L.sr. Elli-Miriam has lived in Morocco for many years. As she moves through the day, every chance encounter is a celebration—people, and a few cups of tea, transform her life of prayer.
We’re on retreat, and this morning Fr. Mikaël (a Trappist brother from the monastery of Midelt) spoke to us about being sent out: “Jesus gives his disciples very few details about their mission, which he sums up this way: ‘Proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near.’ On the other hand, Jesus is very particular about the way they go out: they have to set off destitute, carrying nothing but the experience of God’s love for luggage. As it was for Jesus, meeting people would be a matter of asking for and accepting hospitality.”
As usual, before going on wih my reflection and meditation, I look for something concrete. As for hospitality, I’m receiving that these days from our Trappist brothers, from Omar and his sons who are doing work on the monastery, and from Baha, the cook.
This morning I need to go out and see the faces of the people of this country, who’ve been welcoming me and offering me hospitality for such a long time. I leave the monastery and make my way across the village. I greet a few women and children. Then I go down toward the fields and orchards that line the oued (watercourse) that comes down from the High Atlas, and I follow the little paths.
From a distance, as I draw closer, I see a man carrying a tray.
He stops by a small wheat field, where there are two other men. They have cut the wheat and gathered it into sheaves. The sheaves are quite sparse, the harvest looks poor to me: how many loaves of bread can they make with that? I climb till I’m nearly at their level, and I see that the man who was carrying the tray is “setting the table” at the edge of the field: he stretches out a plastic sheet and sets the tray down with a teapot on it, along with little glasses and a plate of msemmen (a kind of pancake). I greet him, and immediately he says, “Would you like a cup of tea?” I’m very touched by the spontaneous invitation and answer, “Sure, but I have’t worked like you have!”
He calls, “Come, I’ve brought extra glasses.” I accept with joy, and find myself sitting with strangers who share everything with me.
Everything is so natural and unplanned: a cup of tea is poured for each one, and they insist I take “my share” of the msemmen. Which, by the way, are delicious! Then, we talk about all kinds of things: concerns about water, the market where everything has gotten so expensive…These men are clearly happy. I understand their secret right away: they’re simply living the present moment.
One of them says repeatedly, “Working the earth is serving God.” God is present there in his words.
Everything feels kind of old-fashioned: the earth, the sky, the wheat sheaves, the wind, the sun, the actions of sharing…everything is elemental and I feel in perfect harmony with creation. And then at the same time I think of the Qur’an’s “Table Spread,” and of the Bible’s “Messianic Banquet.” I have the impression I’m living a “divine” moment, “divine hospitality”: it is a moment of unconditional welcome and absolutely free generosity.
They are men, I am a woman…they are Moroccan, I am a foreigner…they are Muslims, I am Christian…and we don’t even think about that. The difference is accepted, and it makes the encounter beautiful. What matters is being there, together, in peace. After having a second cup of tea and the last bits of msemmen that were saved for me, I thank them for their hospitality with one of the standard expressions, “May God be your help.”
Then, I set off on the road back to the monastery, full of joy.
Indeed, the Kingdom of God is near!
L.Sr. Elli Miriam