out of africa

Am I making a fool of myself? The question frequently haunts me when I am writing or talking with people.

But my belief in the beautiful, mysterious good that happens when people are vulnerable with one another always wins over my need to save face.

So I jumped off the cliff and dove headlong into the conversation.

Even still, this felt riskier than usual. I wasn’t just sharing my feelings or my experiences. In fact, I was completely void of experience in this area. And they were drenched in it.

The girls I was talking to were from Malawi, Africa. They were here on an internship with an organization I am a part of.

Confession time. I long to go to Africa someday. Badly. In a way that tells me I will go to Africa. But I hardly ever talk about it. I don’t know the how or the when but my gut tells me it will come about in just the right way, at just the right time.

Can they tell how much I want to know them? Can they see how much I long to go to the place where they are from? Can they sense my hope to get just a sliver, a crumb of Africa inside of me through them?

All these questions raced through my head as I chatted with the young women.

I think Africa has something to offer the world. I don’t know what it is exactly, but it is something mysterious and invaluable. And I spilled to these girls what I have believed for a long time but until then had never told a soul.

I believe there is a spirit in Africa. A facet of the Spirit of God uniquely and abundantly thriving in Africa. The spirit of Africa. And I think this spirit gets inside the people who go there. And it changes them. I’ve seen it. 

The girls ask me how this spirit makes people different. I can tell they know what I am talking about but they want to hear me say it. Suddenly I was aware of the throbbing in my chest and the heat of blood in my cheeks.

What if I am getting this all wrong? What if I offend them? This is their homeland I am talking about.

But slowly I find the words. I think this spirit helps people see what is important in life. I think this spirit of Africa frees people. It frees them into life. “Does that make sense?” I ask them. I think I might be speaking gibberish.

Yes. I can feel their hearts affirm with their words. They see it too. I am not crazy. Now I have spoken it and I have seen them agree with it. And now the ache inside of me has grown bigger and stronger and even more painful than before.

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infected

Where do artists find their bravery? Creative self-expression is incredibly risky business. It involves taking a chunk of your soul and doing the best that you can to put some tangible form to it.

And this world tells us to stuff our souls down and pretend they don’t exist. Souls are an intangible part of us that are not easily explained and therefore make us all a bit uneasy.

But our souls were created to live and thrive and express themselves. I find I am much better off when I live connected to myself, to my soul, and have some way of communicating that. To others, perhaps. But mostly to myself.

And art helps me connect with my soul and remember it is there and it is a part of me, no matter how uncomfortable that may be at times.

I have observed an infectiousness to art. People I don’t know, perhaps hundreds of years ago, perhaps ten minutes ago, wept and laughed and searched and journeyed in an effort to discover their soul.

And after the painfully wonderful process of finding this treasure, they found a very brave piece of themselves and used that to help them express that soul.

Then I or someone else sees it or hears it or reads it.

And somehow, some way, through the mystery of it all, the observer who is open to wonder and beauty and things that don’t make sense (hopefully me!) is touched. And amazingly, this person finds a piece of himself or herself through experiencing the art of another.

So art is a way we find ourselves and find one another.

But there is always a risk. Because not every individual is touched by art. Art is often misunderstood. Misconstrued. Misinterpreted. And so the artist is as well.

Art requires a commitment to bravery all the way through the process, from being willing to discover one’s soul to letting go and seeing where that soul takes us all the while letting go of what others might think of any end result. Including ourselves.

What art has moved you recently?