By Bisi Lawrence
The sounds of the Yuletide have now subsided, yielding place to the daily bustle in the pursuit of honest, and maybe not-so-honest, livelihood. So, Happy New Year, and welcome once again to the frenzy of making two ends meet. But, you will agree, it was good fun while it lasted.
It was fun to those who viewed it all as a holiday season, and fun also even to those who saw it as a religious festival. Those who enjoyed it most, of course, are the wise ones who allowed a wholesome enjoyment to mingle with the observance of their faith, though it might not be as simple as it sounds if you are no longer a child.
And why not? After all, the â€œreason for the seasonâ€ is the birth of a child, sent to this sinful world as the saviour from the celestial realms. I personally find the Christmas carols which emphasize this as the essence of Christmas to be particularly delightful. One of them, which I learnt at the age often, goes this way:
â€œUnto us a child is born,
King of all creation,
Came He to a world forlorn,
The God of every nation.â€
That almost says it all, prim and proper. And what I find rather fascinating at Christmas is how so many people really do feel happy because it is Christmas, not even minding what is Christmas or what is not. And perhaps it makes little difference anyway. After all, Christmas comes and goes, as a close friend of mine used to say, â€œwithout a pauseâ€. I wish there were one, though, especially after it has gone.
In fact, mere cannot but be a kind of hiatus – a lull or break of a sort – though we hardly observe it. I wish we would hang on to it for a while, and not let it merge with the end of the holiday or religious observance, the cessation of the festivals or rituals. I always try to keep a bit back to savour or relish, though it might contain a few elements that one dislikes or frowns at.
And that is what I am trying to do with you right now, that is, reviving some of the delicious taste of Christmas, even if it may have gone slightly stale. Yes, if I had my way, I would make Christmas last in every land, in every heart, the whole year round.
But then there arises the picture of some of those aspects that assail your sense of propriety or religious position. For one thing, one could spend Christmas with less of those fireworks and â€œbangersâ€, especially in Lagos. Perhaps it was not as bad this year as it used to be, and we wondered if even that was affected by the â€œeconomic downturnâ€. All the same, it was awful to a frightening extent, especially on Christmas Eve. Of course, it was the handiwork of the youthful ones and, as they say, â€œyoung blood must have its course…â€
What puts me off at almost every Christian festival, however, is the accentuation on the use of graven images on these occasions. As the years roll by, I often wonder if there is nothing that will ever happen to the passionate adherence of several denominations to the presence of these effigies which I cannot see as anything other than idols in their worship.
I have argued it out with those who deny that the carvings are not anything of the sort. But I hold, as a Christian, that there is no explanation that can bend the Second Commandment of God to mean anything else but that. It says, and I will quote it again, â€œYou shall not make a graven image unto yourself in the likeness of anything in the heaven above, on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not kneel before them or worship them, for I, your God, am a jealous God.â€ Simple!
Now, we have the Roman Catholic Church, which has been in the business of harbouring carvings as part of their worship for centuries, and are not about to change. No matter. The Anglicans are really no different. One need not bother about the tortuous history of arguments about the veneration of images in the church but a seriously committed Christian may be forced to wonder how some of the positions that led to the affirmation of the so_called â€˜iconsâ€™ were formulated and enforced down the centuries. Of course, mere were dissenters and their own position almost turned Christian worship upside down along the way.
The Second Commandment implies that The Almighty abhors being â€œrepresentedâ€ by any carved object. But those who make images in the church even go further to actually â€œpresentâ€ them as God by identifying them with the name of God. Thus they finally make an idol of Him and worship Him as such.
And so we are accosted with â€œThe Nativityâ€, the tableau which features carvings identified as the Holy Family each Christmas. But I do not let mat stop my joy of the Yuletide, since I have to live through me rest of the year with wood-carvings and sculptures erroneously identified in like manner anyway. And if you like to have a feel of Christmas through the year, this is your page. Just prolong the argument about those effigies that assail us from one Christmas, through the following Easter to another Christmas.
