Sunday, June 28, 2009

Parables, pictures and prayers from Kaş ...eternity in their hearts

Alper and Tuğba step to a different beat. I guess them to be 30-ish. They’ve been in Kaş for six years—which makes them newcomers and still outsiders among at least some of the Turkish community. Their small jewelry store displays lovely original pieces in a wide variety of semi-precious stones. A passionate gardener and able handy-man, Alper spends many of his days doing physical labor. Evenings and other free time are for the shop. He has one of those minds that constantly runs four to six different tracks, is full of ideas, and fixes on details. Tidy order is essential for him, and he’s a natural-born recycler. “Intense” is one way I would describe him. Tuğba is beautiful, artistic, and shy. Her hands are constantly busy with new pieces during her days at the shop's small worktable while her intelligent eyes follow the flow of conversation.

They seem to treasure each other and to keep very close. And they have this gentle generosity. In memory, I watch Alper carefully choose a necklace and give it as a gift to our daughter, take me to the post-office so I can learn to pay the phone bill, and meet me at the bus station the day I leave because he doesn’t think anyone should undertake a journey with no one to see them off and wish them well.

Alper and Tuğba don’t have much stuff, but they have dreams. They watch every lira as they carefully build. When we first met they had a tiny shop in a terrible location. And enthusiasm and hope. Before that, they had a table on the street. They had sold an old family carpet to get the seed money for that. This year they’ve moved to better space and the business is growing. They have their eye on some land in the mountains 20 kilometers or so away, and already they envision fruit trees under cultivation and the beginnings of a small house.

For the merchants of Kaş one day flows into another in the ceaseless rhythm of “the season.” There is no weekend, no day off, no long lie. Shops open no later than mid-morning and are still open at midnight. Alper has been opening by 8 am to catch the boat traffic. Many vendors sleep over the shop or in a back room, and exist in the narrow radius of the shop and the tea vendor.

What a surprise, then, when Alper and Tuğba invited us to their place for a Sunday afternoon. “We work very hard,” said Alper. “And that is good. We don’t mind to work hard. But it is not good for a person to work all the time. We need time to rest, and we need time to be together. So we close the shop on Sunday and have a day off. People think we are crazy, but we do it.”

Ecclesiastes is a provocative book. Chapter 3 became well-known in the late 60’s when Joni Mitchell recorded a song based on its wisdom: “To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn, and a time to every purpose under heaven….

Ancient literature shows us a time when humanity understood life as an endless wheel circling round and round. Birth, life, death, birth, life, death. Day after day after day, with no beginning and no end, no progression or purpose. In Genesis we have the first recorded human understanding that time is linear, that there was a beginning, that there is progression, that there is purpose and an end-point. Ecclesiastes 3 speaks to this, I think, in its description of seasons and cycles of time as part of a larger purpose “under heaven.”

That writer goes on to say, in verses 9-11, “What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on people. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Not only is God the author of linear time that is progressing towards the fulfillment of His purposes, but He has set some whisper of understanding in the hearts of human beings—who are, after all, created in His image.

Alper and Tuğba give me a glimpse of this as they make an utterly counter-cultural choice that manifests God’s image in them. At creation, Genesis records, God set a pattern of six days of work and one of rest—a day to step back and enjoy the fruits of labor, to fellowship, to celebrate, to be refreshed. A day that is an act of faith in a good and powerful God who is willing and able to keep the world turning and provide for our needs without our help. A day that many among those who call themselves the people of God ignore. Somehow these two grasp it, and choose to risk celebration.

O Lord, bless them! Increase their fruitfulness, even as You sustain their relationship with one another. And as Alper and Tuğba savor this simple revelation, would You show them ever more of Yourself and give them the inner freedom to choose to embrace that, too.

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