Sunday, February 3, 2013

La Luna

Photo compliments of Bill Colwell Jr.

Ah La Luna La Luna
The night that we fell under the spell of the moon
Ah La Luna La Luna
The light that will bring me back to you
- “La Luna” by Belinda Carlisle

Within the complicated tapestry of life, one will inevitably cross over a few woven seams that serve as landmarks upon the quilt of our minds.  Occasionally someone will ask me why I’ve chosen to work in Africa. “Why waste your time and talents among the frustrations of the ‘dark continent’?” is a sentiment broached on more than one occasion. Let me tell you story – actually, let me relate an experience, an encounter, which I had more than thirteen years ago:

If one is willing and keeps an open-mind, there are moments – not hours - just moments, mere seconds, and if we’re lucky, perhaps minutes, when the curtain of our mortal existence is drawn back to reveal the indescribable eternal reality of the vast universe in which we actually subsist.  It is beyond description yet incredibly authentic and fills one’s inner core with such overwhelming sentiment as to defy all human logic. Rather like a glimpse into a fifth or sixth dimension by a human being who understands but a reality based in three dimensions – perhaps dimly comprehending a fourth.

Though this particular experience occurred many years ago, the scene is seared into my memory by the strength of its associated feelings. It remains vivid and true.  Yet in all honesty, I cannot properly explain it. Language, music, and pictures – all fail to convey the encounter - a magical moment when for a few brief seconds the universe seemed aligned and the future clear and certain.

I was a student missionary volunteering at a remote mission hospital nestled in the mountains that separated Tanzania from Burundi. I had been in the country for several months and was relatively used to the noise and bustle of a hospital filled with the characteristic cries of babies and chatter of patients with their endless stream of visitors. Since the hospital was part of a larger compound containing the houses of the staff, including my own volunteer house, it was rather like a small village. The population density, like most places in Africa, was such that one was never alone. As one traversed the area a continual crowd of children followed and other village folk walking from field to home or market were everywhere.

Tonight was different. I was out at an hour much later than usual and found myself strolling along the eerie and deserted barren slip of grass utilized as a landing strip by the tiny mission planes when transporting important people or emergency patient cases. Tonight the air was pleasantly cool. Not cold; but, of that quality that refreshes and enlivens the body. A tender breeze that was too soft to be felt through my clothing, ruffled the leaves in the towering eucalyptus trees that lined the far side of the airstrip, whispering faint echoes of the events of the past day.  The smoke of the day’s fires had cleared leaving behind the earthy aroma of dirt and grass to fill my subconscious with thoughts of green pastures and fertile gardens yielding crops of succulent vegetables.

However, I was only vaguely aware of these sensory inputs. Instead, my consciousness tuned into the curious absence of the typical sensory assaults. No screaming children’s voices floated in air. No motorcycles roared across the dirt sending up plumes of red dust and black exhaust. No goats bleated in passing, trussed up so as not to wander too far with fraying pieces of strings tied round their spindly legs. No farmers carrying bundles of dried sticks on their heads for the evening fire stepped with a resigned plodding pace, mumbling greetings in passing and then staring with wide, curious eyes at the strange white anomaly in their path. Although there was nothing wrong with these interruptions during the day, I found myself drifting peacefully and gratefully into a state of relaxation induced by this unexpected luxury of peculiar stillness blanketing the deserted airstrip.

As the bewitching stillness gradually seeped into my soul, I came to halt in the middle of the field. I let the atmosphere capture my imagination and enclose me in its captivating spell of silent wonder. The moon began to creep over the encircling hills and the soft, luminescent beams pierced the thick night’s blackness with an ethereal glow. The stars hung suspended in infinity. Sparkling. Shining. Smiling.

Then the moon rose to its fullness in the sky. A full moon. Its presence commandeered the night. If you have never seen a full moon at the equator, you have not seen the moon in all its glorious richness. The tilt of the earth at the equator makes the moon seem larger than anywhere else in the world.  Its light dwarfed the tiny starry sparks in the sky and spread across the empty expanse of the airstrip with an almost deafening roar. I couldn’t help but stare in awe at the massive reflector of brilliance.

All of a sudden everything seemed small and insignificant in comparison. My life was caught up in the wonder of it all. For a brief period my finite existence was inexplicably coupled with the infinite. I was interconnected to every other life force in the universe. I was not alone; yet a crowd did not overshadow me. Disappointments, despair, sadness, tragedy, frustrations, loneliness, and unhappiness, were oddly, swept away. The earthly reality seemed to shrink in proportion to the vast, endless spiritual reality that filtered through my consciousness. Somehow I felt certain that I was allied with the rest of the cosmos. I was an integrated player in the chorus of heaven, created in harmony with the rest of God’s symphony. Such a realisation and peace filled my heart that there are no words upon earth to describe it – a transcendence of the eternal through the limits of time and space.

Of course, I did not remain forever transfixed by the spell of this moonlit night. The moon rose higher into the sky and the stars came back into focus. The soft stillness of the night cushioned me in her arms as the magical moments broke and the curtain fell back in place, covering up the mysteries of the infinite once again. I returned to the earthly realities of a three dimensional existence.

From that experience, that encounter, a love affair was born. It is an affair with Africa that continues to this day. Admittedly, the magical moment that occurred thirteen years ago doesn’t happen often.  Yet, there are glimpses of that original night. Just as the moon cycles throughout the month with varying slivers of silver shining through the velvet blackness of the night; so too there are varying experiences that shimmer with glimpses from the other side of the curtain – a spontaneous smile from a happy child, an unexpected gift of thanks from a grateful client, the joyful exclamation of the grandmother over her new grandchild, the golden-pink hues of a beautiful sunset spreading over the outline of the mountains, the sweet taste of garden-ripe pineapple at first bite, the shiver of awe when a friend gives you a word of encouragement at the precise moment most needed, the delicate aroma of the night flowers wafting across the evening breeze –  these glowing embers  are reminders that I am part of something greater than my mortal eyes can perceive. I have been captured by the spell of the African moon. Every now and then, when the planets align just right, I gaze upward at night and am filled with that same wonderment that engulfed me many years ago.


“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” 
Psalm 8:3,4

“This moment contains all moments.” C.S. Lewis

Listen as the wind blows from across the great divide,
Voices trapped in yearning, memories trapped in time,
The night is my companion and solitude my guide,
Would I spend forever here and not be satisfied?
- “Possession” by Sarah McLachlan