…our reward for this physical commitment is a spiritual experience…
On Sunday I woke up to several bright white beams of light spooling into the hall, bright beams over mattresses and motionless, sometimes slightly moving sleeping bags. Next to me is Willie, someone whom I decide to call Peter Pan because he almost always wears bright blue tights (on his arms and legs) when on the bike. In response he calls me Superman – maybe because I have a Superman shirt, and maybe (I like to think, snigger) because I’m (super) strong on the bike. Well, I am. I am one of the strongest riders of this group.
I also meet Christie, reading on the lawn outside the hall. It’s unusual, to be reading, when so much is going on, so many people (whom one has not met) walking around, so I’m curious. I’ve immediately dumped my reading matter (a real diary, a project I am working on, writing about an epic Cairo to Cape Town epic for GQ magazine).
We (Christie and I) have an interesting conversation, and when I reflect on what was said now, well, it’s even more interesting out of the context of the tour.
Then there’s church, and to be honest, I am stressing. I haven’t been in church since Christmas eve in a South Korean Catholic church in 2003 and a Singapore church on Christmas day in 2004. I’m stressing because I am not a bullshitter. I’m not comfortable pretending to be someone I’m not, and while I’m a spiritual person, I have moved away from being purely Christian.
Somewhere in all the (well, to be accurate, it was me) fidgeting, and fretting, I found a way to find what was congruent with my belief system, the one I developed in my loneliness and aloneness, and this church styled group activity.
You have to understand that when you are on your own, in a foreign country, away from a community that knows you, you cannot stay at home and pray. You need to go out and learn how to operate in the country. You need to, in part, embrace, at least understand the culture and new language that you’re hoping to function in. And during this process, you realize that the world has gone on in places that operate (sometimes admirably so) on fundamentally different belief systems, like Confucianism, Buudhism, and Korean-style Christianity.
Let me explain that concept quickly here: Korean-style Christianity is Reverend Moon, Moon marriages (mass weddings), whole schools and business operated on “Christian” ethics, which is to say employees gladly give back 10% of their salaries as a Christian/Corporate tithe. And the more time spent at work, the more devoted/faithful an employee is seen to be.
Abortion is pretty acceptable (boys are preferred to girls), and cloning is seen as technologically advanced and boosts the National image. On the other hand, there is incredible sensitivity to mass media stuff like Da Vinci code (for its ability to manipulate Christians, proving an opportunity for them to second guess their programming).
In this environment its hardly surprising that Korea has the world’s second highest divorce rate. Not because they are as liberal as the Americans, but because they are so conservative that especially wives find themselves feeling strangled and suffocated in marriage.
These thoughts and others pass through while I sat in church. Perhaps my bald 34 year old head adds to my discomfort – because the congregation are looking at students, and who is this bald guy sitting between them?
And then I concentrate, in parts, on the very, very long sermon. Now in this sermon we read Mathew 26, verse 31. It’s about suffering. And I realize this:
Everything we experience on the Tour (and in life) – the sunburn, the hunger, thirst, cramps, lack of sleep, pain and stiffness – what it really does is it distracts us from useless thinking. And our reward for this physical commitment is a spiritual experience or at the very least, some kind of revelation about ourselves, and ourselves in the world.
Outside the sun shines brightly at me, as though the sky had just been washed clean. And in this light, and under the rocketing gold sandstone pillars of the church, all 70-something of us pose for photos.
Then it’s the packing mattresses and bikes. Louis throws himself off a small wall and onto a high pile of mattresses. I ask him to do it again and get a nice shot…
Then we get into the bus – a machine that consumes more oil than petrol – and head towards Clarens, the same busy little backwoods place tucked between sandstone cliffs where I spent a top 3 2005/2006 New Years.
In Clarens some of us play touch rugby, another group of 6 (including me), play soccer until our trousers turn green with grassburns and our feet burn. Lots of fun. Benedictus, just returned from the Amazon, also joins us in Clarens, with a big black Oakley bag filled with Oakley accoutrements.
