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In the mystic land of Egypt

13 July 2010

Leigh Hatts considers the life of a clergy wife far from ‘home’


Embracing a Concrete Desert: A spiritual journey towards wholeness
Lynne E. Chandler

BRF £5.99
Church Times Bookshop £5.40

THIS paperback is a series of reflections and poems about a struggle to come to terms with suddenly living in stifling and noisy Cairo rather than green America.

Lynne E. Chandler’s base is never named, although it is easily identifiable as the Anglican St John the Baptist Church, where her husband is the chaplain.

The author locates herself in Maadi, which means “crossing”, and is so named because the Holy Family crossed the Nile here. She suggests that Jesus must have been riding on his donkey near the ever present pyramids when she was battling with what she calls the “sandstorm” of life. She writes metaphorically, using camels and palms in her prose and poetry, as she seeks sense in her new life.

In many ways it is a description of being a clergy wife with the clergy hardly mentioned. Although her own role as director of music sometimes features, the focus is on living with Egyptians in the shifting rhythm of the Muslim year rather than with expatriate Americans and British keeping the Christian calendar.

The main church service is on Friday morning, to fit with the local way of life. Lynne must use the women’s entrance when shopping at Carrefour. In a life of paradoxes, Mokkattam, or the “village of garbage”, is “physically filthy but spiritually beautiful”. The BMW must give way to the donkey car.

“I am home or am I?” she reflects during the summer break in the cool United States. She finds first-hand friendship has gone beyond just religious tolerance.

Leigh Hatts is editor of In SE1, a South Bank arts magazine.

ANDREW SMITH’s My Friend Imran: Christian-Muslim friendship (Grove Youth series, No. 14) is written for youth leaders to show them how to encourage positive relationships between teenagers of different faiths (Grove, £3.95 (£3.55); 978-1-85174-716-0).

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