In his essay, “Divination and Deity in African Religions” (required reading for a course I am taking on global religions), Evan Zuesse has mastered the art of opaque writing. He obviously is a brilliant man who has done an incredible amount of research and packages his findings in such esoteric language that the reader is left to scratch one’s head asking, “What the hell is he talking about?”
I consider wading through such essays like mining for gold. Your eyes glance over the individual words in each incomprehensible sentence, jostle the unintelligible sentences around in each perplexing paragraph hoping one or two nuggets will emerge.
Here are the nuggets I discovered. In their search to understand: 1.) the reality of death, 2.) the meaning of living, 3.) the problem of evil (oppression) in the world, 4.) the limits of free will (self-determinism), and 5.) how to live harmoniously with others and nature – religious peoples of West Africa have developed various forms of divination to access the Creator’s wisdom.
These observations help give greater understanding to our concept of “religion.” For me, one of the great functions of religion is to help all of us wrestle with these gut kashyas (great questions).
Talking with a friend last night, we both found ourselves having experienced very difficult weeks. People we were close to had died difficult deaths. The grief we shared over the phone helped connect us emotionally to the great questions indigenous peoples of West Africa struggle with. We talked about the practices we each employ, in the Northwest of America, attempting to connect with a greater Wisdom in order to make peace with these questions.
Feeling deeply disconnected from God as a result of the events over the past week, this morning I resorted to my own trusted practices in accessing the Creator. I took the day off, made a great cup of coffee, lit some incense, put on some beautiful music, and went back to bed to read some Thomas Merton. I find reading trusted guides like Merton, Nouwen, and Manning (Brennan) help massage my heart and open it up. It’s kind of like warming up before doing physical exercise. (This is my own personal ritual.) I’m glad to report it worked. While my situation has not changed in any way, I have. I have experienced yet once again that I am not alone and that God does love me. That’s enough to help me get back out of bed and go back into my world.
What I did this morning is not all that different from what the folks in Zuesse’s essay are doing. We’re all just looking to find a way to survive in a world that is just sometimes insanely painful.