Kelsie Harriman: On High Places

I assumed an air of solemnity when entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Surely, if I were to feel the presence of God anywhere in Jerusalem, it would be here – at the site of the death, burial, and resurrection of His son Jesus. I had maintained a dry objectivity when visiting Jerusalem’s other holy sites – most of them belonged to faiths which were not my own – but surely here, as a Christian, I ought to have some sort of spiritual response.

At the entrance of the church is the Stone of Anointing, which tradition says is where Joseph of Arimathea prepared Jesus’s body for burial. The stone itself is perhaps two feet by five feet, and an unremarkable shade of brown. Eight ornate lamps hang above it, all of which are plated in gold and adorned with jeweled depictions of the crucifix.

At the time of my visit, I was unaware of the stone’s significance, and therefore confused as to why crowds of people were bowing down to pray on its surface. Only a whispered exchange with a friend revealed why everyone prostrate in worship. Intrigued, I bent down and rubbed the slab with my palm, while all of my neighbors pressed their foreheads to its surface in prayer as if the rock itself was holy. One man rubbed rosary candles, which he had purchased from the souvenir shop outside, across its surface for good luck. I wondered if these worshipers venerated the God who had lain on the stone as much as the rock itself.

A walk into the next chamber revealed the Holy Sepulchre, which is said to contain the tomb of Christ. I had always envisioned Jesus’s tomb as a discrete cave nestled in a hillside. This, however, was an ornately decorated catacomb situated inside an equally gaudy church. The façade would likely have prevented me from recognizing the tomb for what it was, had I not learned just learned how to identify holy sites in Jerusalem: where there is incense, where there is gold, where there is a queue of people waiting to worship – this is how one ought to differentiate sacred from banal.

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I told my friends I’d rather go inside the Holy Sepulchre another day because the queue was long. I didn’t mention that I was trying to protect myself from further disillusionment. Were we standing in front of the tomb of the living God, or a carnival ride? Come right this way! In an effort to make your experience more comfortable, we’ve added soft lighting, incense, red velvet curtains, and gold-plated candlesticks! The event is free, but souvenir shops await at the exit. And don’t forget, cash can be withdrawn from the “Christian Quarter” ATM for no additional transaction fee!

~

If I had any spiritual response in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it was one of dismay. The Jesus I know is the one who was born in a manger, employed as a carpenter, crucified on a log, and buried in a cave. He is the one who turned over the tables of the money changers at the Temple, and reprimanded them for turning His house of prayer a den of thieves.

I don’t claim to know Jesus more than the founders of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but from what I could see, the church is not an arrangement with which the humble Christ would be pleased.

It was not only the extravagance of the church that I found disturbing. It was the nature of the worship taking place inside. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth,” Jesus instructed the Samaritan woman in John 4:24. As Werblowsky eloquently explains in “The Meaning of Jerusalem to Jews, Christians, and Muslims,” Jesus de-territorialized act of worship. Whereas the center of spiritual life for Jews is the actual, physical Temple, for Christians, it is the living Christ. Our real home is the heavenly Jerusalem, not an earthly city. As Werblowsky contends, Christians need not despise the terrestrial Jerusalem, but they must understand that “Jerusalem” is wherever Christ is; the earthly city is but a reflection of the heavenly communion that is to come (Werblowsky 6-8).

Similarly, Christ de-territorialized the act of prayer. In Judaism, one is believed to closest to God’s presence in the Temple. This is why the Western Wall – all that remains of Herod’s Temple – is holiest site of prayer for Jews around the world. Muslims are instructed to physically face Mecca – their most holy site – when they pray. Christians, however, believe that no physical posture or direction of prayer will elevate one’s supplications to God. In fact, Jesus asked his followers to pray as privately and inconspicuously as possible:

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

(Matthew 6:5-6)

 

I do not mean to dismiss the connection between the body and the spirit, or to claim that Christians ascribing to the “de-territorialized” conception of worship and prayer cannot have heightened spiritual experiences that are stimulated by proximity to a holy place. I only mean to say that Christians, in particular, ought to be wary of how we treat our holy places, lest we begin to conflate reverence for a location or thing with reverence for Christ himself.

