“Would you believe me if I told you….that in our churches we don’t dance during Mass?”
“What?! No…you must be joking with us! No dancing?”
“Not joking at all…we don’t dance during Mass and especially not like you dance here.”
“Wow…Mass without dancing. That must be…boring.
“Yep, a little, sometimes. J But for us, our dancing is very different than yours, so it doesn’t make much sense that we would do it at Mass.”
I have encountered, first hand, enculturation (sp?), which has previously been mentioned in this blog. From what I understand, it’s the process by which Church becomes part of an existing culture, based on the assumption that culture informs worship. The Catholic church believes that when evangelization truly happens, all the truth within a culture is transformed with the light of THE Truth of Jesus Christ, so if a particular people happen to be exuberant in their expression, then they should be encouraged to be exuberant in their worship of God. Sometimes I forget that I am an American. No, seriously. J Because I have been blessed to travel to other continents, I think I forget just how “American” so many of my ideas are about…well, everything. For instance: that “reverence” always means silence and that reverence is always mutually exclusive from “praise” which often means exuberance. The reason for this is because in the religious history of the United States, the immigrants who brought Christianity with them were English, German, Irish, and mostly European. So if culture informs worship, then of course the dominant culture that informs worship style in these United States is a sort of mishmash of European, with a strong influence of “purified” Puritanism. (haha! now you’re wishing the guy with the masters in divinity would start writing, huh? J) And this reality affects worship style whether you are Catholic, mainline Protestant, or one of those people who really truly believe that aliens are coming back to get you one day. Your culture informs your worship style. I mean, doesn’t it make a certain kind of sense? I was told once that God is unknowable. Period. However, God makes Himself known to us in ways that we can understand. We likewise worship God as an unknowable reality in ways that make sense to us – to our minds, our spirits and our bodies.
So it’s truly reverent to kneel and “be still and know that God is God” as much as it’s truly praise to “dance before the Lord in celebration.” Whether you find yourself doing one or the other more often in Church doesn’t take away the meaning of either and doesn’t mean you can’t do both. This is the joy of meeting fellow Christians from another culture. To finally really understand that worshipping the same God in a myriad of ways is a gift. That dancing in Church sometimes doesn’t make sense, and then again, sometimes it does. I have been to many churches here in the States, several in Europe and now a couple in Africa. Some have been Catholic, some Protestant, although I won’t say whether any involved aliens. We are human beings, and our worship of God is shot through with vanity, pride and hypocrisy, no matter what religion, denomination, worship style or culture. Yet, to see and appreciate the abundant life and truth that flows from a person when they are truly themselves, truly worshipping God, is nothing short of a miracle. Would you believe me if I told you?
In that simple little question, I have also stumbled upon the very reason for my visit. Would you believe me if I told you? Well, maybe. You might believe me if I tell a story of what is going on in another part of the world, using my words to describe the differences and similarities. You might believe me even more if I use pictures to show you the people and places. But it is when I have returned as an ambassador, and say: I was there; I saw it and... I met them; heard their stories and looked in their eyes – that is when “they” become “us" and you really do start to believe me.
So would you believe me that church lasts anywhere from 1-4 hours? That sometimes, way up in the mountains, the priest says Mass and reads from the scripture because the people can’t read it for themselves? That “church” doesn’t often mean a building?
Would you believe me if I told you that I was offered “tasty” termites as a snack by the school children I met at Karumaru? That I drove by Lexus’ as well as cars that were 30 years old spitting black smoke? That driving through a mountain pass at night, I looked to the side of the road and saw people walking home, up and down the mountain, with no shoes? Would you believe me that Kenya recently installed the first fiber optic cable in East Africa and that they also have been suffering one of the worst droughts in their history and can’t feed their people? That there is no electricity for miles around where I stayed up in the mountains, but most people who have jobs have cell phones?
Would you believe me if I told you… that I saw dancing in church?