I invite Christie to join me for a bath or shower at Benedictus’ parents’ place, and thus the two are introduced. (Pregnant pause).
When we return I am starving, and a sheep carcass on a spit has more or less been stripped to the skeleton. But not quite. Lee cuts me a few morsels of meat and I have to say, it is some of the freshest and tastiest flesh I have ever tasted. I become a bit like Asterix at the Big Feast. Just ate meat!
That night we sleep in the classrooms of a primary school. I sleep beside the teacher’s desk, in the same room as Lukas (who would celebrate his birthday the next morning), San Marie, and Ben and Christie make their beds alongside mine.
Then, in the dark, on a stoep between the classrooms, the band and the group gather in a circle and we have another bible study. Not sure what it is about, but I do remember Izemarie asking this question: when is what we do God’s will/or our will?
We are a group sitting around the campfire playing the guitar – except there is no campfire.
I listen to John, the youth leader, offer insights. Then the Doc offers his wisdom, which I think is a fairly useful contribution. But I recognize Ize’s question as the same question I was asking at age 18, when I was in the Air Force, and about to launch into my life. It isn’t so much about (day to day) elements of what we do, well, it might include that, but really, it is about the directions we take with our lives, the major choices that take us broadly into the future – how do we know if these choices are our own, or God’s.
Here’s my two cents worth:
That sense of peril, of fear, that we may be departing from God’s will, in our ideas or thoughts or decisions, that comes from, that’s borne from the perception that we are here, and God is there. This idea of a disconnect. But God and us, collectively and individually (if there is such a thing) are connected. There are no mistakes, except, possibly, being passive, waiting for something to happen, waiting for life to reach us instead of reaching out, acting ourselves, out in the playing fields of the world.
Our mistakes are not mistakes at all, but longer roads, and God goes with us on those roads. Everything we do teaches us how to do what we do better, and everything we do helps us to know ourselves and God better, whether what we do immediately serves us, and God, or not. Our consciousness becomes deeper, and higher, unless, of course, we operate in the world without being conscious of what we are doing. Every act adds to the consciousness of the singularity (an individual being) and the collective Being.
Everything we do is an expression of God’s will, since we are a part of God. And God’s will is expressed in everything we do. God’s will, I have to say, is, contrary to popular belief, also not necessarily good, or bad. Good or bad is a relative concept, requiring judgments and putting one thing above another. When all things are connected, all things are the same in the sense that they are part of the same thing. God is neither good nor bad, and neither are we. God and we are simply: what everything is. The sum of all. In order to thrive, we have to be congruent with reality, with a present context (called The Now) and find our best talents to manifest alongside, or counter to the prevailing truth/reality.
In short – using your gifts, powering up your passion – is how you balance your will with the will of the spirit that governs the world and the heavens.
Ben goes to sleep with my white slipslops under his thin mattress (the prince(ss) and the slipslops?) Even though I am extremely sleepy, I find I can’t sleep. I recall that Ben’s mom, Mrs Kok, when we spoke to her in their little place in Clarens after getting ourselves clean, she said she ‘can’t remember’ me being in her Biology class at school, but she immediately remembered my friend Allan, and swooned and gushed fondly when I mentioned his name. I lay there, alone in the dark, with a sense of disgust in my throat. Disgust at myself and a sense – revulsion I think – that you can pass through the world unnoticed if you’re not careful. Some of that disgust was directed outside of myself. But then a sense of calmness. Not being seen is good if you’re a lion, or any other hunter. Being overlooked is good, if you’re say a horse, like Seabiscuit, or a tennis player, like, say, Michael Chang.
Even so I struggle to let go enough to find sleep. A good, hard day and the burden of insufficient sleep will simply add to the physical component tomorrow, through Golden Gate. And then I am through the gate, the last one to drop into the darkness of the night.