By Helen Blakesley
Being ill is rarely what I’d call fun. But feeling under the weather in a developing country … now that’s a whole new board game. Don’t get me wrong, I know how lucky I am, having (by sheer fluke) been born into a loving, solvent family in the developed world. But this week, while I was lying under my mosquito net, drenched in sweat, the water supply cut off and no electricity to turn the blades of my long-suffering fan … I must admit, I did throw myself what in the U.S. you might call quite a sizeable “pity party”.
Speaking to friends close at hand and loved ones far away helped pull me from the clutches of self-pity and frustration. As did turning to the meditations of Brother Roger of Taizé (yes, I’m a big fan!) The thought for that day was this:
“Holy Spirit, inner light, you shine in the happy days as well as in the times in our life when we undergo trials. And when the daylight seems to disappear, your presence remains. It forges our inner self. It enables us to go forward from one beginning to another.”
That phrase “from one beginning to another” really resonates with me. I first heard it in 1994, during my first visit to the ecumenical community of Taizé in the Burgundy region of France. I was a hurt and bewildered 15-year-old, trying to come to terms with the news that my parents were to divorce. I felt my world was falling apart. Certainly, nothing would ever be the same again. In the midst of this churning of my life (and in my stomach) came this steadying sentiment: that we can start afresh again and again, and that’s OK. That God’s with us in this renewal.
Flash forward seventeen years … and when I was back on my feet again after the dose of Dakar Flu, I found a soothing sight as I looked out of my bedroom window. Bright yellow weaver birds, chirruping and energetically bobbing along the outspread palms of the coconut tree. Suddenly, they’d spring up, hovering with beating wings, as they tugged with little beaks at the loose strips of dry palm. I watched on as they wove their new-found foliage into quirkily spherical-shaped nests lodged between the fronds. Last year’s nests are left, hanging, dried out and empty. Each nesting season, a new, all-consuming effort to start afresh.
And when my health was fully restored (give or take a cough or a sniffle), I ventured out to my favorite chill-out place, a private beach and pool where I (semi-guiltily) indulge myself when the hustle and hassle of Dakar gets too much. It’s a place to stretch limbs or to rest them, to breathe in the sea air as the call to prayer floats on the breeze to your own shady spot of paradise.
As I stepped off the street to enter the gardens where my secret oasis begins, I glanced up to catch that first glimpse of the sea. It did it again. Every time, the sight of turquoise blue and dancing sunlight takes the breath from my chest. And to me, those waves crashing over and over onto the sands are just a perfect metaphor for an energy, a purpose renewed, time and again. I’ve always found that the sea holds a uniquely healing power. Though Blighty’s version usually involves a slightly more bracing wind!
It got me thinking about my life, about how I could invite afresh a sense of renewal into my work, my relationships, my faith. Asking the Holy Spirit to walk with me as I move towards each new beginning.
Helen Blakesley is CRS’ regional information officer for West and Central Africa. She’s based in Dakar, Senegal.
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