One of my favourite books of prayers is An African Prayer Book, compiled by Desmond Tutu. It gives some powerful prayers and liturgies from Africa that really make me feel connected to the African people who wrote them. Here is one by Desmond Tutu himself that I think is quite profound.
Victory is Ours
Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through Him who loves us.
It is not just art that is impacted by our cultural views of Jesus. Our prayers are shaped by our culture too. Over the next few days I will share some that I have gathered over the last few years from different countries and cultures.
Here is one from the South Pacific Islands. It seemed a good place to start since the stars referenced in the prayer – the Southern Cross are the first that any good Australian student learns about. I still remember learning how to find the South pole using the Southern Cross. As you can see the Southern Cross is also a distinctive part of the Australian flag as well as flags of many other South Pacific nations. When I first came to live in the United States one thing I found rather disconcerting was the fact that I could not see the Southern Cross.
Surprisingly I did not really think about the Southern Cross as a reference to the cross of Christ until I read this prayer which I think comes from Fiji.
We ask you dear God that
Just as the great Southern cross
Guides our people as they sail over the Pacific at night
So may the cross of Jesus Christ
Lead us through the night and guide us safely into a new day
Yesterday I read Barbara Kingsolver’s essay A Fist in the Eye of God, in which she talks about the incredible diversity present in nature. The longer a crop has been grown in a country the greater the diversity of seed types that can be found. So a huge number of wheat strains exist in Ethiopia and the strength of the wheat crop has always depended on this diversity and local adaptability of the seed. Or at least that was true until globalization and the advent of agribusiness started pushing farmers to grow only a few seed types. And of course many of us are concerned that the loss of diversity not only means the loss of thousands of years of genetic adaptation, it also means increasing vulnerability to diseases. When all seeds work the same our food supply is not stronger it is weaker.
I think I enjoyed this essay because it dovetailed beautifully with my major assignment for the week. Much of my time has been spent working on a liturgy for our upcoming Seed Sampler on ethnic identity and the expression of Christian faith. As I have researched expressions of Christian faith in different cultures I have been intrigued by the incredibly rich and diverse ways in which Christians give voice to their beliefs. Tragically many of us think that our way of expressing faith is the only right way. We are not only closed to the richly diverse expressions we see in other cultures, we are even closed to the diversity of expressions we see in other denominations.
In Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity, edited by Craig Ott and Harold Netland, we are reminded that “Christianity is increasingly at home in many cultures and will not be imprisoned by a single culture.” God loves diversity not just in nature but in the way that we express our faith too. Christianity has become a world religion not because everyone worships God in the same way, but because everyone worships the same God in their own culturally specific way. “Christianity is a world religion because it is a local religion”. The wonder of Christianity is that it is adaptable to any culture. It is at its strongest not when we all think and worship in the same way but when we all bring the diversity of our cultural expressions of faith and worship God together in unity and respect.
The early missionaries to Australia believed that they needed to teach Australian aboriginals how to wear Western clothes and follow Western rules of etiquette before they could become Christians. How much they missed out on because they could only see Christianity through their own cultural eyes.
I have learned so much from sisters and brothers in Africa, Asia and Latin America about what it means to be a follower of Christ. We live in an exciting time for Christianity when God’s promise to Abraham that all the people of the earth would be blessed through him is coming to pass. The church is growing in Africa, Asia and Latin America and theological voices are also growing that express views of faith that come not from Western perspectives but from African, Asian and Latin American perspectives.
I don’t think that we will fully understand who God is until we learn to appreciate how others who are very different from us live out their faith. The question is are we wiling and able to accept the challenge? Let me know what you think.
I have just been sent a delightful book by Barclay Press called But I Tell You: Jesus Introduces A Better Way to Live, by Karen Oberst. It gives some fresh insights into the Sermon on the Mount which have come directly from the original Greek. I particularly enjoyed the quotes like this one by Corrie Ten Boom: “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” I also enjoyed the expanded translations she has at the end of each chapter. How is this for a refreshing and challenging translation of “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt 5:*) “You are blessed when you view the world out of a heart like God’s. You will begin to see God everywhere and in everyone you meet.”
Can you imagine what it would be like to be 108 years old and be celebrating 90 years of commitment to religious life. Sister .Claude Feldnar is ready to enjoy a party. I hope I can say the same if I ever get to be that age. Read more
We have just finished our writer’s workshop. A very eclectic gathering of people from Seattle, Tacoma and Oregon with 2 long distance attendees from England and British Columbia. We love informal workshops like this where we get a chance to share not only our knowledge but also our home and even the produce out of the garden. Even though Tom & I were supposedly the “experts” on the topic I think we learned as much as we taught. I know that I ended the day with new insights and with renewed enthusiasm to write on a variety of topics – now all I need is the time. What a shame we need to sleep!!!