God is Spirit, and God is omnipresent: His company can be found equally on all corners of Earth. Christians need not go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to worship, and it is folly for us to believe that our prayers will be heard any better near a holy site than in our bedroom closets. As St. Augustine said, when discussing the words of Jesus in John 7:37 (“if any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink”),

When we thirst, then we should come – not with our feet but rather with our feelings; we should come not by wandering but by loving  . . . He who wanders with the body, changes his place by the motion of the body; he who wanders with the heart, changes his feelings by the motion of the heart.[1]

Christians are instructed to concern themselves principally with their personal relationship with God, which as Augustine suggests, is found through the movement of the soul, not the movement of the feet. A pilgrimage to Biblical sites is valuable in its own right – it certainly elicits appreciation of the history and authenticity of the faith – but we must not forget that communion with God can be had just as easily outside of Jerusalem as within it. A Christian can be proximate to a place where Jesus lay, but still leagues from Him in spirit: perhaps the most terrifying and attractive element of the Christian faith.

[1] Loannis Evangelium, Tract xxxii, P.L. vol. 35, col. 1642. (As cited on Werblowsky 7)

 

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Kelsie Harriman: Tales from a Forgotten Closet

The father had to stop the daughter from tugging at the shirt too aggressively, so as not to disturb the fragile fabric. “I am glad you’ve enjoyed it so much,” he told her gently, “But it’s so old, I don’t think we should use it anymore. It is going to fall apart.”

The T-Shirt had once been a stiff, opaque white, he’d told her, before time and sweat had made it translucent. It had been issued to him in the Honduran refugee camp where he had been working in 1986. The “World Relief” insignia occupied the front panel: four identical, black caricatures of a hand, arranged in circle, fingers pointed inward. The back panel said “Go For It” in blocky letters of a deep sage green. The daughter always asked the father what the words meant. He was never sure. By 2006, they were the only part of the shirt that remained starchy and stiff, like a dish rag that dries in the shape of the soap that remains in its folds. The rest of the fabric had grown so soft that the daughter scarcely knew it was there. It hung limply and without protest, happy to conform to whatever shape her round, child’s body demanded.

The daughter had acquired the T-Shirt three years previously when her father gave it to her as a distraction from the conquest she had declared on his closet. Only six years old at the time, the daughter found nothing more pleasurable than wearing her parent’s clothing. That first night, she had slept in the T-Shirt because she was too tired from the day’s exploits to change into pajamas, and she wore it purposely every night thereafter. It was nothing like the other T-Shirts she had: the fabric felt like silk, or maybe air, or maybe like nothing at all. It had been washed perhaps hundreds of times, first by the hands of Honduran women, and then by the machinery of her parents’ old Maytag. On some nights, though, she thought she could still detect her father’s distinctive smell: ivory soap, and just a dab of Pamida’s $3.99 aftershave. Careful, not too much.

The daughter continued to resist. “But Daddy, I need it,” she pleaded, the edge of whine in her voice rendering trivial a legitimate disquiet. “My other shirts are too stiff. I can’t sleep in a stiff shirt. I won’t be able to sleep. I know I won’t be able to sleep….”

“Really, honey, its best,” consoled the mother, earnestly attempting to normalize. “We’ll save it so that someday you can give it to your children just like Daddy gave it to you.” The daughter didn’t respond. Her future children had nothing to do with this.

The father finally coaxed the fragile fabric from the daughter’s sausage fingers, slowly, with the kind of care one uses to ease a sick person into bed. The father placed the T-Shirt solemnly inside the plastic tub that resided on the closet’s top shelf. He closed the lid. The daughter walked away.

I haven’t seen the shirt since.

~

“I can’t take it,” I tell her. “It’s your favorite dress. I can’t your favorite dress.”

She looks at me. Silence. “Why?”

I am grappling for words now. She often has that effect on me. English is her third language, so she isn’t going to waste energy on words that aren’t necessary. The candidness is unnerving.

“I can’t take it,” I say slowly, the care with which she forms words causing me lend more attention to my own, “The dress is special. I can’t just take something like that from you.”

Her face is flat. “It isn’t a gift if it is not the very best you have.”

Now is not the appropriate time to cry. She is talking to me. No matter that I have spent the last several weeks prowling local shops searching for souvenirs cheap enough not maintain the cushion on my savings account, and nice enough to fool people into believing I had gotten them something expensive. No matter that I am leaving my friend in only a matter of hours, and I have no idea when I will ever see her–or anyone else here–again.

The dress deep blue and made of a thick, warm cotton. I had worn it once several months earlier, when she suggested I borrow it so we could go out to celebrate her birthday. I remember that it had fit me very well: it made my otherwise flat hips slightly more round, and its high cowl neck perfectly covered the protruding sternum bone I’d spent the last 21 years trying to hide. I don’t deserve this dress.

