By Muyiwa Adetiba
There are stark reminders all around us if we needed any, of the strange times we are in. Yesterday typified one of them.
Our Muslim brothers celebrated a major festival that symbolised atonement for sins. The festival traditionally needed the faithful to congregate at the mosque for Eid prayers before the ceremonial sacrifice of animals – preferably unblemished rams like the one Abraham, our forefather sacrificed.
Yesterday, thanks to COVID 19, the doors to the mosques were locked. Just as they were three and a half months ago when Christians celebrated Easter. Never would I have thought that the doors to our churches would be shut on a day as holy as Easter. Or that Palm Sunday would pass without the symbolic walk to church with palm fronds which would be blessed during service and thereafter kept until Ash Wednesday the following year.
Yesterday’s Sallah celebration, like the Easter celebration before it, would have been low key and muted around the Muslim world. I usually have friends I visit during Sallah. Some would offer alcohol. Some would not.
Neither would matter much to me because fellowship was key and there were people I would not see again until the same time and the same place the following year. I missed that this year. Just as I have missed many such seasonal events so far this year. I missthe human touch; the camaraderie; the banter of friends who have come a long way together.
But more than all of these, I miss church; my church specifically. I miss the cosiness; the small talk before and after service. I miss the Eucharist. This is coming from someone who hardly went to church in his 20s and 30s. I am not alone.
Many of those I used to meet with for squash or tennis at the clubs on Sundays in those days are today respected members of their churches – Church Wardens, Lectors, Lay Presidents and Knights.It says a lot about our spiritual journey over the years. Like me, they all miss church and are disconcerted and even disoriented by the turn of events.This is probably because going to church means different things to people.
To some, it is a place of retreat; a refuge. Some have used church to find meaning to life. Some to stave off loneliness. Some, to give something back to community. Some to give back to God who has been good to them. Some to raise their profile in the community. Some, a Sunday-Sunday rite to fulfil all righteousness. Some attend to simply connect – and stayconnected – to their maker.
Whatever; the church serves needs which are currently being denied. There are people who are lost spiritually and emotionally without the church. There are people whose main meaningful outing is to the church. There are people who are happiest when doing one thing or another within the church. These people are currently listless.
Some are probably at the fringe of depression. Then there are the priests and pastors whose adult lives have been devoted to the church. They have moved from being extremely public to being closeted. They have moved from wondering how quickly the day goes by to having so much time on their hands.
Many are going to find themselves spiritually and emotionally challenged by the time this is over. This is not to underestimate the financial challenge many will face. It is indisputable that a lot of money is moved in the church. Not all of the movement is bad. A lot goes towards good causes. A lot oils the wheels of the national economy.
Of course, there are the mercenary pastors whosemain concern is the loss of income.Many of what I have listed applies to mosques as well.
It is easy therefore to understand the clamour for the opening of the church – and mosque- when one considers the role they play in the religious, emotional and financial wellbeing of the faithful. There is a hole, a void which this closure brings. But the times, like I said earlier, are strange times. Many institutions have become casualties to COVID 19.
The ‘place of worship’ is just one. The virus thrives in closed places where there is shouting or singing or talking. The place of worship fits this to a ‘T’. The virus is vicious towards the elderly. These are the people who populate churches and mosques. It is merciless towards those with underlying conditions.
Many of these attend churches and mosques for ‘healing’. So, if we look at the closure along these linesand allow the fact that hospitals and isolation centres are stretched, then the decision to keep the places of worship closed can be understood and respected.After all, the Holy Book said in more than one place that only the living can worship God.
Fortunately, our faith teaches us that God is everywhere and can be worshiped in the closet of our rooms.It also teaches that God is not found in buildings however magnificent because no building can contain Him.
It also says God is spirit and those who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth. Besides, Jesus said a time would come when we would not worship Him in synagogues and churches but in our hearts. Perhaps that time is here. If tele-medicine is feasible, then tele-worship, a communion of spirit, is even more feasible and efficacious.
I thank God for the services which have sprung up on TV. I know it is not the same and it takes a lot to concentrate and get spiritual connection – if it is not Panadol, it is not Panadol. But with faith, we can transport ourselves into the realm of worship. I know people who dress up with shoes and all on Sundays to sit in front of TV.
I personally have drawn spiritual strength from audio and visual services since the lockdown. However, I can’t wait to go to church and I believe that this too shall pass. Meanwhile, we must give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. This means we must give science its dueby avoiding crowded places while praying to God to lift this cloud of death. May God have mercy on us and heal our land.
It is now left to answer the question I asked in the headline by saying the house of God, whether it is a church or a mosque, was never closed because it cannot be closed.