviated? Or caused? How much goodness will we have spread? I wonder. Maybe just enough, maybe not?

Those of you who have gone, you did your part, you served your time, so to speak. Those who hurt others and left in a bad way, I don’t know what to say, I hope you become better people in the next life, if there is one…

Those whom we miss, rest well. But if there’s singing and dancing in that faraway place, then by all means, dance well. Dance heartily. We here are still dancing, somehow, each day. The music is tough sometimes, you know? Sometimes it’s too loud, too noisy, too angry, but we dance. And sometimes it is beautiful and soulful, sometimes slow, sometimes exciting and upbeat, and we dance then too. Enough of that. We don’t want to start crying now. Like I said, we remember you with love and we miss you.

For all loved and missed souls on this 2016 All Souls Day.

Lessons from Little Hearts

Monday 7th November 2016

Our son has been unwell this weekend, since Thursday – to be precise. But this Monday morning he is feeling better, thank God. Just now, he was speaking to his Wawa (his grandma – our mum) on phone and he told her that he is feeling better now.  His little sister said she is feeling better now too, even though she hasn’t been unwell but who wants to be left out of this ‘feeling better’ party? Bless her.

As soon as he hang up from talking with his Wawa, he told me he is going to the Clinic [it’s in the neighborhood so he can walk there].

‘Why?’ , I asked.

To tell Lorna that his head doesn’t hurt anymore, he said.

Lorna is the clinician who treated him when his fever was really high and his head was aching on Saturday and both his dad and mum were away from home.

How incredible that a little child knows that when someone helps you in times of trouble and things eventually get better, you go back to say ‘Thank You’. How simple yet how profound.

 May we always have people near us who can help us get better, but more importantly, may we not forget to thank them when we do.

Still with You

Wednesday 9th November 2016

What a beautiful concession speech, full of grace and wisdom and, despite the despair of this moment, a call to keep believing, to keep fighting for what is right and good.

I can only imagine what your acceptance speech would have been like, Hillary, because this one you have just given is incredibly strong and positive. We are so proud of you, I am so proud of you.

As you have said, there are more seasons to come and we must keep working. All of us, little boys and little girls, grown ups too, men and women. Nothing should stop us from trying our very best to shatter those ceilings, to make our dreams come true.

Thank you for showing maturity, humility and true leadership, you are still our favorite, my favorite. You are still a star, let nothing dim your light, not even this disappointing outcome.

You are, we are, greater, stronger, bigger than our moments of ‘Oh no’, our moments of ‘Why’, our moments of ‘That should have gone differently’. Much, much greater, stronger, bigger…

Amnesia by any other name

Thursday 10th November 2016

Today in Amnesia-ville.

I was rushing to get home early from work. Hubby calls and says he is done for the day. I say that’s great, I am too, but it’s okay he doesn’t need to come pick me as I have already left the gate and I am near the stage and just about to board a matatu.

“A matatu?” He asks.
I say, “Yes, why?”
Kwani what happened to the car?” He asks.
Me thinking, ‘The car, the car…’
He is like, “You have the car, no?”
I could not believe it. I forgot who dropped who this morning. He’s right. My gosh. And the way I was even almost catching a ride home earlier with a colleague just that by the time she was leaving I wasn’t done with some work.

Thank God because now the following day we’d both have had to commute to work by matatu or train which is no problem at all, of course, except it’s a little silly when you do have a car that is sitting peacefully at a parking lot having been forgotten there overnight by Yours Truly.

Needless to say, I walked back through the gate. The guards whom I had enthusiastically bid goodbye on my way out were like, “You forgot something?”
Haha. “Yes, I did.” They were so tickled when I told them what it is I had forgotten.

I clearly need to get more serious with life… or something…