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Give me that old time religion

mathabelazitha/the anvil :BY ZIFISO MASIYE

Everywhere you turn, we are engulfed by a fierce tempo of competition. A rat race for validation by the world, our peers, workplace, the school, society. Our peace and calmness of our life has been lost to a consuming desire to outshine everyone and be acknowledged as numero uno! Even in the church, our souls wander and leaders seem to scramble to be worshipped ahead of the Lord.

Is it not written in the scripture too that, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose their very soul?”

“Gimme dat ol time religion…
It was good for our fathers,
It is good enough for me!”

Indeed, Jesus is here, there and everywhere for those that seek Him in earnest.

In many respects, it was the lover of heritage, the curious anthropologist and the artist deep inside of me that got me so inspired by that religious tour of the Holy Land. Something intriguing in the mixed grill of ancient history, that rich repertoire of imposing ancient edifices, monstrous domed synagogues, the mystical groves and serene shrines, mountain monuments of mythical caves, dungeons and tombs of Jesus’s very nativity. Religious tourism draws hundreds of thousands of tourist pilgrims to Israeli everyday.

The rare authenticity of the whole setting and Byzantine architecture is simply jolting… It is bewildering in its sheer enormity and uniquely frank and humbling in its sensual appeal, in its ability to bring the person of Jesus Christ right onto the fringes of your senses. Surreal.

It kinda set me thinking not only that we have utterly failed to package and promote the real tourist and cultural essence of Great Zimbabwe, Khami, Mapungubgwe, Njelele and the unparalled wealth and repository of culture around us, but also that the glamour and glitz that so invariably accompanies our latter day “civilised” worship and all its razzmatazz and classy infrastructure have the unintended effect of numbing true spirituality, of pulling the unsuspecting Christian farther and farther away from the humility, the simplicity and the authenticity of the ancient church and the meaning of the sandalled Jesus Christ.

But then again that’s just me!
The Servant of the Lord was at pains to explain: Open your eyes and see brethren, the victory of falsehoods is upon our times. The chaos we see in modern apostolic Christianity is the very anti-thesis of ancient Christian worship.

I mean it when I say we the servants of the Lord, are nothing but vessels for the message the Lord. God is in the virtual air we breathe. He cannot be located and ring-fenced in a specific body. Not even in me, your priest or any so-called Man-of-God out there. But all and any bodies that recognise and accept Christ as their Saviour, therein is the legitimate location and proud home of God.

I say to you therefore, neither claim God to yourself, nor claim ownership of God’s people to yourself, even when you believe it is you who brought them to the house of the Lord. The Heavenly Bride is outside our temporal bodies and even I cannot claim that you are my people.

For how can you be “my people”, when even I am not my own person? We are all for the sole purpose of the Glory of God, and anyone seeking his own glory is utterly misled and a danger to society. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”
The re-approppriation of local catholicity, a principle that is practically forgotten by modern theologians is the key.

And the Servant of the Lord said: “So that Jesus increases, we brethren must decrease… Take heed, not only of the words but the entire thinking, persona and culture of John, The Baptist… “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him… He who comes from above is above all”.

We are not yet in the fullness of the coming age. To treat our church as that fullness, as if the fullness rests in us and not in Christ or as if we have substance on our own, is sinfully wrong! It leads to human authority taking the place of God’s authority. It leads to the error of mistaking a symbol or mere representation of a thing for the Thing itself.

This, brethren is what leads to men of flesh to worshipping other men of flesh. It leads to idolatory! It is sinful. We are vehicles of faith. The vehicle that takes you from here to South Africa is not itself, South Africa. We are channels of graces. The channels through which graces are delivered are important. But they are not the graces themselves.

These things, the Servant of the Lord spoke passionately about.

There was something about that parish — something that reconnected me to the rustic power of Jerusalem. It is that awesome, self-same dreamy feeling that enveloped me soon as I arrived at St Martins De Porres parish deep in Rangemore, itself a somewhat lost and rugged township oddity on the far fringes of the City of Kings, Bulawayo. It was sheer fortune that I found myself attending mass out there. But that is a story for another day.

Here, I’m struggling to bring to your mind that powerful wave that hit me, a sense of the essence of Jesus, a sense of effortless love, seamless intimacy and the disarming humility associated with a tiny, old community nook out in the woods… I mean that up, close and personal experience of worship where, in fellowship you can see and feel everyone, and Jesus’ love seems to flow through the rafters and very veins of the building. It was like an old black and white movie set and, rather than watch it, I was part of it. So huge the love in so small a room. So vibrant and renewing the spirit on such old and creeky benches.

It was refreshing to worship in a full city church with only five old vintage cars outside; to mingle with immensely meek, joyful, rich souls, but hardly any expensive shoe in the room and not a single dress that seeks to draw attention of Mass to its owner.

It’s a week later, but all the faces in that church are still so alive in my memory. The strong population of beautiful, enthusiastic little children reminded me just how the kingdom of heaven is theirs. The beautiful, elderly coloured couple, a serene, stone-faced Muhamed Ali and his spritely white-haired bride so beautifully spiced the room. I watched a crippled, simple man repeatedly rise and happily joining in the multiple ritual innings and outings of Catholic ceremony with so much joy and alacrity. I saw aged and evidently ailing people singing, with their souls facing God. A tall, beautiful young girl, sporting that old Afro hair-do of Solakele in the spellbinding book Wangithembisa Lami, and a glowing white rosary over her simple flowing blue dress across from my row, she would have starred in this movie: That Old-Time-Religion.

Though I clearly need salvation more than any and all of them, I felt my tears well with love, and I found my heart praying for each of them. Even as I walked back home I found myself praying for a piece of the supreme peace, the admirable humility, meekness, simplicity and purity of love I felt in that old, little parish with a rotting half a metre fence around it! It felt like the beautiful old-time religion.

l Zii Masiye (ziimasiye@gmail.com) writes elsewhere on social media as Balancing Rocks.

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