Many of you might find yourself in heavy Christmas and Holiday traffic. Maybe you are even reading this in the car (be carful!). But Espi, one of the YAGM Ate’s serving in Madagascar gives some wonderful insight about traffic in her life of service:
I’ve never been good at meditation. I have a natural talent for being anxious, and when my body is still, my mind flits frantically between making lists of things that need doing, reconstructing past experiences, predicting future scenarios, planning you name it (this blog post for example) in great detail, and so on. This tendency served me well in my life in America, where we learn very early on, “time is money,” and you are worth as much as you do (measured in a dollar amount or a letter grade).
And then came Antananarivo traffic. A number of people who I have met with here who have come from America have asked me how far away I live from my work (or some other destination). A valid question, to which the answer is always more complicated than they anticipate. In Tana, physical measured distance does not have any bearing on how long it will take you to get from A to B. When I head to church on Sunday morning at 5:15, I live 15 minutes away. When I return home on Tuesday afternoon at 4:00 after women’s group, I live an hour and a half away, and that’s if I chase down the first bus I see and throw enough elbows to actually make it on.
On the average morning between 6-9, around the time I head into work, I can count on the bus taking between an hour and an hour and a half to get me to my destination. Up to two hours if there is some sort of accident or car trouble. I am frequently late to my first class (or miss it all-together) due to the only semi-predictable traffic patterns, but once I am on the bus there is no use worrying about being on time. The only thing to do is wait.
I have been known to do any number of things on the bus: review lesson plans, memorize songs for choir, go through my Malagasy flashcards or dictionary, read a book or the Bible (which has resulted in pathetic attempts to evangelize in Malagasy prompted by my seat mates), work on friendship bracelets, eat breakfast. But sometimes, I’m just not in the mood to be productive and I stare out the window letting my mind make it’s lists and scenarios. After a half an hour of this activity, my mind quiets and my eyes passively take in my surroundings and I simply am.
I am learning how to wait. In America we superficially uplift this ability (“patience is a virtue,” “good things come to those who wait”), but everything about the rat race we participate in teaches us the opposite.
In Malagasy the word for wait is miandry [me-AHN-dgry]. When you insert a “p” after the “m” of any verb (all infinitive verbs start with “m”) the word becomes a noun for one who does that action. So one who waits is a mpiandry [pee-AHN-dgry]. This is also the word for shepherd; one who waits for sheep.
When we think of Jesus as The Shepherd, it’s appealing to think of Him heroically rescuing the one lost sheep from a thicket of thorns or circling wolves, then striding purposefully back to the 99 with the straggler triumphantly perched on His shoulders. And it’s easy to forget that the majority of the job description is sitting, passively looking around at sheep. Maybe even taking, goodness-forbid, a nap.
Perhaps waiting, simply being in a place and time, meditating, is a part of the call of Christianity that the West is particularly good at ignoring. So, the next time you’re sitting in traffic, consider it a Sabbath.