Friday, February 28, 2014

When My Spirit Was Not A {Spirit of the Poor}

Linking up with Luke Harms for the second #spiritofthepoor synchroblog:

Red dirt of Africa, calling out to me again.
Visit in dreams and visions and memories.
Who knew so many changes
Could happen in one decade?
Not the coastal town, but my own heart
No longer whited out but starting to fill in
Red and pumping. Red, like the West Coast soil.
Red, like the history of the castle whose screams yet echo
And chase the unsuspecting to the edge
To gaze down at the waves crashing over jagged rocks in the sea
In search of the breath that means I’m still alive
Even while death is calling out.
I am no longer deaf.

Warm oceanside breeze.
It blows hot against my skin
Creating goosebumps even though I am not cold.
I can still see:
Palms swaying,
Abandoned boats pulled high up from the tide,
Bible verses etched into dead sanded wood,
The daily crushing of meal,
The children in mismatched garments begging for American dollar,
They knew better than I that I did not really bring them anything
Even though that was my mission.
I feel the weight of my carelessness.

Taste of pineapple fresh from the fields. I realized
There is no such thing as "real" pineapple in my country-
They look alike but the flavor is as different as our two worlds.
When I'm honest, it's easy to tell the difference.
I am not senseless.

Coarse and colorful designs of Ghanian textiles,
Deftly sewn into beautiful robes by grace-filled women
Who refused to be swallowed in the despair of their poverty.
I spent more than I owned to secure the token garments
Which my "buy now, pay later" options afforded.
The dress calls from my closet
And asks me why I have not worn her for the last three years.
And I don’t know what to tell her.
“I don’t deserve you?“
I am no longer blind.

The scent of the trash burning 
In every backyard of Cape Coast
Would make my eyes water, 
And the stench is indescribable-
You just have to experience it and learn to accept it
Right along with the flies buzzing
Around your skirt-covered ankles.
I try to interpret the message these memories send
And I could be wrong, but
I cannot be silent about this:
Because I wonder...
Does the odor of my privilege smell the same?



  1. Jamie, Such powerful memories for you and jolting similar memories for me of my time in Nicaragua. I thank you for this reflection, and for the depth of searching in your mind and soul it took to bring this piece to life The dress in the closet is the perfect metaphore for the whole memory of your expiencein Africa, and it draws out of us any similar experience we might have had looking at our life from outside our life, and now looking at our life from the memory of being outside our life and wondering how we can be whole in our imagining of how life should be lived. You have made my mind and thoughts wander. Thank you.

  2. I have not lived a terribly long life yet, Newell, but I have learned that often the way to move forward is to ponder what is past. It was not at all the post I expected it to be, having initially been only 6-7 lines long, but it was the one I needed to give attention to. I'm glad it stirred some memories for you. May your ponderings lead to truth and gentle conviction where necessary. Bless you.

  3. Wow, Jamie. Your words put clear, raw, and painful images in my mind. "Does the odor of my privilege smell the same?" - a very profound challenge to all of us who live with great privilege. So much to think about. So much to be challenged by. Thank you!

  4. Thank you for your encouraging words. Living with eyes open and blinders shattered often feels painful as I adjust to the light and the way the path before me actually looks. But I keep walking it anyway because it is a journey that matters. I pray each step brings our whole world closer to Love.

  5. Dear Jamie,

    There's nothing like a wake up call when you've lived or ministered in a third world country. You've helped me to remember my own awakening, in Chile, 35 years ago. because it's so easy to fall asleep again, here in a beautiful land... in safety and security.

    The indescribable stench in every backyard, and your final sentence tying it all together with a question, "Does the odor of my privilege smell the same?"

    Your words make me want to dig deeper into my own heart, to repent deeper, to rise up and do something worthy of the opportunities here. May God lead each of us to make a difference, if only in the lives in front of us. Thank you for this sacred place, Jamie, where I felt the breath of God in your words!

  6. Ahh…there's the poetic response. I love all sides of you, Jamie. Thanks for being a part of this community we're building around these issues. You're a powerful voice for spiritual wholeness.

  7. 'Who refused to be swallowed in the despair of their poverty'
    Hope - they had it against all the odds. As we learn that our own situation is so compromised, that so many of our decisions contribute to poverty and injustice we must not lose hope either. It is hard to see clearly as you do, and not be consumed by guilt but that is where we are called, where we are calling each other. We are exposing our own particular poverty - of understanding, of commitment, of justice. Sharing our experiences, encouraging each other, we too need to 'refuse to be swallowed in the despair of our poverty'.

  8. Susan you live with eyes open and you live with your heart open, too. You have known your own sorrows and I think often when we truly take the time to revisit our inner places of grief and regret we find our way forward. Maybe we don't find answers but we find direction and we find compassion- for ourselves and others. And we find it is enough to start with. May those opportunities be abundantly clear to you, dear one.

  9. I did not know I was going to write a poem for this time. I had a few lines and they weren't really poetry, just a description. But I went back to edit them and they exploded. I love when that happens. I keep running into unexpected abundance, though it never manifests itself as the wealth we have been conditioned to look for. I'm really starting to wonder if "Beauty will save the world" is actually a lot more practical than we give it credit for. It's just counter-intuitive to the fix-it-now satisfaction I often crave. But there's something there. And it's huge.

  10. Wow, that is such a great insight, Juliet! The thought that we have our own brand of poverty. I agree. Guilt can be a paralyzing thing! I pray we have the strength to grieve but not wallow- to do the small and seemingly inadequate rather than throw our hands up and wonder what the point of it all is. I'm thankful for your companionship as we sit in the discomfort of our too-many years of sleep. We have many opportunities left to bring about healing, as long as we settle for small-scale. I believe the big changes will happen. But they will be built upon the framework of the smaller ones. Let us start where we can and not be anxious of the outcome. I love your tender heart that beats for justice. Bless you.


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