I got back on Sunday after a good but somewhat exhausting trip. Here are some rather scattered fragments of a disrupted life that I wrote while in SA but couldn’t post due to internet connection problems…

  • Cairo airport has improved since I was last there twelve years ago. Well, it could hardly not have improved, but that is not to say that it is quite what European travelers expect, and I found myself rather torn between worlds in my own reaction – on the one hand irritated at the superior amusement of some fellow travelers and on the other hand not terribly pleased at where I thought I’d have to spend a few hours in transit. Fortunately we were herded back onto a bus and taken to a more comfortable terminal.
  • Sitting in a transit lounge in the middle of the night I was struck by the natural piety of several travelers who appeared to be reading the Qur’an as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do.
  • Oliver Tambo International Airport, formerly Johannesburg International Airport, formerly Jan Smuts International Airport, has changed beyond recognition. Apparently it’s all connected to the soccer world cup next year.
  • Praying in English again is really strange! It’s made even more confusing by the fact that the English translations of the Mass have changed which everyone else seems confused by as well. And, no, I’m not getting involved in commenting on the controversies around that!
  • It’s not only the Dutch Church that is a liturgical wasteland. I attended a parish Mass on the weekend and encountered a priest who, had one written a caricature of a superficial, feel-good homily and liturgical practice evacuated of content, could not have been more depressing. Fortunately that was somewhat offset by a rather good homily by a young Dominican the next day, but it did make me realise that there is much that I take for granted. It also made me realise that I miss my monastery, which is not a bad thing to realise.
  • Moving is stressful!
  • Had a good conversation with a friend in which we wondered whether we are becoming conservative in our old age early middle age? More seriously, we expressed frustration at the power dynamics involved in many current western ecclesial contexts in which it is very difficult to question the wisdom and success of some of the post-conciliar reforms without being labeled reactionary. And I told him to read Discerning the Mystery – well, I tell everyone who will listen to read Discerning the Mystery!
  • It is more difficult to keep a white habit clean here than it is in the Netherlands!
  • The Christian presence in South Africa is very Protestant. And very western. There is probably more that I can say on that, but I had better desist.
  • I read an article by a former lecturer of mine, an Anglican, who argued in a rather amusing and self-deprecating way, for ecclesial tolerance. But what struck me was his comment that if the Church had not expended so much energy on the Arian controversy in the fourth century the whole of North Africa and the Middle East might be Christian rather than Moslem. And I found myself wondering why one should find Arian Christianity preferable to Islam.
  • Cultural differences do exist. And, while I feel a stranger in the Netherlands, it is rather disconcerting to find myself becoming a stranger in my own country. Yes, I know about xeniteia, but it’s still rather disconcerting.
  • Had a good discussion with friends on how the internet is changing human communication – there is lots to reflect on there that I may post on sometime.