It’s two years to the day since I walked out of the front door of my parents’ house and began the long walk to the London CJ house to begin my postulancy. I couldn’t have imagined then that exactly two years later I would be getting on a plane to Guyana.
Several people have asked me what I will be doing in Guyana. In practical terms, the details are pretty sketchy. For most of the three months I’m there, I’ll be staying with some Ursuline sisters, joining them in their ministry to the local Amerindian community in Karasabai and surrounding villages. The sisters work with a team of six Jesuit priests who minister to the Catholic communities in the interior.
In spiritual terms, I am doing the same thing I was doing when I walked to Willesden: following Jesus in what Jean Vanier calls ‘the love that knows its way forward’, even though I do not know where it will end up. I find it very hard to be articulate about this, because I scarcely understand it myself, except that I am convinced that it is the invitation of Christ and that it needs to be followed with everything I’ve got.
What has grown in me over the last two years is a need to be with the poor. This hasn’t emerged as a sort of preoccupying idea, or a feeling that I ‘ought’, but as something very real: I have discovered the desire to be with the poor through being with people who are poor, in various ways. I don’t feel the need to fling myself into social activism and projects, although committing myself to the poor does mean committing myself to their life and flourishing. It is just a need to be with, to give my life and share theirs, as far as I am able.
Following this desire took me to Manchester, and to my last placement in a homeless day centre. Though I have done lots of homeless work over the last ten years, I sensed that I would have a lot to learn about accompanying people day-in, day-out over a longer period. It’s hard to put into words what I actually learned. I think that Jesus brought me into their company not so that I could do anything for them, but so that they could show me something. I have always been so capable and strong, so proudly self-sufficient, and what a great big fat camel I felt when I was with them! Here I am, laden down with all my riches, working out what to shed and how, while they walk unburdened straight into the kingdom of God! This, I think, is what Jesus gives me through their friendship: a glimpse of their absolute preciousness, the desire to bear witness to it, and above all, the desire to enter the kingdom in which they are so much at home. I saw my own poverty and weakness in a new way: together with them I felt ‘black and beautiful’ (Sg 1.3). And I understood all over again that this vocation is not about doing, but about becoming in myself a great open space for God, an expanse in which the kingdom can be built, a space for encounter. This is what the vows are beginning to mean to me – they are about keeping that space clear, opening it up, protecting it.
So that’s why I’m going to Guyana. It is the next step in ‘the love that knows its way forward’. While I’m there, blog posts may appear, but they’ll be in the form of round-robin letters!