I just finished reading “Flunking Sainthood”, by Jana Riess. It’s a pretty light read, documenting this spiritual tourist’s attempt to reproduce one ancient “spiritual discipline” per month, for a year. Things don’t go as planned, as she tries to emulate a strict Jewish sabbath, practice Benedictine hospitality, tithe, and sit in contemplative prayer. But the sum is greater than its parts, as she finishes the year with some wisdom, and humility at how difficult even simple disciplines can be. I give it two thumbs up, but I’m into this sort of thing.
Her book got me thinking about a practice I used to embrace. In grade school, we were taught a simple prayer, traced back to the fourth century mystic “desert fathers” of Egypt. This prayer is still practiced in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and has recently regained a toe hold in contemplative Christian practice in the west. How and why a Redemptorist Catholic priest in Midland, Michigan was teaching this powerful practice to 11 year olds in 1975, I can’t imagine. But it’s stuck with me: Breathing in: “Lord Jesus Christ;” Breathing Out: “Son of God;” in again: “Have Mercy On;”, final exhalation: “Me a sinner.” Lather, Rinse, Repeat. The desert fathers prayed this ceaselessly throughout the day, and some even prayed it in their sleep. It was felt that this powerful mantra invoked the name of Jesus in his relationship as King and Son, and then placed the servant humbly in his place in the universe, in need of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. I dare you to try it: it’s remarkably powerful, and also a great sleep aid.
The has me considering spiritual disciplines, setting a challenge that will center me on what’s important and making time for something just because it is worth doing.
Here’s my plan: my spiritual discipline will be to write a brief blog, every day, for four weeks. At the end of four weeks, I’m going to be traveling to a country with little internet access, and zero tolerance for Christian bloggers, so that will be that. And I wrote a blog yesterday, so this counts as day 2. My spiritual discipline, my rules.
The concept seems a little self-indulgent, like posting on Facebook a picture of what you’ve eaten for lunch that day. But Jana Riess wrote a whole book about her pursuit of spiritual disciplines, so I feel enabled to write a blog. I love writing blogs, and kind of feel like it’s a chance to give a glimpse into our life for all of the people who support us emotionally, in prayer, and financially. But too often, I’m exhausted at the end of the day, and a bowl of popcorn and episode of “Prison Break” take the place of sharing my day. I can’t promise any profound insights, but I’ll try to just give a fair representation of the day to day here at Kijabe.
So, here we go…
Today is Sunday, and we’re deep into the rainy season. Our cement-block house has a sheet metal roof, and the only heat is from a log-burning fireplace in the living room. African rain can feel primordial: it comes down so hard, so suddenly, so loudly, that it saturates the senses. We cocoon in front of the fire, secure that our little house has stood for half a century against such tropical torrents.
Duty calls, and I’m up at 8 am to get coffee, french toast, and sausages ready for the troops. Kenya produces dark, rich coffee beans, the sausages come from Nairobi, and the eggs are laid here in Kijabe. The kids have been on school break for a month, but go back to school tomorrow. Ann and the kids get ready to go to the chapel up at Rift Valley Academy, but I am on call and have to go in to the hospital.
The northern parts of Kenya, bordering South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia, are very remote and largely outside the rule of law. Sadly, a wedding party was ambushed by bandits in Marsabit yesterday, on their way to the ceremony. Multiple members of the wedding party, in traditional garments and face paint, were gunned down. The survivors were swept up by a missionary pilot in a bush plane, and deposited at our gravel airstrip. The victims have been undergoing surgery, one after the other, since yesterday afternoon. Only one of the patients had a fracture, so that waits until this morning.
The surgery goes well, the bone is shattered, but the nerves and blood vessels are okay.
I just clean out the wounds, apply a splint, and we’ll come back later in the week to put a SIGN nail down the humerus to let it heal. He should be fine.
Next up, a disaster. Kenya has one of the deadliest road systems in the world. 14-passenger vans, often dilapidated wrecks, serve as share taxis: Uber taxis on drugs. The drivers are often lawless, pulling out into oncoming traffic to pass, forcing drivers to the shoulder of the road or be hit head on. Eventually, the Pauli exclusion principle prevails, and people are horribly injured.
Kamau was a passenger in such a vehicle, and survived with a relatively simple tibia (leg) fracture, which had protruded through the skin. He was taken to a rural hospital, where antibiotics were started, and surgery performed to clean out his wounds. Perfect care, up until this point. Unfortunately, at the end of the surgery, they tightly sutured his wounds, trapping any residual infection inside. Over the next week, huge amounts of pus built up, eventually stretching the surrounding skin to the point where it died.
Kamau came to us with fevers, a horrible smell, and whitish green pus dripping through his bandages. After his spinal anesthetic was placed, we peeled back his splint and dressings. Seasoned operating room tech’s fought the urge to gag from the stench. The skin of the leg was dead from knee to ankle. Pus dripped from his leg, onto the operating room table, and pooled on the floor. We spent the next two hours excising dead skin and muscle, finding yet another pocket of pus, cleaning the infected bones, and applying an external fixator to stabilize the fractures and allow access for wound care. At the end of the surgery, the wounds looked much cleaner, but he will need several more surgeries to eradicate the infection.
Once the infection is under control, we can swing muscle flaps to cover the exposed bone, and then skin graft over the muscle flaps. He’ll probably be in the hospital for a month or so.
As I finished the surgery, the heavens open again. I walk home grateful for the cool, cleansing shower, the scent of wet grass and mud replacing the terrible stench of infection. Surgical scrubs go into a bucket filled with bleach and water, and I climb straight into the shower, fearful that I could bring these aggressive drug resistant bacteria into the house. Ann has been hanging out with our new friends the Higgins family, who are here for three months from Utah. The kids are off playing somewhere, and we start organizing for dinner. The night gets chilly, we light the fire, and get ready for another week at Kijabe.