In a comic book I used to read, there was a character named Delirium. She was the youngest of seven brothers and sisters, and of course she was a wild girl... and of course she was my favourite of the bunch. Her name used to be Delight, but in the distant past some tragedy had caused her to become Delirium. She was promised, though, that the day would come when she'd be restored to her original self. Now, I can't speak very highly of the spiritual value of this comic book, but I do think that the author was using Delight's 'fall' to Delirium as a parallel with Biblical thought regarding humanity's fall.
The night I arrived in Moscow on a trip with NYU two years ago, I had a dream about this Delirium character. For most of my following two weeks or so in Russia, I felt like delirium as a state of mind was with me constantly. I wrote incessantly, but now when I read what I wrote (this weekend I finally edited it enough to add it to my travel journals page), it's tough to make sense of it. All of my memories from that time are blurry and bizarre. When I started throwing up a couple of days before we left and realised I had probably had a mild flu for the whole trip, it gave me a physical explanation for my state.
I was never quite satisfied with that explanation, though, and I've realised that during my first couple of months in Minsk, I was a bit delirious too. When everything looks and acts different from what you're used to, and you don't speak the language, and you don't understand what is going on around you more than half the time, but you're excited to be where you are and know that God wants you there at that particular moment... well, delirium is an almost logical
In my first two months here I was taking everything in, jotting down disjointed notebook entries, meeting everyone, wandering around in a daze most of the time but still totally enthusiastic about every minute of my new life. In my moments of clarity I managed to pull together coherent mass emails to all of you. And I was having fun; Delirium, after all, was my favourite comic book character.
But the other thing about delirium is that it's a pretty desperate way to be. And my prayers and notebook entries were getting more desparate as the weeks passed. I wanted to be able to have simple conversations with my new friends. I wanted to understand why certain people did certain things the way they did. I wanted to understand why things at school got tough sometimes. Often I theorised too much and prayed too little, in my desperation to figure it all out.
Now, when one does not immediately turn to God and instead turns to her mind and herself, desperation leads to depression. I did not understand this until a week ago. I won't dwell on it, but I will say I had a personally difficult month for these reasons, and I wasn't even really aware of it because outwardly, things were supposed to be going well.
At the end of march and beginning of April, some remarkable events began to happen in our congregation. Quick date check: this was in the days leading up to and including the Jewish Pesach or Passover, which celebrates the events that occurred in the book of Exodus. Our congregation had a kind of exodus of our own, on spiritual and even physical levels, and also I think for some of us as individuals.
For storytelling purposes I'll use the most literal example of this exodus. At the end of March we had a 'retreat' for home group ministers, which I attended as a Person Who Would Like to Eventually be a Home Group Minister Once She Masters the Russian Language (Which Will of Course Be Next Week). When we arrived at our hotel in the middle of nowhere, the hotel director told us that the heating had broken earlier that day. A likely story... probably they hadn't wanted to spend the money for heat. Rather than attempting sleep in our freezing rooms, we had a kind of praise party into the wee hours. Later, when people couldn't sleep due to the cold, our leaders realised we needed to get out of there. Exodus time. So, starting around 3am, a handful of drivers worked through the night to ferry over 100 people to Minsk. Many were from other towns, or couldn't take the metro so late at night, so several half-asleep congregational members got phone calls at four or six in the morning requesting that they put up emergency guests! A slew of teenaged girls and I all wound up staying at the Winograds' house, which -- though Chantal and Stewart are always the busiest people during our craziest times -- always seems to be the calm in the centre of the storm. I don't know how to explain that other than that it's clear God has blessed them with a lot of patience and grace.
The rest of the 'retreat' was held in the congregational office, with babushkas cooking, teenagers cleaning, and everyone singing a lot. It was absolutely not what anyone expected, and it had its difficulties and even losses (we had to pay for some stuff at the hotel that we didn't use)... but the best word to describe it would have to be victory. A million challenges were thrown up, and all we had to do was sing praises and be obedient, and everything worked out better than it probably would have if everything had gone according to plan. And meanwhile we all learned about teamwork, service and flexibility.
Now, you can't buy bonding experiences like these. As many of us have also had personal exoduses recently, it's been amazing to see how we've been emerging from our individual Issues into a unified whole. At the Bible institute, for instance, the division that I saw before is disappearing before my eyes.
For me, the moment when I was able to speak with all honesty at the school came only a week ago. What I said, or what I tried to say between bouts of tears (ARGH! I so did not want to cry), was essentially that I had often chosen to judge my fellow students for things I'd seen, and had separated myself from them instead of being loving and humble. The old "i don't need to go to Bible school!" attitude had risen up in me, and I think that judgment affected the last mass email I sent, so I have to ask forgiveness from those of you who read it! I asked the same from the students, and I my tears may have been simply from shock at the love God was giving me for each of my fellow students.
After all of this, I did a quick self-check and realised I had had an exodus of my own. the depression of the last month was gone. The root of it had been a kind of proud planning of my life: this is the way my relationships are going to work, this is the way my ministry is going to work, this is the way I am going to decipher such-and-such situation. A month ago Chantal talked a bit about fasting from Isaiah 58: the kind of fast that God really wants is one of service and humility. It's a cool chapter but I don't think I was quite listening then. I've started to listen now, and an interesting result of obedience to the chapter is in the last verse: delight in the Lord.
And in my self-check, I realised that delirium is being replaced with delight. I don't feel like I'm walking around in a daze anymore. Life is still totally unpredictable, but I'm learning to see the purposes behind the unpredictability. This afternoon I stared at the apartment buildings and thought about this: in the USSR era, huge blocks of identical buildings were built in every part of the city. People and days were supposed to be more or less the same. But of course humanity doesn't work that way, and maybe to some extent people always shift and change things here just because they can. These days the only predictable rhythm in my life seems to be that of my neighbours beating their rugs outside. It's absolutely a miracle that this is okay with me, and that I'm learning to shift and change along with everything and everyone else.
Recent pleasant surprises have included finding out that the couple who leads praise and worship (both of whom I utterly adore) just had a healthy baby boy, or a session of jumping into a huge pile of woodshavings with friends (one pair of socks will forever have bits of wood embedded in them), being told that I speak Russian with no accent (but I don't know any words!), or an evening with a doctor who fed me ice cream for dinner and told me it was good for me (I'm willing to believe! ice cream is all-natural and utterly luscious here, but I should be careful about habit-forming...).
Some surprises that will be habits are my home group (all twentysomethings except for the 16-year-old leader... and she's great at it) and an English class that I'm teaching at the institute soon enough... since I just loooove grammar so much.
But I can even delight in grammar. When I know God wants me to! In the Bible, delight is constantly associated with focusing on God's word and order of things: a.k.a. obedience. Delirium holds desperation, depression and mania, confusion, and misunderstanding. Delight holds focus, joy, spiritual order, and truth. That is a mouthful, I guess. But instead of planning so much and being confused when things don't go my way, I'm learning just to obey, and not to bother doing things unless I know that God is the one who is initiating (and ergo really doing) them.
So thanks for praying even though you haven't heard from me in a while. Please pray for me but for my family-community here, also a huge source of delight for me. A lot of really cool things are starting to happen for all of us, about which I fully intend to write to you as soon as I get to see just what they are! I'd also appreciate prayer about this quickly-approaching summer; I doubt I'll be going to the US but I'm still not sure what I will do. Any brilliant ideas would be more than welcome. Some things do require a little planning, and this is probably one of them.
- 24 April 2001
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