Leaving Speech by Bishoy Rizek (Egypt) 10th April 2019
Sometimes following God takes you into unchartered territories (places that don’t exist on maps), and you might wonder if you’ve taken a wrong turn. My journey to Lee Abbey was a lonely one, because it was supported by God but no one else. It was amazing to find that Lee Abbey was the right place for me. I felt at home here and you have been my family. God told me that I only needed to ‘be’ here, not to prove or achieve anything, just to be. Naturally, I have an urge to do something to deserve to be loved, but here I have had a chance to be accepted as I am. I want to thank you for affirming me; it has been significant.
Living here, I mostly learned about humanity. I learned that my identity is rooted in being part of a whole and that we have so much in common. We all suffer and we wrestle to do something about it. It has been a privilege to be on the Kitchen Team. The work is repetitive, and physically demanding when I am exhausted. I often wrestled with nagging complaints about others. When people feel insecure, they tend to be controlling or manipulative. I didn’t dare complain openly because I found myself guilty of the same sins.
I saw how we are shaped through accepting or denying pain. When we accept it as part of our humanity we become more truly ourselves. When we deny it, we become more confused about who we are. But of course I am over-simplifying all that, because life is a big mystery. I am often wrong about people especially when I expect them to do the same flawed behavior again. The right thing is to accept others as fellow humans which is very hard when you are unhappy with them!
In the last ten months, I was reminded that I don’t know much about God, and much of what I know is not half as true as I thought. But I also found that God is mysteriously closer than I thought, but only if I keep my eyes open and stop being too concerned with myself. I often saw God in my close friends on the Kitchen Team – and in their determination to do the right thing. But when I try to find God in the same places; he disappears, it’s impossible to control him. That’s why, sometimes, it’s better to go out for a walk than to read the Bible. I need to be constantly expecting God in new places.
The joy of encountering God is what kept me going. Maybe more than anything else, I encountered God in my three closest friends. I am very grateful that they allowed me to be close to them. Just looking at their faces made me laugh out of joy. I also encountered God in how they reacted to pain and suffering. I think they are saints, but saints don’t brag about it. I have never laughed as much as I have laughed at Lee Abbey. I laughed unnecessarily! So what? The stars are unnecessary. Coming to Lee Abbey was unnecessary. I might as well spend the rest of my life doing unnecessary things, or maybe he thought that joy was necessary. Didn’t Jesus come so that we may have the best life? I believe Jesus wants us to carry our crosses because it’s the quickest route to joy!
When I started to suffer from back pain, I thought more about death, how we do not die at once, but we approach death day by day. We lose things as we progress into life and the ultimate loss is death. Once I acknowledged death I started to understand life more fully. How our insides groan with everything else to be redeemed. Glimpses of this redemption can be seen now in how God cures our hurts and how life springs out of death in nature. For me, this gives meaning to the ultimate restoration of everything when everyone can just be – and be in perfect harmony.
You have been so much a part of that, that leaving Lee Abbey will be like death to me. I will miss you dearly. My hope is that God will bring life out of this death. And if I don’t see you soon, I hope I will see you in a new earth where there is no more mourning or crying or pain.