Of Mountains and Men

Dear World,

Can you believe that tomorrow is December? In England, Christmas season would be in full swing (as 50% of my readers, according to my blog stats, will know.) Liverpool always has a faux-German Christmas market (the juxtaposition of ‘faux’ with ‘German’ is making me happy…) and nets of golden fairy lights over the streets, with the beautiful idol of consumerism, a huge Christmas tree, in the middle of Church Street, in the middle of town. I’m not homesick, exactly, but I would love to be rehearsing Christmas carols in choir. My heart longs for the harmonies of Julia Grey’s rendition of ‘Silent Night’ and the joy of singing Jesus in.

However, one can’t complain of two Christmases and that’s what I’ll be getting. Boat Christmas, a combination of Finnish, American, Canadian, British, and Irish customs alongside as many Brasilian Christmas songs as I can sneak over the loudspeakers when no one is looking, will be celebrated on the 14th, before we go on outreach and most of the staff go ‘home’ for family Christmases. This morning we were supposed to hang out with a local youth group on board, but that got cancelled, so instead we dressed up in extremely musty Santa suits. I made paper chains and snowflakes, we sellotaped tinsel to the walls and hung up baubles, and we tried to fix the fairy lights. Alternating sounds of ‘White Christmas’, ‘O Holy Night’ and Brasilian Christmas carols* served only to increase the ambience and joy.

*It’s not Christmas without Brasilian Christmas pop. Youtube it.

I do miss listening to Handel’s Messiah, all the way through. Sarah feels the same way so we bonded over our acapella version of ‘Unto us a child is born’. It was beeyootiful.

At the moment we’re still in Catania. Since we lost our motor dinghy in the storm at Cefalu, we’re having to wait for a new one to arrive. Our contacts in Sicily are buying it for us. Note: I want to have a Sicilian heart. Not only do they grow the best oranges I have ever eaten, Sicilians are so beautifully hospitable and generous that I am inspired. I want to give people what I have to give. More on that note later! In the sails from Cefalu to Messina, and Messina to here, no one was allowed to fall overboard, for difficulties of rescuing reasons. So we shouldn’t really sail to Siracusa, and back to Gozo, without one. Catania is fascinating- a combination of identity and tourism, under the grandeur of Etna. The architecture is achingly beautiful. On our first day here, we stepped into a rosary shop. The lady told us that in 1693 (I think) the city was entirely destroyed by an eruption and earthquake and rebuilt- hence the lovely Baroque atmosphere. That’s given me an idea- I should see how much Vivaldi I can remember from my grade 7 violin and go and play in the square. So far our adventures in Catania haven’t equalled much more than swinging on a merry-go-round that we found in a park. We discovered from some eleven-year old boys that if you hung off the top surround by your arms your whole body flies out and if you stare up at the trees you barely get dizzy. I think one of the effects of living on a boat is that as soon as you’re on land, you look for a moving object to be on and try to get as seasick as possible.

I also climbed a volcano with Kellie (school leader), Kyrah and Kathryn. To cut a long adventure short, we got to somewhere near the top, after a gruelling climb made happy by acquiring a dog and eating hummus and cherry tomatoes. Note: climbing an active volcano equals climbing on tephra (volcanic ash.) Climbing on tephra is a similar level of exertion to scaling a gravel cliff, only 10,000 feet high. This means I now have sore feet. The descent was like sliding down a sand dune and our dog friend stuck with us all the way. His name was Pietro. Even the dogs here are hospitable.

I won’t try to describe the misty wonder that is Etna in November when it’s  not erupting. You should experience it for yourself. When descending the mountain, watching the red sun in the clouds that surround you, leaves you feeling clean and with a sense of slowly waking from a dream, you realise why the mountains were the ‘high places’ of ancient worship and the pilgrimages of secular today. Before I got bored of Bear Grylls’s autobiography (in all due respect), I decided to follow his advice and climb more mountains with people. It’s a special bond and a similar feeling to what I experienced when I slept on deck for our night sail from Messina to Catania. Far, far too rarely am I alone in the transcendent grandeur of creation’s solitude.

We’re eating on the floor tonight and I have to record this moment! All the bench cushions from the benches surrounding the saloon have been laid on the floor. Checkered sheets are our table cloths, some people have decided to wear shirts, there is worship music echoing from the galley and opposite me what looks like all of the boys is squeezed onto the remaining bench discussing knots. I cannot describe the love I have for our community. I suspect that the best part of any community is indescribable and yet discernible.

So we had a spontaneous ‘dress smart and lie on the floor to eat curry’ night. We lined up all down the saloon floor, from Mike Oman, our speaker to this week and one of the pioneers of YWAM Zimbabwe, to me trying to baptise Seth (aka ‘the captain’ from earlier posts) in his dish. After dinner clean (my work duty for this week (I have realised that I use far too many brackets in my writing)) we went right into community gathering. This is always one of the highlights of my week- even when we don’t complete the evening by playing ‘picture pass/ telephone pictionary’ as we did tonight. We always have worship and a teaching, in various forms. Singing to God is something I love but have been experiencing challenge on recently.  The challenge is simple: I love to sing, and I love to play my violin. But what is my real motive? A Scripture says that without love, both those are empty noise, entirely pointless and not even musical. (1 Corinthians 13.) Like everything on DTS (God’s message is so poignantly simple), it comes down to examining my heart motives. Not to do anything pointlessly. Learning to wait for what God says instead of filling the space with what I can do. And this is good, good, good because growth is confusing and painful to make it growth!

I may have quoted this before, but it’s worth repeating. It haunts and excites me: life is not what I thought it was, but far riskier and far better….

‘Our actions do not fall short of our beliefs, but are the concrete material expression of them.’

What do you make of that?

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