On my trip to the north, I took a bad bump in the Metro Mass bus, which injured the neck part of my spine. Fun fact about the spine: the damaged part is not where the pain is felt. So, naturally, this makes me think about separation from God, wondering if the spine is a good metaphor: the place where I feel its consequences is different from the cause of the problem. Or to put it another way, the place I am led into temptation isn’t what drives me to go there. In my own case, I felt the symptom of the injury (pain) in my upper back, but it was vertebrae of the neck that was its cause. Ironically, the place it hurts isn’t; and the place it is damaged, feel fine.
This I learned from an MRI.
It’s too bad there isn’t an MRI for the soul. If one was continually suffering in a particular area of their spiritual life, unable to gain victory over a spiritual weakness, an MRI of the Soul could show why. Then we could work on that area, instead of where the symptoms present themselves.
Barbara Brown Taylor, in her latest book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, suggests three initial steps to learning to walk in the dark:
Give up running the show, check.
Sign a waiver that allows you to bump into things that frighten you, check.
Ask the darkness to teach you what you need to know.
The third step is the most interesting to me right now. I think I’ve have made significant progress on steps one and two on the way to returning to Ghana. I must be willing to learn from this injury what it needs me to know.
Even though we live on a rough road (and calling it a road is being generous), Suzanne and I fell into a habit of travelling to Accra for church and groceries. To stop aggravating my back, I stopped making that trip, and began perusing what this injury could teach me about the village, and what we needed from it.
A place to Worship, Locally
There is a local Methodist Church in the village that meets in a daycare center. Suzanne and I were reluctant to try village churches from the difficulties we had before in being able to worship in a local church. I met the church’s former pastor on my journey up north. Rev. Jaden made me promise to visit his old church, and bring them his greetings. So together we went to worship at it, and other than being really loud, found it to be a worshipful experience.
I don’t know why Ghanaian churches are like this, but in a room set with 40 chairs, and 30 people sitting in them, the Methodist Church uses a large speakered sound system, one large enough to drive a room of 500. Two large speakers, bigger than the speakers of any church I have served, are amplified to a balancing point between feedback and too much distortion. Think of applying the Jimi Hendrix distorted guitar effect to a shouting Ghanaian preacher and then turning it up so loud it just begins ring feedback, and you have a typical Ghanaian local church. One might think it is a sound reinforcement standard or expectation, but I think for this church, it is to drown out the Flames of Pentecost church meeting about 1000 feet away. That church is really loud, so loud in fact I realize it is the church we hear on Sunday mornings from our home on the hill.
I recognize the worship leader as Pat, a good friend of our adopted anthropologist daughter Rachel (or Nora), who returned to the states. Pat runs over to give me a hug, and we talk about Rachel, but it sounds like she is saying Richie. It takes me a few minutes to clue into who she is talking about.
Pat leads the congregation in singing local Ghanaian worship songs, some of which I know, most are in Twi. The sermon is both in English and Twi, which I appreciate. If we were not there, I wonder, would he still use English? Rachel taught us about code switching, when a speaker changes into another language. For example, when preaching in English, Twi is used (or code switched) to tell a joke, or provide funny commentary. When preaching in Twi, English is code switched to add emphasis, or make a point. Code switching makes the English/Twi sermon interesting because we hear the English, even when it is being used to add emphasis to the Twi.
The service is punctuated by singing dreadful British hymns sung like a dirge, and accompanied by a trap set pounding out a perky march. Singing them is sad contrast to the fun local music we sang at the start and for the offering. We can sing along because the pastor pushes his Methodist hymn book in our hands. We sing in English from the hymn book, while the rest of the congregation sings in Twi, from memory.
The offering comes after the sermon, and is announced by a call and response I really like:
Leader: Offering Time
People: Blessing Time!
L: Offering Time!
P: Blessing Time!!
And then the fun local worship music starts up and we all dance forward to place what we can in the offering box. As in most Ghanaian Churches, offering is the high point of the service. Then the pastor asks a blessing on it, thanking God for the people who have given, and for God to especially bless the people who could not.
In the benediction, given in Twi, I recognize a word and know its meaning: ashesi. Immediately I think he is talking about the college, as Ashesi University takes its name from the local language. Ashesi means new beginnings. But in this context, it doesn’t make sense until I realize his blessing summarizes the sermon, which spoke to starting a new beginning with God, and he is asking God to bless our ashesi, our new beginnings.
It doesn’t feel like our church home, yet.
There are other churches to try. It does feel like we have a place we can worship in the village, and I am thankful for the darkness of this injury–like an MRI of the Soul–has begun to teach me something I apparently needed to know.