June 17, 2024

Pic cred: worlddayofprayer.net

Room for all

In the past, a perfect Sunday for me was to generally have a quiet, relaxed, chilled-out lazy day. Firstly, an early morning walk to buy the Sunday papers, heavy with all of its sections and supplements. On return home, I would spend a couple of hours reading them, eating a good breakfast and drinking a whole pot of coffee to myself. My partner Mercy knew to leave me alone to be unsociable and attend to something in another part of the house or in the garden. I usually liked to play some laid back trip-hop or jazz-ish music; not too loud, just in the background. All through the week I would anticipate my favourite day to be the antidote to the rest of my busy working week.

Years before, back in the UK, I moved into a new house and found that it was betwixt two churches of different denominations. I was disappointed to find my peaceful and perfect Sundays disturbed by the unrelenting sound of church bells ringing out loudly. I accepted that the original purpose of this was to summon the respective congregations to worship, but surely, I thought, these days everyone knows what time the services begin. I eventually had to purchase a pair of headphones to try to dampen the sound.

Similarly, on another occasion in another country, I was spending some time in Turkey and arrived on a Sunday and sat down to relax in much the same way as usual. Later in the morning, I heard the haunting sound of the Islamic call to prayer. Strangely, this appeared to be in stereo, until I realised that the place I was staying at was situated between two mosques. However, I had no complaints with this rather beautiful and comfortable sound, which I found hypnotic and calming. Unlike, some of the other English contingents staying locally, who did complain about it, especially as it happened five times a day; every day. It was a shame that they couldn’t feel plaintive spirituality in the calling.  

And so to Zimbabwe, where on my first trip and on many other subsequent visits, I stayed at Mercy’s family home in a high-density area east of Harare, and experienced a sound like no other. I sat down outside on a beautiful, quiet Sunday morning and thought how lucky I was to be exactly where I was in the world. I had just sipped on my first cup of coffee, when loud music commenced somewhere fairly close. I initially suspected that it may be a passing car with a loud radio playing, but it continued. Possibly a neighbour playing music, then? No, this was different from the usual dancehall music they often played. So what was it? I was aware of drums and keyboards and then a chorus of harmonised voices and I realised that I was hearing one of the community’s local church services (there are three churches, all in close proximity to each other). The congregation gathered and joined together in a call and response joyous throng. It was both rhythmic and melodious and I was conscious that I was nodding my head, tapping my feet on the floor and strumming my fingers on the table, along to it.

Yes, I know I was hoping for a quiet, relaxing morning, but this was a reasonable accompaniment and I was enjoying it. However, after several verses and choruses, I became aware of another song of praise, starting somewhere else in the vicinity; albeit a slightly different rhythm and tempo. I was able to ascertain an organ sound and a booming bass and inevitably voices joined in.

So I was now hearing simultaneously, the sound of two separate church services. This was an unusual situation and it appeared that an auditory trick was being played on my ears, which were trying to make sense of the duality of the sounds coming from two different directions and being played at different tempos. As if this wasn’t enough, the third local church also commenced with their service, a few minutes later. Now I had three separate songs playing at the same time, and I’m certain they got louder, as if in competition with each other.

I have to say it was cacophonous and not certainly not easy listening, but strangely I found it an agreeable experience. It wasn’t relaxing or “chillin” for a Sunday morning, but it was unique and therefore special and it got me thinking about tolerance of others beliefs.

Yes, my anticipated quiet Sunday had been disturbed, but what the three pronged auditory attack on my senses represented was the fact that religious tolerance and freedom for people to praise the Lord, in whichever way they chose, is possible in Zimbabwe; in a way that it isn’t in many countries around the world. In a country with a struggling economy, one growth area is the abundance of churches. As well as the recognisable Christian denominations, doctrines such as the white garmented Apostolic sects are everywhere, for all to see in the open.

New churches are appearing all of the time. Unfortunately, some self appointed prophets and preachers appear to take advantage of people’s blind faith, and take money off the already poor; with promises of wealth, good fortune and cures for their ills. It is these prophets and preachers who are having good fortune, getting rich and being funded to live lavish lifestyles and have huge monuments built as their legacy. However, I accept that people have the right to put their faith into whatever ideology they choose: Christian and non-Christian faiths, indigenous religionsand also non-believers. There is indeed, room for all.

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