The wor­ship of God – Part III

Jamaica Gleaner - - FAMILY & RELIGION - Paul H. Wil­liams Gleaner Writer fam­ilyan­dreli­gion@glean­

TRA­DI­TION­ALLY, AFRICAN peo­ples be­lieve in a supreme be­ing who is om­nipresent, om­ni­scient and om­nipo­tent, and who is man­i­fested in na­ture and nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena.

They are aware of their spir­i­tu­al­ity, and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween them­selves and this almighty supreme be­ing (God), who per­vades all as­pects of their ex­is­tence, and who is far re­moved from them (tran­scen­den­tal) and is within them (im­ma­nent) at the same time. They re­spond to this aware­ness by wor­ship­ping through deeds and say­ings that vary from com­mu­nity to com­mu­nity.

Some peo­ple wor­ship God through­out the en­tire day, as they be­lieve God is ev­ery­where, see­ing and hear­ing them, while for oth­ers, for­mal wor­ship is ar­bi­trary, un­nec­es­sary even, as they feel their aware­ness and ac­cep­tance of God’s om­nipres­ence, om­ni­science and om­nipo­tence are within them­selves wor­ship. Wor­ship is by way of ut­ter­ances mainly, and not med­i­ta­tive, and comes in many forms, such as sac­ri­fices and of­fer­ings; prayers, in­vo­ca­tions, bless­ing and salu­ta­tions; and in­ter­ces­sions.

Sac­ri­fices and of­fer­ings are com­mon acts of wor­ship. The for­mer in­volves the killing of an an­i­mal, which is given in parts or en­tirely to God. Of­fer­ings to God in­clude things that are not sac­ri­ficed. Of­fer­ings and sac­ri­fices are given as gifts to ap­pease God, to have com­mu­nion with God, and to thank God. But im­por­tantly, they are done to re­store the balance be­tween man and God. “It is also an act and oc­ca­sion of mak­ing and re­new­ing con­tact be­tween God and man ... ,” John S. Mbiti says in African Re­li­gions and Phi­los­o­phy.

Pray­ing is the com­mon­est form of wor­ship among tra­di­tional African peo­ples. The prayers are usu­ally short, ex­tem­po­ra­ne­ous, and suc­cinct, and may be ac­com­pa­nied by sac­ri­fices and of­fer­ings. They are mostly re­quests to sat­isfy a par­tic­u­lar need or to give thanks. In­vo­ca­tions are calls for God’s in­ter­ven­tion into a par­tic­u­lar mat­ter. Bless­ings are good wishes be­ing asked of God, such as, “God be with you”.

And since Africans live in a reli­gious uni­verse, proverbs and songs that ex­press rev­er­ence for and grat­i­tude to God are ev­ery­where. Singing is very com­mon in reli­gious gath­er­ings and cer­e­monies, “which not only helps to pass on reli­gious knowl­edge from one per­son to a group or an­other, but helps cre­ate and strengthen cor­po­rate feel­ings and sol­i­dar­ity”.


Some­times the wor­ship of God is done through in­ter­ces­sors. It is a com­mon feel­ing among tra­di­tional African peo­ples that di­rect com­mu­ni­ca­tion must not be made with God by just about any­body, but through spe­cial peo­ple or spir­its. “The rea­son for this feel­ing and prac­tice seems to de­rive mainly from the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal life of the peo­ples con­cerned. This pat­tern of be­hav­iour is by no means found in all so­ci­eties, but the con­cept of in­ter­me­di­aries is found al­most ev­ery­where,” Mbiti says. These in­ter­ces­sors in­clude elders, or­dained priests, seers, prophets, or­a­cles, di­vin­ers (links be­tween God and mankind), medicine-men, and rain­mak­ers, and the spir­its of the liv­ing-dead (peo­ple who have re­cently died). All these per­sons serve dif­fer­ent pur­poses.

Among African peo­ples, the wor­ship of God takes place at any place and time. There are no strict rules gov­ern­ing when peo­ple should wor­ship, but the prac­tice and cus­toms of wor­ship vary from place to place, and peo­ple wor­ship for spe­cial rea­sons, such as har­vest fes­ti­vals, the rites of birth, ini­ti­a­tion, mar­riage and death, plant­ing time, times of na­tional need, be­fore or dur­ing hunt­ing, gath­er­ing and fish­ing, the bless­ing of cat­tle, un­usual phe­nom­ena, and the corona­tion of chiefs and kings.

Though there is no strict time and place of wor­ship, wor­ship takes place in spe­cial shrines, tem­ples, al­tars, groves and other sa­cred places used for pub­lic sac­ri­fices and prayers. Shrines are sanc­tu­ar­ies for an­i­mals and hu­mans. Tem­ples are huge houses, gen­er­ally cared for by a priest. Al­tars are sa­cred spots used for of­fer­ings and sac­ri­fices, and can be found in shrines and tem­ples or in the open air. Caves and sa­cred moun­tains, river banks, wa­ter­falls, ru­ins, spe­cial trees are also used as sa­cred places where wor­ship takes place.

“There is no limit as to where and when African peo­ples per­form one or more act of wor­ship. God is om­nipresent, and he is reach­able at any time and in any place. Peo­ple wor­ship him when­ever the need arises,” Mbiti says.

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