On the Journey Towards the Right Use of Power
written by MADELINE BURGHART
"Please, you must come inside," she begged. I refused, for the third time. Some people had gathered to watch. It was becoming uncomfortable. I turned away and joined the line of people waiting for their servings of food from the huge, communal pots.
I was attending a local man's ordination into the priesthood at an outdoor Mass in a township of Bulawayo, the city in Zimbabwe where I lived and worked for three years. The woman had invited me to join the young man's close friends and family, as well as local dignitaries, inside the Parish Hall. There they were enjoying (relatively) rich food and the use of tables, chairs, and cutlery. Outside, people took their food in bowls, used fingers to eat, and sat in clusters on the ground.
When I lived in Zimbabwe, I often found myself in situations like this, where my status as a well-educated white woman from a wealthy nation was all too evident. Why should I be invited inside? I did not know the man. I had attended this celebration only because a friend thought all Catholics in the city should be part of this great day. I turned away from the invitation knowing that my decision was hurtful, yet it was the one that resonated most deeply in my heart. I, a stranger, could not join this man's closest circle while others who knew him better remained outside.
While I felt certain of my response, my reflections on it since have not been without questions. This journey towards the right use of power, I now realize, is often marked by a sense of incompleteness, of questions not fully answered and dynamics not fully understood. Were the questions to stop, I would begin to be concerned. And while all our decisions must be informed by the truth that we are all created equally as God's children, it would be naÃ¯ve to assume that the politics of power are not at play, even in our most basic everyday encounters.
I think of this often, many years later, as I raise my three young boys. Although my life certainly seems simpler now, the journey towards the right use of power carries on. As I try, sometimes ungracefully, to work out with my sons the best way to live this day, I search for the resonance of power used well.
Share your thoughts on this reflection.
Talk about PBS airing of "Journey of the Heart".
Discuss books online. Join our reading group blog.
Support the mission of the Henri Nouwen Society.
Read what Nouwen has to say about fund-raising. Free booklet, â€œThe Spirituality of Fund-Raisingâ€