We decided to bring a coup coup (a.k.a. a machete) with us, though we didn’t know if we’d need it or not. It was just a stroll to the waterfall to go swimming.
Usually, it took about 45 minutes to walk from my house in Togo, West Africa to the beautiful waterfalls of Bafilo. During my two years there, the path had become familiar; walk east on the dirt road for a couple miles and then south on a farmer’s footpath for awhile and you’d find a refreshing place to swim at the top of a waterfall.
One day, while friends were visiting, three of us, decided to go swimming. Maybe it was the heat, but somehow, as we set off from home, it made sense to us to try to walk straight across the wild hills to the waterfall rather than following the familiar (but indirect) route. Cara was wearing flip flops. Phynessa ran back into the house to get my coup coup in case there were brambles to get through. We optimistically thought we were about to discover a better way.
We underestimated the wilderness. Eight hours, six scratched up and bleeding legs, and one broken flip flop later, we arrived at the falls.
This relatively benign wilderness adventure keeps coming to mind for me this Lent. It’s odd really because nothing about the wilderness around me feels empowering or adventurous. Not the most recent school shooting or the endless gun debates; not the sickness and grief some in our community are experiencing and not the toxic information overload of our political and media worlds. So why does this adventure keep coming to mind when I think about Lenten wilderness?
I have started to wonder if God is calling us this Lent into something more adventurous. I wonder if we are to find our power as a community this Lent. I wonder if a truly strenuous and demanding hike is anything like a truly lived Lent?
I wonder what kind of courage it would take to reach out in the various ways we each need to reach out this Lent; to join the bereavement support group, or the cancer survival group, to take up a new project, read a new book, work on a challenging relationship, create a restorative sabbath practice, or explore a new ministry. What does a straight line between where we are and where God is calling us to go look like? And are we ready to put one foot in front of the other and head in that direction over unknown territory?
After eight hours in the heat of the day, bush-whacking our way through the tangles and briers of Sub-Sahara Africa, the arrival at the top of the falls was victorious and the water felt amazing as we cannon-balled in fully clothed. Full and complete joy was partaken of. And as we took the well-known path home, north and then west, the sun setting before us was like a bath of peace, washing away the uncertainty and pain of the day.
If Easter felt this way (both like a joyful cannonball into cool water and like the sunset bathing us in peace), we would know, I do believe, that we had followed the call to break free of the predictable and allow the spirit to lead us on the risky adventure of Lent. To surrender to the adventure is to arrive in the waters of Easter and find ourselves, somehow, beautifully Alive in Christ.
The Rev. Becky Gettel
February 22, 2018 reflection