This is my reflection on storying back on January 10-11.
I heart me some creation narrative. It might be because it is the story I know best at this point in Jula. It might be because of all the rhythmic repetition, of “God said…and it was so,” God saw that it was good,” and “there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” These lines punctuate the melody as it reaches into each new day boldly incorporating new chords and syncopation. Then the sixth day, the Master himself takes matters into his own hands and puts his soul into the music, improvising with bold inspiration that no one could have anticipated, but is the perfect climax to everything we’ve heard to that point.
It might be the raucous fun we always seem to have trying to figure out what in all creation it might mean to be created in God’s image. Usually,everyone stares at their toes when I ask the question, wondering no doubt, “what does the white guy want us to say?” I usually follow up with a mildly inappropriate question like, “Well, I want to know, does God look like me or like Sumayila over there?” Slowly, we explore together the mystery of what it means to be created lovingly in God’s image: intelligent, eager and able to create, merciful, capable and ready to bless, full of life, powerful.
The story of the fall is more like the Jr. high band version of the Jazz I tried to describe above. It starts off a little out of tune and ends up in a train-wreck. Just one note a little out of tune in the first chord–the serpents subtle lie. A missed entrance–you know the part where Adam steps in and reminds his wife and the rest of us how the Creator’s song really goes. Fits and starts as everyone gets lost and tries to play over the other lost musicians–Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden and blaming each other for the disaster. The Director trying to pull the threads back together–God’s judgement and mercy to Adam and Eve.
I told these stories in three villages in as many days, and while some of my memories have gone flat, I’d like to relate a few highlights:
Kangoura: Really good discussion on what it is to be made in the image of God. We also finished the story of the fall on a very high note talking about our mutual responsibility to help each other respect the Word of God.
Jɛliso: There had been some lingering tension between myself and a friend name Isiaka in Kangoura. He’d been asking me for a long time to take him out to Jɛliso with me to see Babuna. He’s apparently mad at me for trying to “force” people to change their religion. I thought giving him a ride might soften his attitude toward me…and I thought that if he had a problem, Babuna the Imam with whom I study, might be able to give him a little perspective. (I don’t think Isiaka really believed that I actually did Bible story sessions with our province’s most eminent Marabout.) Ah, the best laid plans of mice and missionaries…
Turns out Isiaka and Babuna are old friends and are soon deep in conversation with an occasional polite nod in my direction. At one point, when they nod in my direction to see if I have anything to add, i venture, “Actually, I hoped we might chat a bit about the Word of God like we usually do.” Isiaka seemed a little surprised, but Babuna didn’t hesitate in saying that would be great. We all enjoyed the rhythm of creation, but Babuna asked a couple of his “stump the missionary”questions. I can’t tell if he does this to subtly remind me that he is the Koranic master, or if it’s out of a genuine desire to inform a misguided youth he has become fond of…probably some of both. “On which day did God create light?” he asks.
“Which is which day?
I give the Jula word for Sunday and we are both relieved.
“Soo…What did God create the earth upon?” He asks me innocently.
“God created the world by his Word, so i would say he founded creation upon his Word.” I say, proud of my allusion to Christ and medieval cosmology.
…awkward hesitation on my part which i hope looks like a language issue.
Babuna explains, “Well God placed creation on the waters, which were placed on the wind, and below that nobody knows.”
“Oh”…and awkward silence, then, well shall we continue?
I continue with the the story of the garden and the fall and i am getting increasingly frustrated with Babuna’s added commentary. The Koran or the Hadith have lots of apocryphal sounding stories about how Eve ate the fruit, but the fruit got stuck in Adam’s throat and when he cried out, out came all the languages that are now spoken in the world.
Babuna asks, “You do know why Kain killed Abel right? You see, Kain had a twin sister who was really beautiful and Abel had a twin sister who was rather plain, so when God said they had to marry the other brother’s twin, Kain got mad and killed Abel.”
I’m thinking, “How do you even engage that?” but i say the missionary equivalent of “I’m taking my Bible and going home.” I say, “Those teachings you just gave, where do they come from? The Koran, the Hadith?” Thinking if its just the Hadith, we can agree to limit our discussion to what’s in the Word of God.”
“Some from the Koran, some from the Hadith,” he says, followed by awkward silence. His wife brings us some yummy steamed yams and we eat together, thankful for something simple that brings us back together for a while. Then the the clock strikes midnight and the carriage turns into a pumpkin–I mean the call to prayer sounds, and i am faced with a difficult choice. Do i pray with my Muslim friends, or do i sit out as a spectator and reinforce their prejudice that Christians don’t take their faith seriously–people who don’t pray.
After my two “older brothers” have ritually washed themselves, i also take the plastic teapot and retire to the shower to prepare myself for prayer. In fact i do quite a bit of praying in there, asking God to forgive me if i’ve unnecessarily offended my friends and asking him to guide and empower me with his words and love for the rest of the afternoon. Then i methodically wash myself in preparation for prayer. Muslims in their “apocryphal” supplements to the word say that you wash: 1) three times the hands that picked the fruit, 2) three times the mouth that ate the fruit, 3) three times the nostrils that smelled the fruit, 4) three times the face/eyes that beheld the fruit, 5)three times the arms that reached for the fruit, 6) the head and back of the neck on which the shadow of the tree fell, 7) three times the ears which listened to the serpent/Satan and 8) the feet which walked to the tree.
When I come out I’m surprised to find that they are waiting on me. I assumed they would pray together and then leave me to pray the Lord’s prayer with similar prayer postures on my own. They motion me on to the mats and we begin a funny dance. Relational space is important here, so i place my sell a little behind Babuna and Isiaka like I would if we were walking through the village. Isiaka motions me up level with them, but I am standing all of 6 inches away from him. They are not content until we are standing shoulder to shoulder, touching each other, as if we were in a crowded room. And we pray.
Afterwards we take our seats again. Babuna asks me innocently, “So, where do your teachings come from?” I explain that these stories come from the Torat, the Word of God given to Moses, that although there are lots of stories out there about Adam and Eve, I limit myself to the Word of God, but i know that its a rhetorical question. Babuna is saying, “I’m your older brother by 40 years, one of the highest ranking Koranic teachers in the region. I sit and listen patiently to you my friend–Christian missionary that you are. We eat together, we pray together. Don’t get huffy, listen and learn.”
Kawara: My storying here was a pleasant surprise. In Kangoura and Jɛliso, I often feel like my hosts are trying to contain the story sessions. They humour me and even listen with interest, but limit who is listening. In Kawara, we had 4 old men, 4 older women and up to 6 young men. The extended family, listening intently together. I don’t know if this will continue, but it was very encouraging.
Join me in praying that these rhythms of the Word of God surprise the listeners, that they find themselves tapping their feet and singing along, and then–and then dancing along the Way, following Jesus.