Thursday, 7 July 2011

Praise the name of the Lord! Hallelujah!

Last night I fully submerged myself in the religious life of a Motswana.

Religion here in Botswana is an unquestionable part of everyday life. Meetings are opened and closed with prayers, the day starts with gospel music spilling from stereo systems, and church is not only for Sundays. Mma Othusitse attends services on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays and sings the praises of the Lord every moment in between. Food is blessed before eaten and there are prayers before bed.

Back home, I do not go to church every week. In fact, I do not go to church every month. Prayers before bed are sporadic. The only time God is thanked for food is when I have gone from an 830 class to 430 class without eating anything. Yet I am not an atheist or agnostic. I have faith; I just don’t make time for it. Faisal, Thomas and I talked about this one day enjoying our after work treats at Milky Lane. It seems like an epidemic of indifference has taken hold of North America. That seems like a sweeping generalisation, and maybe it’s not completely fair. I know many devout people back home; but the pulse that religion puts into life here pales anything I have seen in Canada in comparison.

The first time I prayed with the Othusitse family plunged me headfirst into the difference in religion as I am used to it and religion here. Thando was muttering muted prayers under her breath and Mma O, inches away from me on the couch, rocked back and forth with her head bowed. Eyes closed, she chanted prayers and praises, with crescendos and decrescendos colouring the moment. I was shocked by the aggressive nature of it. Gone were the silent, peaceful moments that I associate with prayer. In their place were harsh moments of raw passion; loud and forceful. It struck me as an almost perfect physical manifestation of how religion is for my family here. Religion and faith are not passive; they are the driving force.

The Sun rising over the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans

Last night I visited Mma O’s congregation for the first time. I was welcomed as a guest into their church, their second family. Sitting in the front row, in a seat of honour, I was welcomed to the service as “our brethren from Canada”. From that seat it felt almost like the sermon was only for me. I wish that I was able to write down everything that was said. The pastor preached with such fervour, such passion, such pure belief that differences in practice faded into oblivion. As she lead us, resolute, “Praise the name of the Lord! Hallelujah!” I found myself nodding my head and joining in with the choruses of “Amen”.  

Throughout this trip most of us have been talking about some kind of renewal of faith. For me, watching the orange glow of the setting sun sweep over the Chobe, standing under a dome of stars at Khama, riding in the back of a truck watching watercolours pour across the sky and anticipating the soft light of the stars to follow, walking alone out onto the white void of the Makgadikgadi Pans and so many more tiny moments have instilled in my an unwavering belief that the world is too beautiful to be a coincidence. As the pastor put it last night, “I believe in God because human beings know so little and nothing.”

Coming back home, I still might not go to church every week. Prayers at night will most likely be quiet and calm rather than raw and mountain-moving. And probably after a while I will stop thanking God for my food (unless the dreaded full day of classes rears its ugly head). But I doubt that I will ever be so nonchalant about my faith again.             

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