(Written on the night of 26th February 2020 )
It’s raining tonight, a sign of blessings as we start the Lenten period.
Earlier today, I realized that I was not going make it home in time for Mass along Thika Road where I live and decided to instead wait for the evening one at St. Paul’s Chapel, University of Nairobi, and what a beautiful choice that was in the end!
The last time I was at St. Paul’s was in 1994 when we held a memorial service for my late father, and prior to that was 1990 for my Aunt and Uncle’s wedding where I made my debut into fame as a flower girl (I know, fame is a state of mind 😊, so it was nice to be back at the Chapel.)
What amazed me this time was the incredibly beautiful singing by the university students’ choir. So glorious, filled with the spirit, their voices rising, song after song with rigor, passion, harmony, oneness, zeal and soul! I was mesmerized. The men’s voices, Tenor and Bass, were particularly strong, reverberating through the chapel walls, windows, ceilings, and our very hearts.
We all know how many ‘interesting’ not-very-good things are happening with and to the youth but I’m here to tell you that they’re also in church and they are there happily, willingly, fully. What a reassurance.
The singing took me back to my high school days and I remembered how beautifully we sang at Precious Blood and how much we enjoyed belting out those tunes at Mass, sometimes nearly refusing to end a song if it was just too good, much to the semi-amused chagrin of our teachers and the Sisters.
Oh my, St. Paul’s! The church was full. This was the other thing that made me so happy. Wednesday evening, Ash Wednesday, no less, but yes, a packed church on a weekday. Several congregants were not students, but majority were. How wonderful to see that the youth are going to church, giving their talent, serving and practicing their faith. I was transported back to my own university days and how much my faith anchored me, how I found family in Newman Catholic Students Association where I served and shared faith so similar and so familiar even in the far away land of Wellesley, Massachusetts; far away from Nairobi, that is. We all know how many ‘interesting’ not-very-good things are happening with and to the youth but I’m here to tell you that they’re also in church and they are there happily, willingly, fully. What a reassurance.
Once Mass ended, I sat on the pew transfixed, unable to leave until their conductor signaled for them to finish the last song. As I thought about the message that the priest had shared in the sermon, “Tear your hearts, not your garments,” I figured, ‘Wow, what a powerful clarion call.’ A reminder that we should take this time to focus on our inside and not the external, to seek not praise or earthly reward but our renewal, repentance and rebirth. I reflected on the singing and praying that I had done through high school and college and beyond and felt grateful that I had had a chance to find such refuge, direction and comfort in my youth. It is so good when you have that one thing that is greater than you; that anchors you and at the same time lifts you, no matter where you are or how old you are. And what a treasure when you find it in your youth! May our hearts indeed be full, open, and ready for tearing.
May we have a Blessed and meaningful Lenten season, beloved. As for the students at St. Paul’s Chapel, please keep singing.
Elishibah Msengeti Poriot
Manager, Leadership Development and Mentorship