I don’t think I know any prophets or angels. Not personally anyway. But I do, every once in awhile, just get a strong nagging feeling that I’m supposed to go somewhere or talk to someone. Sometimes it feels like it comes out of nowhere. Many times it’s in the midst of something that has me feeling as if I’m standing on a precipice of an emotional abyss.
In the first few weeks of grieving after “Baby D” was sent to live with her birth father, I wanted to hide. Then I wanted to run away. I felt lost and angry and sad and I could tell I needed the light of The Star to show me that there was something beyond what I was experiencing; as a parent, as a pastor, as a musician, as any name I’d ever claimed. In the midst of my prayers and sadness the same thought kept coming to me; “Just ask. Just go.”
Last August, at the InterPlay Leadership Gathering in North Carolina, I was reunited with my friend Masankho Banda. He has been a guide and mentor for me for many years. Some of you may remember when we co-hosted him with InterPlay Seattle for a weekend several years ago. He is an international storyteller and cultivator of peace. He lives much of the time in Lilongwe, Malawi now and we have talked many times over the years of Benjamin and me visiting him there. He and his wife have recently finished building a house there.
Just ask. Just go.
I kept remembering the words of a Rwandan survivor someone had posted years before on Facebook:
“We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave. They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again. Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave.”
~A Rwandan talking to a western writer, Andrew Solomon, about his experience with western mental health and depression. From The Moth podcast, “Notes on an Exorcism”.
This wisdom resonated with me and my own (albeit comparably insignificant) experiences of healing. But it was November. It’s Seattle. I knew, even if I could rally a community to dance and sing with me; there’s no being outside in the sun to where I could begin to feel better.
I wrote to Masankho and said, “We’re having such hard time. I want to take Benjamin and just run away to visit you and Siphiwe (his wife) and be in the sun and drum and tell stories and dance.” He answered, “When? Let me check my travel schedule.”
But it seemed impossible. It’s been years since I’ve flown across the Atlantic much less ever having gone as far as Africa. Benjamin didn’t even have a passport. This was absurd. And the small voice kept saying:
Just ask. Just go.
In late December I asked my colleagues, “So, uh, what would you think about me going to Malawi in…February. I know it would interrupt all our schedules…” They answered, “Yes. Go.”
And I still couldn’t quite get there because it just felt ridiculous, even as I was looking up flights and procrastinating on work by planning imaginary itineraries. It felt outlandish to be inviting myself to someone’s home. What a burden to put on them…
And the little voice just wouldn’t go away. So I finally asked Masankho again, “What if we came in February?” He said, “Yes! Come!”
And suddenly it was the new year and I realized the only barrier to going were barriers I was putting up myself.
So we’re going. We leave on February 13 and we’ll be back on March 2.
Because we asked. And a little voice told us it would be okay to just ask, and just go, and get what our hearts most need to heal and grow.
I am so grateful to be a part of a community and congregation that encourages me to listen to the spirit and dare to ask and go. I hope, when the time comes, I can encourage you, too. You can do what your heart most needs. Just ask. Just go.