My eyes move to her meet hers, ready to gently decline the offer.

“He would love it,” she tells me. “He would love it if you wore this dress in Chicago.”

He would love it. I swallow once, and I take the gift, realizing I have never really given one in my life.

~

I am downstairs, in the padlocked storage area beneath the daughter’s new apartment building. You wouldn’t know it; it looks exactly like every other building on this block. I am zipped inside a blue, second-hand suitcase that the daughter acquired from somewhere she can’t remember. The apartment is small, but the closet is even smaller, so the daughter had to pare down her wardrobe. She’s bad at getting rid of things, though. Much better at storing them. Better at hiding them beneath blue plastic lids, or inside tightly-sealed suitcases. She consoles herself into thinking she might use them someday, or maybe give them to her children. I suppose she finds it comforting.

I shouldn’t take it personally. I have five holes, right down my front. Five coin-size, grossly obvious holes, acquired from she doesn’t remember where, located too far from my seams to patch. The mother told her to throw me away when she saw them, and she was the one who originally purchased me to wear as a bridesmaid’s dress at her sister’s wedding! She was the one who shortened me with a thread and needle when the daughter decide she wanted me when I was still still floor length and “too formal.” She threaded me through with her own hands, but as soon as I had holes, she wanted to throw me away. The daughter declined and put me in a suitcase. She stored me alive so that I may fully experience a long, slow disintegration. No, I shouldn’t take it personally.

The daughter is upstairs now, doing her usual morning “stand and stare.” This is where she positions herself in front of her overcrowded closest to examine the scores of clothes she’s collected over the years, most of which she never wears. Before coming to Chicago to start her third year of college, she bought five new T-Shirts at Target. Six dollars each. I remember her thinking that perhaps she should have purchased a sixth. For some reason, this thought is still running through her mind as she thumbs through the deluge of anonymous items congesting her closet.

Funny how easily the daughter forgot the cold anonymity of college life while she was away. She forgot that she wasn’t supposed to greet people she sees on the street, unless she knows them well enough to be sure they are going to greet her back. They never greet her back. She forgot that she can’t lounge in my friend’s home for hours, with no purpose and no conversation, and still expect to feel unobtrusive. She forgot that she needed to come to the forty-five-minute lunch for which her friends managed to “scheduled her in” with a list of engaging questions, so as to continue to keep up the pretenses of deep connection. Yes, the daughter’s time away had made her forget a lot of things.

Good, the daughter finally found a shirt. She doesn’t want to wear it, but she will. Anonymous black. V-neck. 98% cotton. Stiff. Just like every other shirt on every other kid walking around this campus with their headphones in, wondering why they are feeling so lonely.

Curious. The daughter is pausing now. Has she changed her mind? She is removing the anonymous black that’s covering the recently expanded frame that the mother and father still think is too thin. She’s putting on a bathrobe and slippers. Opening the back door of her apartment. Coming down the stairs to the storage unit. 3079. It opens. She enters. She traverses the forgotten debris of the strangers who live here: wilted posters, broken lamps, dishes left over from past tenants that no one had the energy to take to the dump. She’s near me now. She’s unzipping the blue, second-hand suitcase she acquired from somewhere she can’t remember.  What is she looking for? She is looking for me, her mother’s old dress, the one with the five big holes located too far from the seams to patch.

It’s over now, but she ended up wearing me all day. I was expecting her to put me on and then change her mind, just like she changed her mind about the black  V-Neck that wasn’t covering her protruding sternum as well as she wanted it to. But she wore me all day, just like she used to do. When her friend complimented my floral pattern, the daughter even told her my life story. I had underestimated her.

Now, I am resting on a hanger in her congested closet. Am I coming back to life? She placed me next to a blue cotton dress with a rather attractive cowl neck. I struck up a conversation with her; I couldn’t wait in here alone.  She told me that used to belong to someone else, a friend of the daughter, a strikingly beautiful woman.  She said she had been worn only once by the daughter since her arrival in the United States. It was causal dinner at a friend’s apartment, which the daughter had attended with the man. He was touched by seeing her wear the blue cotton dress, just like the beautiful friend had predicted, but he didn’t like the occasion for which she had chosen to wear her. He thought that she ought to have saved it for something more special. She didn’t think the man understood how much the daughter needed her friend that night.

