Friday, 12 October 2012

Dumbfounded by Grace

"In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise."
W.H. Auden

"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills" - I close my eyes and let the slow, soothing narrative evoke images of the familiar scenes to follow. Here, I too become a mental traveller, smelling the coffee plantations and feeling the wind on my skin as we soar above the Kenyan planes. Like the hero of this story, I love a story well told, and this classic film about a Danish baroness' struggles on her "farm in Africa", even entranced our three year old from beginning to end. This Sunday was a typical Hogsback day, misty-cool and wet. A day of fellowship, heartwarming food and for desert; a good movie. After sitting through tiresome repetitions of meaningless children's movies, we have discovered (with much wonder and relief) that our boys can somehow relate better to films about "real people". They both literally fell off the couch with excitement when that yellow biplane roars over lake Nakuru, the horizon filled with wave upon wave of pink flamingo's.*

Back to our own house on the hill - the wandering bovines of Hogsback have pruned our tender elm trees and neighbouring swines have dug up our newly terraced vegetable garden. It is still raining, still cold and the mists continue to swirl around the birches. Nonetheless, the veldt is lush with new growth in shades of startling green, the frogs are frogging and water reservoirs filled to the brim. In their lofty look-outs, fire-watchmen breathe sighs of relief and those whose seedbeds have not been raided, smile. Yes, the rain is a friend, as are the mists, even though it has taken me just over four years to embrace this gracious friendship. But it is the rain that refreshes my heart that I need most, for only then, can grace overflow into my life.

The community of Hogsback is an eccentric mix of individuals. Some are easy to love. With some I really need to remind myself that God extends (offers) grace to all people, and so should I. Our village brims with creative and artistic talent. We have sculptors, potters, poets, painters, mosaic artists, cheese makers, a knife maker, wood turners, a silver smith, musicians... The best of them all: an amazing artisan baker... The baker and I have been blessed with two amazing little cherubs called Luke and Daniel. They are works in progress, but we trust that they are masterpieces in their own right.

A group of quilters pin and sow textures and fabrics into functional art that is a delight to the senses. One can loose yourself in the intricate designs, drawing your eyes from the marvel of a completed work, to each intricate detail and touch that is the signature of the seamstress. It is the reward of patience, delicate attention to detail, as well as a willingness to creative intuitively , a reminder that all gifts and talents are God-breathed.

I am deeply privileged to call one of these woman a dear friend and mentor, not as a quilter, but sister in faith. The warmth and peace of her home attests to a woman who walks with her Saviour and it is wonderfully infectious! Whenever we meet there in His name, I marvel at how we rush in from our mountain-hollows, (often with wispy breaths and cold noses) to melt deliciously into the wide quilt-covered couches. It is a "gracious" warmth, not just from the hearth. Here the Spirit of God has infused each inch and atom, soaked up through years of daily devotion to Him who longs to live in our hearts.
"Enlarge the limits of your home, spread wide the curtains of your tent; let out the ropes to the full and drive your pegs home;" Isaiah 54:2

Back to the subject of grace... In his book "What is so amazing about Grace" Phillip Yancy explores the need for (and desperate lack of) grace at street level. If grace is God's love for the undeserving, and through Christ we become it's true dispensers, then how are we doing at lavishing grace on a world that knows far more about cruelty and unforgiveness than it does of mercy? Trace the roots of grace, or charis in Greek and you will find a verb that means "I rejoice, I am glad". We probably each have a different concept of grace and many reasons to be in need of giving or receiving it. For me, it is a humble acknowledgement of how in need I am of Divine grace. To live in this state of surrender, to share the gift, and  remain willing to forgive, is a daily challenge. Can I do this by my own strength? Most certainly not. I still stumble through most days, but I do have the certainty that "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength" Phil 4:13

C.S Lewis uses the term "drippings of grace" for what awakens a deep longing in us for "a scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited" This struck a bitter-sweet chord with me. I remember feeling so hollow, that I would weep with longing and have no idea what for. In Afrikaans they say: "Jy sit op die stoep en verlang na mense wat jy nie ken nie" The thirst for grace will not be quenched, not even by the most crystalline mountain water. It is only when we respond to this great invitation that we will thirst no more. "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me,..... streams of living water will flow from within him. John 7:37

As I write this, the sun finally breaks through. The mountains loom large in the distance, casting deep shadows on their slopes. After a three-day "absence" behind the clouds they are once again breathtaking. To wake up each new day with this post-card panorama outside my window, is something I hope never to take for granted. Everything glistens, beads of moisture cling to the trees and the wild wideness of it, opens fresh spaces in my heart.

A forest walk brought this day to a close, watching two little blond heads bobbing through the pines, their happy voices carried on the still air. The Elandsberg flanks the road next to the forest and in front of us lay Gaika kop, (named after King Ngqika, the Xhosa ruler who reigned over the Rharhabe tribe in the beginning of the 19th century). Seeing things through these little ones eyes has made each experience new. They are like puppies, wide-eyed with exuberance, "tails" wagging and eager to please. We have received such healing through our babies, they have taught us to sing again, to play, to believe in endless possibilities and potential. They have allowed us a glimpse into the holiest of holies whence they came from. We learn, day by day, to trust again, to love more, but mostly, to surrender to the endless grace that began at that rugged cross, on a hill, far away...

* Out of Africa, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. The story of Baroness Karen Blixen and her struggles on her Kenyan farm.

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