Praying With The Zulu

“Learn too to contemplate the beauty and holiness of the city where God resides and wherever he has placed you. There, at the heart of the city, raise your arms in praise and intercession.”
The Jerusalem Community Rule of Life

Gutteral, primal melodies, resonant tones and jagged motion captured the viewers in a kind of trance. Our hosts and joyful entertainers were the Zulu’s, an ancient tribe from this corner of an amazing world.

For tonight, the Zulu men would rumble in sacred voice, and the Zulu women would screech in tongued percussion – not for traditional reasons, but for us and our pleasure. It started as an impromptu show of sorts, but somehow became a deeper pleasure to the actors than to the hypnotized spectators.

As the dancing began, my soul was swept away. The pulse of the music, mingled with jutting arms and hiking legs, put the audience to laughter. Though I laughed as well, I was also put to a robust and thrilling prayer. Then the voices left the stark motions behind as unison throats began echoing unison passions – the same sounds that must have been nightly heard on slave-thirsty plantations in the southern states of a darker age. I began to softly weep.

The ancients spoke of the perichoresis, the divine dance between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, expressing the interwoven mystery of Trinitarian unity. When I think of that Dance, the one the image bearers of creation were invited to join in the incarnation, I don’t see measured steps and laced attire. I don’t heart string quartets, or see pallid faces in pillared rooms.

Instead, I see dark skin, sweat and bonfire and tears of passion. I see arcs made by hands and feet slicing bright through smoky air, and thumping hard into dusty ground. I see light interplaying with darkness, shadows cast by creation’s fire across seamless, newborn starfields. I see creation born not out of a linear duty, but out of a communal fire-dance of joy.

The swirl of Zulu voices and dance now became an accompaniment – an accompaniment to a prayer that rose from my heart in deep impressions and sensations. Impressions of a people so beautiful that the God must weep with joy at His image so robustly displayed within them.

Sensations, of smell and sound and touch that must have surrounded this people here for generations, nursed in the wild beauty of the rugged African terrain, touch my inner senses.

My heart groaned, not in a painful expedition of saving prayer, but rather in a wailing song reminiscent of slaves rapt in worship, crooning nightly on the haystacks of unreasonable masters.

Such wildness, such freedom, such passion – and to think a day came and went when such indelible tempraments from their common continent were chained and whipped.

The prayers of the heart can be as wild and as passionate as the human condition. Love and loss, fight and fury all mark a life left in the hands of God. Our prayers are meant to rise and writhe with the same holy fire, bursting forth from us in myriad vocabularies of the soul.

For the Zulu, tonight, their song and dance I understood to be their prayers. So much life, captured in melody, motion and mirth. For me, tonight, I understand a new way to pray. With my hands, with my feet, with sounds deep and firm, or wild and free.

God understands such language, and I feel as if I have just prayed with the Zulu.

God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female.”

From Genesis 1 in The Message

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