She told me that the daughter had buried her nose in the cowl neck, hoping to pull out the smell of the laundry soap the boy had used to wash her by hand in back of the compound, and a floral perfume that had been given to the beautiful friend as a gift. All I could smell was Downy.  I asked if the daughter was able to smell anything. She said she wasn’t sure.

I met the man who loved the blue cotton dress on my day out. I liked him. He’s good for the daughter. When she asked him what he’d do if she started crying, he told her that he would start laughing. Did she take it the wrong way? Too bad she can’t see she that she needs to stop taking life so seriously.

I wish she would count all of the people in her life who want to read the stories she writes. The people who don’t care about the occasional fits of anxiety, or the expanding frame, or the protruding sternum. I wish she would go count these people, and tell them that she loves them. Because they aren’t gone yet, and neither am I.

Kelsie Harriman: Brother

The car pulled to a stop, and I carefully secured my skirt as I jumped out of rear cab and onto the dusty, red road beneath me. The people on the roadside immediately took interest in my white skin, which yelled “foreigner” with an indisputable clarity. Disregarding their stares, I followed my coworkers up a nearby hill toward the home of “Abraham,” a friend who had fallen sick with malaria we were going to visit.

I had spent that morning interviewing two survivors of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, and I was feeling a deep numbness. One of them, “David,” had spent a large share of his interview recounting in vivid detail the murder of his younger brother “Noah.” In 1994, David and Noah had tried to run to their local parish to seek refuge from the Interahamwe  (perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide), but their neighbor spotted them, beckoned to his fellow Interahamwe for assistance, and then led the mob in beating Noah to death. David survived, and he had another near-death encounter with the same neighbor before the Genocide’s conclusion.

David’s neighbor is still living. He is name is “Abraham,” the man with malaria my coworkers and I were going to visit.

We entered and found his house empty, save for one bed, one mosquito net, one wooden bench, and a large vat of bubbling sorghum, which I was informed was being made into beer for his daughter’s wedding. I had also conducted an interview with Abraham about two weeks previously, so we were already acquainted.

 “Abraham, tell us more about the times you were involved in death or harm of another person during the Genocide…..

 How did you feel toward your victims at the time?

 Do you believe in God?”

The goal of these interviews was to gather information from both David and Abraham in order to write a story about their process of reconciliation. You see, about ten years ago, Abraham publicly confessed his sins and asked David for forgiveness, and David had granted it to him. Now, the two men live together as friends. They visit one another at home and stay actively involved in each other’s lives. The last words I heard from Abraham before closing our first interview were, “Yes, David had forgiven me. When you give someone forgiveness, or when someone gives it to you, they receive something of your love about you. Love comes in when forgiveness comes in, and so I receive David’s forgiveness with great joy.”

With those words in my heart, I approached Abraham’s sickbed with my Kinyarwanda-speaking coworker Grace, who had translated all of our interviews. Upon entering, I was immediately uncomfortable, not only because it feels hugely intrusive to be in someone’s bedroom when all they are wearing is a blanket around their waist, but also because at the sight of Abraham, all the vivid details regarding his involvement in Noah’s murder that David had recounted for me only that morning came rushing back. I had absolutely zero idea about how one ought to comport oneself in such a situation, so I hid behind the guise I often employed to extract myself form uncomfortable social situations in Rwanda (“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Kinyarwanda”) and allowed Grace to carry  conversation while I observed silently from my seat on Abraham’s bed frame. But Grace, or maybe God, was not going to let me leave Abraham’s side without some personal interaction. As we were preparing to leave, Grace turned to me.

“Kelsie,” she said, “Pray for Abraham.”

“I don’t speak Kinyarwanda,” I said reflexively.

“Pray in English,” she told me.

Oh.

I am going to remember the next thirty seconds or so perhaps for the rest of my life. Half of me was squarely in my physical body: uncomfortably perched on Abraham’s bed frame, watching his naked chest move with the rhythm of his breathing, one hand resting on his bare arm, mind searching desperately for the familiar words and rhythm that characterize prayers for the sick.

The other half of me was floating somewhere above the bed frame objectively watching the scene below. Who is that white girl with her hand on that man’s arm, praying for him in English? Doesn’t she realize he can’t understand? Where does she come from? And what does she knows about his life, anyway?

A small part of my soul had been mercifully spared from being sucked in by either of the those two halves, however, and it was praying. Not reciting words, but speaking to God without conscious thought.

