Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Most High God

Ethiopia is a religiously diverse country, but a majority Christian country - with about 45% Ethiopian Orthodox, 20% Protestant and 30% Muslim.

The Orthodox majority is obvious with temples of all sizes spaced regularly throughout the country side. But, apparently the church likes to build it's temples on high ground, in places difficult to access. On top of inhospitable rocks. In places that require huge effort to reach.

Even if, with great effort and dedication, you managed to reach the temple, it is only accessible when a Priest is available. And then, when the Priest is present to allow you access to God's house, the worship, prayer and teaching are conducted in an archaic language, Ge'ez, (the root of Amharic and Tigrinya, the major Ethiopian languages) reserved for the Church, and one which the vast majority of people do not understand.

I wonder what that says about how God is perceived and approached? These are just my thoughts, but it seems to suggest a God that is omnipresent, but distant, unapproachable, inhospitable and protected. A God that can only be accessed by an elite class of educated men, who interpret and represent the mind of God to the masses. A God who can only be approached through an elect intermediary.

Even when there was an (ornate) church in the middle of a town the doors were closed, the surrounding fence high and outer gates closed. People stood outside the gates facing the closed church and prayed through the iron barriers. It seems that the church has gone to great lengths (it must have been a nightmare to build churches in those locations) to keep itself, and by extension God, at a safe distance from God's people.

I often wonder where God is in my line of work. When I hear people's stories of unfair circumstance and see the conditions they live in and their lack of resources I wonder how God can allow such inequity - or at times in fact whether in fact God's attention has been diverted elsewhere.

It is usually in these same times and places and when I stop looking for explanation and rationalisation, that I see God most clearly. I see God in the generous hospitality of the family that has little or nothing and yet shares everything; I see God in the smiling eyes of the 10 year old girl that carries 25kg of water 3km twice a day; I see God in the eyes of mischief of the 6 year old boy learning to care for the sheep and goats. I see God in places and people that are far from sanitised and elite; I see God in the muck and the commonplace of life.

Today I saw God as I shared bread and (organic white) honey with a community of Tigrinya people from a common plate, sitting awkwardly under a cloth shelter beside a rock and mud wall in the middle of nowhere Ethiopia.

God is very real, an ever present help in times of drought and scarcity; God is not distant, aloof and unapproachable - God is all there is!

The church (that's you and me) needs to come down from the high places, break down the fences, open the doors and come out of the safe sterility of our comfort and sit in the dirt alongside others to share bread and honey.

[By contrast; the local Mosque is in town, the gates and doors are always open and people are welcome. The common water point is accessible to all and the grounds around the place of worship are a community meeting place. Just saying!]