Sister Rafiki (Or, take your joy seriously)


Occasionally, and especially at inappropriate moments, I like to offer unsolicited snippets of ‘wisdom’ to friends in the persona of Sister Rafiki. It’s basically a cross between an annoying fictional baboon and a fortune cookie. Gems include: ‘Criticising others when in desolation is like being a monkey in a zoo. The shit you are throwing is your own.’ (Which, btw, is totally true.)

This week I’ve found myself coming back again and again to a simple mantra that could be a Sr Rafiki slogan. It goes like this: my desire in him is his desire in me.

I started thinking about it weeks ago after a conversation with one of our older sisters. Before she moved to our care home in York she was based down in London, where her ministry was writing letters to friends and family, and talking to anyone and everyone she met – on the bus, at Mass, in the shops, at the local market, wherever. She loved the conversations and meeting new people, and she really misses it now that she doesn’t get out so much. As we talked, I realised that her need for sociability and conversation was at the heart of her ministry. By that, I don’t mean that her ministry was a cover for meeting her own needs, I mean that, through her human need for conversation and social interaction, Christ was reaching out to the people with whom she spoke: the people who needed a friendly word, or someone to pray for a relative, or someone to share their health worries with. Her need was Christ’s need in her. Her desire was Christ’s desire in her.

I’m now three weeks into my placement in the homeless centre in Manchester. Over the last couple of years, this kind of work has been one of my real joys. Something in me feels free, joyful, alive and in love when I’m there, whether or not it’s easy or has much immediate feel-good factor. Being in the company of those who are marginalised or living in poverty has begun to feel more and more like something I need. I’ve realised that I often ignore this by explaining it simply in terms of my liking for energetic work, or meeting new people, or tackling problems. But over the last few weeks, as I’ve prayed the examen at the end of each day, I’ve become increasingly aware that I need to take my desire and my joy more seriously. This isn’t just about me enjoying myself. My desire to be with these people is Christ’s desire to be with them.

I know we say stuff like this all the time, but I think sometimes we get it the wrong way round. We think ‘Well, Jesus wanted to help poor people, so I should want to help too,’ and act out of a conscious (and very well-meant) determination that we ought to help people. Living out of the Sister Rafiki version feels different to me: it draws on my heart’s I want, not my head’s I ought, and in doing so it draws on a resource infinitely deeper than my own personal preference or usefulness: the desire of Christ to come close to and console his people.

So, for what it’s worth, here’s your Sister Rafiki-isms for the day:

Take your joy seriously.

Your desire in Christ is Christ’s desire in you.