“Jesus, please heal my brother Abraham. Thank you for redeeming is life, and mine too. Abraham and I are both broken people, just trying to stay upright as we stumble down the rocky road you’ve put us on. Thank you, Jesus, that you’re walking on it with us too. Amen.”

It’s been almost month since that day. Abraham is now well and enjoying his sorghum beer in Rwanda, and I am in an air-conditioned, pressurized cabin flying several thousand feet above ground and pecking at my laptop keyboard and trying to make sense of our short friendship. I assume that Abraham found every part of my English prayer unintelligible, but I hope that, somehow, maybe through my physical touch, or by the Grace of God, he was able to understand the word brother.

~

Abraham, I stand beside you now and forevermore with open hands at the throne of Grace.  It was an honor to have met you, and what a joy we will share when we celebrate our redemption together in heaven. Until then, my friend, be blessed, and may you never forget God’s mercy.

 

Kelsie Harriman: Quit Trying to Cut Your Arm Off

One fateful day during high school, I discovered my life’s purpose. Naturally, I ran home to tell my mother. “Mom,” I said, “I am going to be a motivational speaker.”

“That’s great, honey.” She replied, “You can do that by cutting your arm off.”

I was not only taken aback by her response, but also feeling quite dull for not understanding her sarcasm. Then I found out that she was, in fact, serious: the clearest path she knew of to the top of the motivational speaker ladder was to be like Aron Ralston, who had his armed pinned to the ground by a bolder while hiking in southeastern Utah, and then to cut it off himself a pocketknife after 127 hours. He then made a lot of great speeches, and a documentary. His experience lent a lot of credibility to lending advice about overcoming adversity, apparently.

Alternatively, she suggested, I could have my arm bitten off by a shark while surfing and then speak to people about positivity, like Bethany Hamilton.

To date, her suggestions are the clearest path to motivational speaking I’ve come across. And I am still waiting for my (not so) lucky break.

A few years have passed since my mother suggested I cut my arm off. I thought I had forgotten about my dreams of motivational speaking (and the requisite limb severing) until a recent conversation with a friend of mine made the memories resurface.

“Kelsie,” he asked me, “Do you think your experience in Rwanda has changed your life?”

Funny you should ask, my friend. Because although I have spent a large majority of my time in Rwanda trying to cut my arm off, my life is still –as far as I can tell — unchanged.

Think of life as a tree: it starts from a single trunk, and as you go further and further down that trunk, it begins to split into an infentesimile number of branches. At each divide, you have a choice: go left, go right, go straight.

Go to this college. Go to that college. Go to no college at all. Marry this person. Marry that person. Marry no person at all.

For indecisive souls like me, this can be a cursed existence indeed. The inherent ambiguity to even life’s simplest life choices is apt to overwhelm me. There are too many divides and too many branches for me to believe I could possibly choose the right one without testing them all first. Life has not yet afforded me that luxury, however, so I have resigned myself to my two remaining alternatives: looking for opportunities to cut my arm off which will force me down my life’s predetermined path, and bartering with God to give me a cosmic cheat sheet my life’s underlying purpose. Neither, so far, has served me well.

I don’t literally carry around a pocket knife, and I have no immediate plans to perform any self-limb severing, but I do feel like I have most of my adolescence in a constant and exhausting search for that one experience, that one place, that one person that will drastically alter my life and send it rolling down the “correct” fork in the tree, the fork that God wants my life to go down.   Interestingly, spending significant time this outside of one’s home country is often regarded as one such potentially “life-changing” experience.  Any adolescent who has lived abroad knows what they are expected to say when they return home: “Yes-my-life-has-been-changed-my-eyes-have-been-opened-my-paths-have-been-redirected-I-will-never-be-the-same-and-praise-the-Lord-I-am-ready-to-change-the-world.”

So far, although I have been searching hard for the life-changing, limb-severing experiences I’ve come to believe I should be having, my life is the same. Well, all the same except for my eyes are more squinted, my paths are more unclear, and I have less of an idea than before any of this self-reflection started about how I am supposed to “change the world.”

So, I’ve tried option two: asking God that he let me in on the secret plans for my life, like, now. This has proved confusing, but I hope at least that God is getting some entertainment out of it. This weekend, for example, I was running up a mountain in the Rift Valley. Thought that was a nice setting for some personal revelation. So, I asked God a very specific yes or no question about an uncertain matter in my life. The word “No” came to mind. I asked Him again, just to double check. Then, I heard “Yes.” I laughed to myself, and I think God laughed too. Both of us know that is not how He plans to communicate about this subject with me.

