Archive for August, 2006

Under Orion’s Belt: A Reflection on Psalm 147

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

Have you been keeping up with all the news in the past few weeks about whether or not Pluto should remain a planet? People are beginning to define planets for the first time ever. Should there be twelve or should there only be eight? I might not have paid any attention to that discussion had I not spent time in Southern Sudan. When Ron asked me what I wanted sent to me when the first group came I said, “A star chart!” Later I said something to Bill Sanders about planets (like, where are they?) and he sent coordinates to find them in that season’s sky, too.

Every westerner who comes to Lui does exactly the same thing on the first evening there: we all watch the sun set at 7:00 PM and gaze in amazement at the stars as they come into clear view. Father Edward Kajivora told me before I got to Lui that the stars were so close that, “you can hear them singing!” My first night there found me staring at the sky as if I had never seen it before and I think it is possible that I never had seen it quite like that. Everyone who sees that night sky says, “Oh, my God!” and not in a casual way but in the form of a prayer of thanksgiving. (more…)

Beautiful Clothes

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

Sewing became one of the ways that really empowered the women of Lui so it was like Christmas when boxes of fabrics, thread, notions and scissors arrived with visitors. We would open the boxes and women would stare at the wealth of opportunities these things provided them and you could just see them thinking how some bit of edging could brighten up something they would create. It was fun to watch. In a funny way, it helped with a sacrament as well.

I had hoped that I would see something of liturgy when I got to Lui. I thought I might see changes through the church calendar, weddings, funerals, and such. I lived almost attached to the cathedral, after all! But it was not to be. Years of war had caused the church to abandon many of the things we take for granted like parament colors changing with the seasons of the church or with various services in the church. There was no white for weddings or baptisms, no candles (they would just melt!) so no paschal candle either. I could understand the lack of colors in the church but I wondered about the fact that there were never weddings or funerals. Funerals, I learned, took place in one’s home compound in their home village the day following the deaths. I only saw one funeral taking place but that was on the day I left and from the ambulance carrying me to the airstrip. I could understand the traditions related to funerals, though. What I didn’t understand was the whole thing about marriages.

Joseph Philip, the dean of the cathedral, got my attention one Sunday when he made an announcement about having certificates for couples who had their marriages blessed in the church. We, too, refer to the sacrament as “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage” so I thought it was nothing very unusual about new couples who were planning to be married. The British had left Sudan in the mid 1950s and had taken the registration of births, deaths and marriages with them. During the fifty years since they departed, marriages happened in the family compounds also. There was a bride price that had to be paid, too, so it was very difficult to marry.

But what I learned was that almost none of the pastors had had their marriages blessed! There were lots of reasons but most had to do with money to pay the bride price or the inability to pay for an appropriately generous party. One of my friends, Pilari, said that he and his wife couldn’t have their marriage blessed because he couldn’t afford a party with enough food for everyone. The best food for any Moru person is chicken so I said, “Where does it say that God requires a chicken in order to ask for and receive a blessing from God?” (We knew each other quite well so I felt comfortable asking him such and impertinent question.) He laughed and agreed that no chickens need die to have a blessing but they wanted to honor the community by having a party. I agreed but cautioned him that if pastors had big parties when their marriages were blessed (and there is a move to have the pastors do so as a group), that all their parishioners who needed blessings would think they had to have BIGGER parties! He agreed but then said that they also needed “bongo lingi ekye”–beautiful clothes.

“Beautiful clothes? Heck, we can do that!” The funny thing was that Pilari had been trained as a tailor in his youth! I knew that he was really saying that they couldn’t afford to buy the fabric and the pretty notions to decorate the clothes. Thus a plot was hatched to make Pilari and Charity “bongo lingi ekye”.

Several of us went to the market to look for beautiful fabric. The fabric had to be “wax” fabric. Wax, as I understand it, is the method of printing the fabric but it is not batik as I expected. The fabric is cotton that has a waxy feel to it. There had to be enough fabric to make a long dress for Charity and a shirt with pockets for Pilari so we figured it would take about four meters. A man’s shirt had to be large in order to make the man look like he was larger (thus more prosperous). Fabric in Lui comes in pre-cut lengths so finding the right amount of the right fabric was a matter of luck. Charity was quite slender so we had some leeway with the cut of the clothes.

Pilari and SosthenFinally we found the most beautiful deep sky blue with a yellow print that my friends assured me was perfect for the blessing of a marriage. (They had all tasted the fabric, too, because if it tasted of salt, the cloth was not color-fast.) The patterns were made with a bit of deception on our part. I managed to get measurements of Charity who did not know what was going on but we just guessed on the pattern for Pilari. I knew he was slender and that it needed to be “big” so no problem.

It wasn’t enough to make a dress or shirt but it had to be decorated. I rummaged about in the wonderful collection of rick-racks that had been sent from Missouri. I found pieces of lace that would have been beautiful for Charity’s dress but would not have been appropriate for Pilari’s shirt. Finally I came upon a piece of trimming that was beautiful enough for Charity’s wedding dress but not too much for Pilari’s shirt and it was just exactly enough to do both!

As work on the beautiful wedding clothes came to an end, there was just one more thing to be done: someone, I don’t know who, had sent two small patches for sewing into handmade things. The patches were sewn into the backs of the two beautiful garment and couldn’t have been more appropriate for wedding clothes. The patches said, as near as I can remember, “Sewn by me with a prayer for thee.” Whoever sent these patches needs to know what it meant to Charity and Pilari to have something as special as a prayer in the clothes they will wear to have their marriage blessed. First they have to finish building their new compound and then get money for a party but they promised me to have a photograph made in their “bongo lingi ekye”.