As young and impressionable Catholics at St Anthony’s High School, Zaka, our minds were trained to love the Lord. We prayed before school started, we prayed before meals, we prayed before we went to bed and we recited the prayer, “Hail Mary” at lunchtime when the bell sounded in church. Priests from different missions came to lead retreat and twice a week we went for Mass. We spoke love.
Provocation and aggression were discouraged. We sang; Ngatidane nerudo chairwo nekunzwana nekubatsirana [let’s have genuine love for each other, understanding and assisting one another.] I still cherish this foundation and grounding instilled at a young age.
Sunday was an opportunity to be one big family with primary schoolchildren, the community, teachers, nurses and of course the singing nuns from the Convent, whose melodious voices mesmerised us all. In that huge mix, people still paid reverence to the Lord. The group leading singing on a particular week would be belting out the song, “Inzvimbo inoyera, imba yaMwari nemusuwo wedenga.” [This is God’s house and the gateway to Heaven] This was a reminder to the faithful as they drew near the church building. Naturally, they would lower their voices, eventually going quiet as they got in, some straight to confession, some on their knees to pray, while others genuflected before joining the singing. There was genuine respect for the house of the Lord. That is the church environment I grew up knowing.
Everything was done in an orderly respectful way, no drama, no intimidation and nobody was made to feel unworthy. In fact, the priest never missed the opportunity to remind us that Christ came for the lowly and the poor in spirit. People were punctual too, nobody came in late to show off high heels and their designer wear. Pledges were made away from the rest of the congregation and people honoured them. During Lent the faithful put money in envelops without declaring how much they had contributed, it was between God and the giver.
The song is taken from Jacob’s dream as he rested in Luz on his way to Harran from Beersheba. He was going to look for a wife as his father Isaac had instructed. The scriptures say in Genesis 28 v 10-17: Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”[NIV]
I really feel that we need to give the church the dignity it deserves. It must be a sanctuary and everybody must be welcome. I have heard some leaders say, “it is difficult to preach to poor people”, but Christ came for them. Some hip swaying, hip shaking and foot stomping on the pulpit leaves a lot to be desired, even bickering as the faithful seek favours from the man of God.
A gateway to Heaven must just feel like one and one must just know they are in a place where Christ is the main attraction and not man or miracles and signs. Let us continue to seek Him for his grace is sufficient.