But He does plan to communicate, someway, somehow. The frustrating part about the tree of life is that we sometimes don’t even get to know where the forks in the road are — or when we’ve started down a new branch — until long after the events are over.

After a summer what they call “life-changing experiences”, I have no idea what branch of life I’m headed toward now, but I am quite sure I am headed somewhere, as evidenced by my present squinty-eyed- muddled-path-unclear-purpose reality. God hasn’t been terribly clear in answering my “yes or no” questions, but He has been pretty clear about something: I need to be a whole lot more patient than I am presently with ambiguity. Besides, who wants to listen to a motivational speaker who cuts her arm off precisely because she was wants to be motivational speaker, anyway?

C.S. Lewis picked up on this reality long before I did.  “Faith,” he said, “Is believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”

So, God, you and I have a date, sometime near the end of my life, where we will together look back at all times you nudged me down the right path, even without me knowing it. And I hope we have a nice time laughing over the silly things I came up with while trying to figure it out on my own.

Just one request, God.

If at all possible, I’d like to keep my arm intact.

Yours,

Kelsie

 

Joshua Mark: A Visit to السلط

I went to the city while it slept and I thought it was dead. Leaving the bustling streets of

الجبيهة and the lines of shops of صويلح, the town, quiet and resting on a جمعة afternoon,

seemed nothing more than a small, countryside village nestled in the ruins of something

that used to be great and beautiful, like a child swimming in its parent's clothes. All the

shops were closed, the streets were empty and I could only guess at where a side-street

or staircase ended and someone's house began — or were there only ruins? Truly, the

high walls that still stood, the outlines of the arches, the remains of the balconies

recalled large, majestic houses. But looking down from the ledge of the next street up

there was rubble, the roofs had long since caved in and one, two, three rooms lay dusty

and bare except for the odd piece of junk, and then a chair, and a carpet, and only then

a front door, a whole roof and a standing house, lost in the imprint of its predecessor. I

walked through the streets in awe of the decrepit beauty of the houses I passed, of the

delicate window frames and broken panes, of the colored tiles and layers of dust, of the

imposing archway in that back yard which hinted at something much greater than what

stood there now. The people I passed seemed just as small, just as lost among all these

echoes of glory as their houses dud; the singers only half filling the small church of St

George كنيسة الخادر felt like the last few souls of a ghost town.

I was forgetting, however, that يوم الجمعة is a quiet day, a day of rest and calm — if not in

Amman's busy streets, at least in a place like this. Life, people were still there behind the

shades, and علي called me up to his balcony to meet this life. My first experience with

such simple generosity, my first true Arab welcome when a man saw a little tourist at the

bottom of his stairs and invited him up for coffee then dinner, قهوة سادة و حلوة و كبسة. He was

kind and generous and eager to feed me. He helped me understand what hospitality

meant in his culture, and also to understand his town. "My neighbors there, they're

Christian, and over there too, we live together". It was still جمعة and he didn't need to

speak a lot, and in the silence as he smoked and we stared out over the old town I could

now feel the presence of an entire bubbling city just taking it slow for a day. He invited

me back earnestly, then sent his reluctant son to show me the Ottoman cemetery.

The monument to the violence that broke over this small peaceful city, three hundred

boys from Ankara and Istanbul and beyond come to die for these windows and

archways. The day after Nice was bathed in blood and I had stared at the screen for

hours before the overlapping voices of the muezzin drifted me to sleep. That is the first

thing علي — another علي — spoke to me about; that is not Islam, no Muslim wants that.

His words helped. That my first host loved his Christian neighbors helped. That علي was

watching the kids run and play and scream in front of the graves of the young soldiers

who died for nothing, that helped too. Time heals all things.

He too invited me for coffee. I sat surrounded by his brother his parents his children his

wife another mother, I felt an intruder though they wanted me there I could tell. I couldn't

help but notice the women rush inside to cover their hair and mouth. I couldn't help but

notice the young woman standing in the doorway peering at me, hiding — recoiling —

whenever I looked up; when they brought me in to wash my hands she ran. I had never

seen علي's daughter though I knew she was feet away, though I knew she made the food

and coffee; her brother brought them to me.

