How Liturgical Living is Helping Me Grow Roots in a Foreign Land

South African Plectranthus, or Spur flower

In the bleak midwinter…frosty wind made moan…the mellow tune rang out from our living room speaker. I sat on the couch, my feet up on the coffee table, the fan blasting high around the room. Outside my children were squealing in the sprinkler, the hot sun high overhead. I tried conjuring Christmas vibes in this week before Christmas in our Southern Hemisphere, African home. But try as I might, my heart felt lonely, and a little lost, and a little bleak, in spite of the bright summer and impending celebration of Christ’s birth.

What is it about the holidays that evokes such a strong sense of homesickness in us? I have spent many a Christmas now far from family, far from the Wisconsin snows of my childhood, and yet I still wrestle to embrace Christmas without the cultural and seasonal rhythms I have long associated with it.  It absolutely does not help that the vast majority of resources are designed with a Northern Hemisphere audience in mind. Even in our efforts to adapt to a more culturally relevant celebration of holidays, there is the cultural stripping of ourselves.

In light of this, a few friends and I began a seasonal “Liturgical Living Club” this year, where we are seeking to be intentional about observing the liturgical year in a way that is consistent with our Southern African seasons. To say it has been lovely is an understatement.

In preparation for Lent this year, we looked at how autumn is approaching for us; the days are shortening, the weather cooling. There are no bunnies hopping around, no snow melting, no spring coming. Instead, our trees change color, and our spur flowers and Tibouchina bloom in shades of purple and pink. There’s a nip in the air as cooler nights descend upon us, and the air dries out after our long, rainy summer. My friend curated a playlist of songs relevant to our season and included some punchy African artists.

As Easter approached, we did some of the usual Easter things: decorating eggs, filling and hiding Easter baskets, and telling the story with our resurrection eggs. We also created a special Eastertide candle for the darkening evenings. We dried and strung a garland of orange slices, as citrus is now coming into season for us. We lit our first fire of the season and basked in the crackle and warmth and the beautiful truth that Christ has risen! He has defeated death and darkness and brought light and life into the world!

These meaningful, seasonal adjustments to our liturgical celebrations have rooted us further into home here, in our uncertain, overseas life. This kind of intentionality has deepened our sense of belonging and helped us to curate celebrations that make sense in our context, while still honoring those that have been lifelong.

Deeply grateful, I am finding this blending of our cultures, of our seasons, of our lives, to be enriching in the deepest sense. We are understanding new truths about Christ’s resurrection when we celebrate it during the onset of autumn. How there is no life without death first! How light is breaking into darkness!

And we are owning this eclectic life of ours, where we are here and there, on different continents and often seasonally confused. This life where we ask where is home? and where do we belong? Where we seek to remind ourselves of our someday home, and where we build the practices which will turn our eyes toward it again and again.

Living liturgically through the seasons has been an unexpected gift this year; a small adjustment in the vast pool of expat challenges, but one abounding in grace.

 

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Beth Barthelemy

Beth Barthelemy is a wife, mother to four young children, and cross cultural worker. She and her husband, Ben, have lived and worked in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, for the past six years. She has an MA in Christian Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can find her online at bethbarthelemy.com and on Instagram as bethbarthelemy.

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