Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lazarus Rose Tonight, Right Down the Road. (or, How My Life Is Myth). Take your pick.

I interrupt this mythic retelling with a glimpse into my mythic dwelling.

I spent last night with the Haghighis, my newly adopted Iranian family (I have a godfather now! Hooray!), and was planning to leave for New Orleans tonight, but when they invited me to their bible study group ("All Iranian. Only 5 people come - you make six," said Mina), how could I refuse? So we all piled into their van, and off we went, not to the Jehovah's Witness church we'd been to last Sunday (fancifully located in a neighborhood called Sherwood Forest, which gave a whole different meaning to the concept of tithing), but to the gigantic, famous, three-giant-white-crosses-conveniently-towering-over-the-highway-next-to-Walmart Baptist church, where a small group of Spanish speaking folks met in one room, and the Farsi speaking folks met in another, and everything else was closed, and clean, and vast.

Mohammad, the leader of the group, explained to me that it's a study group for new Christians, and that they review different basic themes and pray together. He talked about the movement towards Christianity in Iran (largely underground, completely banned, heavily persecuted, and strongly funded by some US churches, the one we were in included), and what it means to be a follower of Christ, both in Iran and America. I mentioned a Pakistani woman I met after 9/11, when green cards were no longer freely reissued to folks from the Middle East.
A Christian, she'd fled her homeland under death threat, only to have her request for asylum denied by the US government. She'd hidden in her pastor's apartment for months before fleeing once again, this time to Canada, where she was guaranteed religious asylum - if she could get there.
A one-time volunteer with an organization that helps refugees resettle, I'd hosted her for the night before driving her over the border the following morning. It was an intense experience, both culturally and personally, richly resonant and harrowingly simple.
She taught me how to cook a traditional chicken and rice dish, and gifted me with some of the few things she had with her, gifts that held such obvious meaning that I couldn't refuse: A ring. A sweater. Half a bottle of perfume. And some, even more difficult to sidestep, though infinately higher in value: a good match with her pastor's son. A wedding dripping with gold and happiness and music. A chance to be like a daughter to her, forever close, for always...
I tried to calm her mounting panic, prayed with her and awkwardly hugged her, made phone calls and small talk and attempted to navigate linguistic barriers and cultural boundaries. (No, I didn't want to share a bed. No, I couldn't marry the stranger on the phone, but thank you, how kind, oh, thank you, but no...) Young and naive, I did my best, though I felt I didn't do enough.
I will always feel I didn't do enough.
Tonight, hearing again of the horrors people go through to practice their various faiths, I thought of her again; thought of how alone she must have felt, and how I still wish I'd offered to share a room with her instead of leaving her alone in the dark.
Tonight, I send her my prayers, wherever she is, and wish her well. I wish us all well.

After about fifteen of minutes of chatting, a few glasses of tea (I'm pretty sure I drink more tea than most Iranians, but Mina says "is OK", so I believe her), and a prayer in both Farsi and English, Mohammad turned on a DVD of hymns in Farsi, and the group began to sing. Behind the text, a background of beautiful scenery from the northern part of Iran scrolled by: waterfalls, flower gardens, forests, a castle, snowy hillsides, a small thatched church... and as they changed, and I listened to the few voices raised in prayer, I visualized the land that I've wanted to plant since I set foot on Dave's farm, and the herbal business I want to grow, and haven't stopped thinking about since I left Pennsylvania.

Only instead of wondering how I'll do it, or what my business plan will be, or when I'll even start, I saw it all clearly as the sanctuary that I've always wanted for myself, but expanded beyond my immediate circle (and wildest dreams) into a sanctuary for people of all faiths, from all over the planet. A small organic farm and herbal body-care business, the real magic of the place came (comes? will come?) from the fact that it's also a temporary home to those who need one, those who may have never harvested a flower or mixed a salve, but who are willing to work in exchange for a time of respite and peace, safety and food, new knowledge and the chance to worship in the way they desire, putting prayer and hope into products that bring joy and healing to the world.
I saw this, and it felt good, and tender, and possible. It felt beautiful, and important. It felt true.

The song ended, and I found myself praying, fervently, that I can take part in something that connected and useful, that I might use my life to craft a place with that much meaning. Just then, one of the women asked a question.
"Who do you say..Lazari--?"
"Lazarus?" I asked, with a shocked sense of connection.
"Yes, Lazarus!" Mohammad smiled.
The song they'd been singing was about Lazarus. Mohammad translated a line for me, as I sat, reeling, suddenly close to tears.
"From the loneliness of darkness to the fullness of light."

Does anyone out there want to craft this vision with me?

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