My wife always used to say to our daughters,’be kind.’Kindness has always been an expression of her faith and spirituality. I have not always been kind and, it took an act of unexpected kindness to ‘convert’ me, or at least convert my heart.
Picture the me of ten years ago: successful (in worldly terms),cultured (by reference to my own group’s definition), highly educated (the right schools, universities and degree programmes) and, miserable. Yes, miserable as sin itself: lost in a sea of other peoples expectations, grandiose ideas and, misconceptions. The biggest misconception of all? Duty=charity, agape, caritas. So, I went to rural Uganda to exercise my duty. I went as a good Nicodemus, full of ideas about the good life, yet not knowing that the prerequisite for the good life is poverty of spirit. Our lady might have been referring to me when she talked, in the Magnificat, about the ‘proud being scattered in the imagination of their hearts.’ You see despite the fact that I was successful the vision of success I subscribed to was an illusion, created in the imagination of my heart, or more precisely the corporate heart of an overly professionalised, under sacramentalized, middle class elite. And, I was lonely, ‘scattered,’ I just didn’t feel part of the club. And, so I went to Uganda, a rural village called Kabubbu, partly to find myself but also to do my Christian duty. And, in Kabubbu I was found.
Once again picture the scene. It was a hot, hot day. The dust was rising from the ground leaving its indelible imprint on my shoes and lower legs. My throat was parched and, I was feeling satisfied, self-satisfied. I had done my bit. Money had been transferred from my wallet into the hands of needy widows and orphans. The odd prayer had been offered and vague promises of returning one day given. I felt kind of off the hook. My duty (which I thought was charity) had been done. I was sanitised. And then:
A teenage boy approached me and asked me whether I liked eggs. Strange question, I thought. I said yes and carried on walking the path of self-satisfaction back to my hut. Twenty minutes later the boy knocked on my door. He had brought me a gift. One egg! One beautiful, perfectly formed egg. It was all he had to give and he wanted to give it to me, the guest, the alien, the refugee in his land. His eyes dazzled with greater depth than the night sky, his smile was broader than the continent of Africa. He had exercised the most amazing act of loving kindness, he had given to me ‘out of his poverty.’ He went home justified – of this I am sure. And he converted me! He showed me where I stood, really stood, in the story of the pharisee and the widow at prayer. He came to release me from the ‘imagination of my heart,’ to ‘recover my sight,’ and ‘let the oppressed go free.’ He was as Christ to me. He, the poor, uneducated, HIV orphan converted me. He set me on a different path; the path to ordination. And, he doesn’t even know it.
And, so my wife was right all along! If we both give and receive loving kindness you never know it might transform everything; even the hardest of hearts.