علي on his balcony had shown me a sleeping سلط, my second host and his family, happy

and inquisitive, were the end of the day, جمعة evening, when the air gets fresh and the

city wakes up and the streets are alive. As I went back down to the bus, people walked

in the streets, sat and laughed before their dusty archways, climbed crooked steps

behind the old high walls, looked out their columned windows at the lights of the shops

and restaurants and السلط coming back to life.

Kelsie Harriman: Plan to Stay

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children…..Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”

Jeremiah 29:4-7

As my mother will tell you, I am not the best at planting gardens. Every summer when I was growing up, she would ask me if I wanted to plant my own vegetables in our family plot. I would always say yes, go out with her on the first day of rowing season, plop down a few carrot seeds, water them for the first three days of summer, and never tend to them again. Garden planting requires far more patience then younger me possessed, and my carrots only survived if my mother took enough pity on my vegetables to tend to them herself.

I’ve lived the life of a twenty-something for a while now, and the longer I spend in this distinctly un-permanent stage of life, the more I’ve come to appreciate the importance of planting gardens. One does invest the time and energy required to reap a harvest unless she knows that she is going to present long enough to see the process through.

The transitory nature of early adulthood can seriously inhibit one’s garden planting practice. Where are we to plant our seeds if a few months of the year are spent at school, a few months are at home, and a few months are in another city for a short-term job? I believe the answer most of us have to this question is “nowhere” — don’t put your seeds down at all, because to plant one day and to root everything up the next is a very painful process indeed. Think twice before you become too invested in any relationship, or too attached to any particular place, because chances are you’ll be saying goodbye to it all in a matter of weeks anyway.

The prophet Jeremiah had a thing or two to say about garden planting. In his letter to the Israelites, who had been forced from their home in Jerusalem and into Babylon by King Nebuchandnezzar, Jeremiah explicitly implored everyone to build homes, plant gardens, marry, have children, and plan to stay in the city of their exile. Immediately following his order comes the oft quoted passage from Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Granted, the Isrealites were in Babylon for seventy years, which allows for significantly more time for garden planting than does a three month summer job during college. But I’d venture to guess that if Jeremiah were writing a letter to those of us who are in a transitory phase our lives, he’d tell us the same thing he told the Isrealites. Regardless of where we are — no matter how difficult, or strange, or transitory it feels — we need to take seriously the task of planting gardens. We can’t just drop a few carrot seeds in the dirt, water them for three days, and expect our mothers to take care of the rest. No matter where we are in life, God has placed us there for a reason, and to fail to plant our garden is to forsake the plan He has for us.

And the thing about God’s plans is, we’ll never know what they are until after they have unfolded. Maybe, just maybe, the transitory, challenging, or difficult place you are today is exactly where God wants you to be forever, and by refusing to plant your seeds just because you believe you’ll just have to root them all up later is going to make you very hungry and miserable indeed.

So, allot the time and due diligence necessary to see your harvest all the way through, especially during your most transitory phases. Forge friendships with those around you, even if you believe time and distance may one day prevent you from ever seeing them again. Throw yourself into the work that is before you, even if you do not know its end goal or purpose. Let yourself grow roots and become attached, even if you think you know the date and time you are going to have to rip up them from the soil.

Do these things, but not without regular consultation with the Master Gardner, because the only thing more painful then having to uproot a beautiful garden planted in exactly the right place is to find out you’ve put your  plot in a location that never belonged to you to begin with. If you are where the Gardener has asked you to be, however, plant and harvest in earnest, and you may come to find the small plot that you thought would be yours only for a summer turns into a home or a friendship that is yours for life. And as any good gardener will tell you, the harvests that bring the most blessing are often those that are unexpected.

Kelsie Harriman: “Do(n’t) Feed Me, I’m Starving”

I’ve been feeling lately that I need to make an apology, but I am unsure to whom it ought to be directed.  Maybe to my parents. Maybe to myself. Maybe to all of the gracious Rwandans who have given me a   meal with me in the last several weeks. Or, alternatively, I could just apologize to white rice, or whole milk, or any of the perfectly good foods I previously deemed “unacceptable.”  At the moment, apologizing to foods is my preferred option, as I have learned that asking forgiveness from a person is very hard.

Kigali, Rwanda – June 2016

A pile of rice, a handful of French fries, half an avocado, and a glass of whole milk. I am happy to be eating; I am hungry, and the food is good.

While scraping the remnants of the meal from my large porcelain plate, I stop abruptly and realize what I’ve just eaten. White Rice. Fried potatoes. Fat. Sugar. I am disturbed by the fact that I finished that whole plate without thinking, or fighting, or crying about it first.

I am supposed to be a healthy person. I am supposed to be worried about what I eat.

~

Often, eating disorders are misunderstood as an unhealthy or an irrational fear of “becoming fat.” When I was told by a psychologist that I had “disordered eating” in 2012, I possessed a similarly naïve understanding of the condition.  My eating wasn’t “disorderly,” so I thought. Never mind the way I routinely put myself and my family in fits of tears because I refused to eat rice and meat and cheese and potatoes and pasta and bread and anything with sugar and fat. Never mind the times I got uncontrollable body tremors from low blood sugar because I wouldn’t eat the aforementioned foods, even if nothing else was available. Never mind the way I laid awake at night mentally cataloging and recatologing every bite I had ingested throughout out the day. “My BMI is above the minimum threshold,” I told myself and everyone else. “I am fine.”

~

Several years since the worst of my struggle with food have passed, and I am now living in Kigali, Rwanda for the summer, where the culture surrounding food is completely foreign to my American self.

I have not yet met a Rwandan with an eating disorder. I believe that a person’s eating habits far less likely to be “disorderly” when real hunger is an all too present reality. Spend a day in rural Rwanda, and you’ll find children whose stomachs are bloated, not from excess food, but from parasites that have ravaged their digestive system.  There are many families who eat the same food every day because they simply don’t have the money or the opportunity to get something else.

Contrast this with how I grew up in America, where I had the money and opportunity to buy items such as powered, fat-free peanut butter for myself whenever I decided I didn’t like the full-fat, “unhealthy” version of peanut butter my parents purchased.

During that period of my life, I wanted desperately to be in control of something, and it so happens I had the luxury to control my food consumption. My parents served a food I deemed unhealthy and therefore didn’t want to eat ? No problem, because I could easily find some, carbohydrate-free-fat-free-sugar-free version of whatever it was to consume alone in my room later that night, when the hunger that resulted from me not eating dinner was bothering me enough that I could not sleep.

It is not just the availability of food in America that is causing our population’s problems with eating — be it obesity, bulimia, or anorexia. It due every bit as much to the manner in which Americans consume food. How often to we eat meals alone, or while working, or while en route to our next destination? How many times per week are we “too busy” to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner? If your experience has been anything like mine, your answer to that question is “often.” Frighteningly often.

Food works quite differently in Rwanda. Dinner (and often breakfast and lunch, depending on the family’s schedule), are eaten together, with every member of the household present. There is no snacking. At the scheduled meal time, all are served equally-sized plates from a communal pot, and everyone eats together. If you choose not to eat at the designated meal time, you are going to be hungry later, because no one is going to buy fat-free powered peanut butter to for you to snack on in the middle of the night.

Adapting my habits to this structure has been somewhat of a challenge, but I am now able to do it with more success than I ever thought possible. I know from where I come, and to eat a plate of rice in the company of my Rwandan friends is a personal victory that perhaps no one here will ever understand. But a victory it is, nonetheless.

~

As my food consumption assumes more of a Rwandan character, my impulse to apologize for my “disorderly”, American eating habits grows. I want to apologize to the foods I am able eat in Rwanda  with eagerness, which only two years ago in the States I had deemed unacceptable in my “healthy diet.” I want to apologize myself for the pain my irrational rules about food  introduced into my life.

Most of all, though, I want to apologize to my family, whose food I turned down countless times because I thought it was not “good enough” for a healthy, controlled, thin person like me. I see now how wrong this was, and how much pain can be caused to someone who prepares a meal especially for someone else, only then to have that person turn it down.

Yes, I want to apologize to my family.

However, I am not going to do this because I have also lately been learning something else: apologizing too much is not going to get you anywhere, or have the power to really make anything right again. The only thing to do when you know you’ve done something wrong is to change your behavior. Maybe the one you have offended will notice, and maybe they won’t, but a sincere change in heart and a concerted effort to make things right again do not go unaccounted for in the grand scheme of things.

When I return to the United States, then, I am not going to apologize to my family. I am just going to hope that they will have read this post, and that the next time we share a plate of rice together, they will know that I love them, and that I am sorry.

Then, I’ll do my best to just eat a lot and be happy, which, as I am learning in Rwanda, is the only right and proper way to do things.