This past Christmas was for me, a very restful one. Never have I had the opportunity of watching so many religious programmes on television. They were on a variety of subjects, not just on the birth of Christ, though there were naturally several of that too, but other issues like the nature of Christ, which probed the depths of Arianism rather frankly, but underlined the essence of faith and belief in the Christian ethos.
There were also topics that touched on same_sex marriage, which is clearly not on the decline in some parts of the world, like South America, for example. But what I enjoyed most of all was the spate of pondering about sacred music.
Christmas seemed a time particularly suited to this kind of discussions because the season welcomes a definite genre of musical presentation, the carols, but is identified down the years with other songs which, at the best, may only be called Yuletide songs – not carols.
â€œO Come All Ye Faithfulâ€, for instance, is a Christian song about Christmas, which is the apt description of a carol. But â€œJingle Bellsâ€ has no reference to Christianity. Santa Claus, to which it is related, is not a character in the Holy Bible. Viewed from that perspective, I at last began to really enjoy what is of religious significance as different from what is merely of social import in a Christmas song.
But the discussions went further to consider Christian hymns generally. A song has two parts – the tune and the wordings. It has been the custom for a long time, especially after the Second World War, it would appear, to fit religious sentiments into tunes that are already identified with secular wordings. It is a time-honoured idea even in Nigeria where Juju or high-life melodies find it comfortable to absorb religious wordings. I had never thought anything of it.
However, listening to debates about appropriateness of the practice in television discussions over the holidays, I was induced to have second thoughts about it. I really am inclined to believe mat it would be no less proper for hymns to be converted to dance-hall tunes. But, wait a minute, even that too has been done before now.
What really puts the lid on it, actually, are the Gospel Songs. Here, it is not so much the lyrics and the music, but the beat. â€œGospelâ€ evolved from the old Spirituals. Starting on a mournful tone, the Spirituals gained momentum as the fortunes of the black men improved in America. Sung earlier in open fields, they gradually became brighter when they could be rendered in churches at well-organized occasions of Christian worship.
Here Gospel music emerged, first shyly, then boldly to establish a style of music – not just a type of music. It was not easy to define where Spirituals ended and Gospel began really, because one really telescopes into the other. But it is definitely very easy to discern where Gospel ends after Rhythm and Blues, or Hard Rock has taken over. In fact, in Nigeria, it is Hip-hop that is taking over.
And these new-fangled musical styles are taking over lock, stock and barrel. The singers are dressed in the usual outfit of rebellion in the â€œheavy metalâ€ group which are in Britain and the US. The Nigerian Hip-hop Gospel groups only do their own stuff with the way they dance – and that is a sight to see. This is not only at Christmas, but also in normal worship service. I once attended a church service for a wedding and didnâ€™t know where to look. Even the bride was like someone having a fit. It was real â€œparty timeâ€ in the house of God.
The Venerable Canon Yinka Olumide, God rest his doughty soul, would have nothing of that when he was Vicar at the Archbishop Vining Memorial Church (now Cathedral) in Ikeja. He once stopped a group of young people dancing back from an altar call as if they were in a carnival procession.
â€œDonâ€™t do that hereâ€, he told them in a voice of steel. â€œIf you want to dance Fela Kuti, go to the Shrine.â€
It ended on a cheerful note, but it ended right there and was never repeated while the stern cleric was in charge there..
Half-way to the next Christmas, the fuel crisis that besets us now on a perennial basis would have been resolved, if only temporarily, one way or the other. We simply canâ€™t go on like this.
If deregulation, or whatever they call it, must bring strangulation to the society through a stiff jerk in petroleum prices, well, let it. But let us be able to start out in the morning knowing how far we can go in the day, and not go to bed at night, not knowing how far we can go in the morning. The shortage of fuel puts a heavy pressure of uncertainty on our movements, and so disrupts our assurance of the good life to which are entitled as honest citizens. It inflicts unmerited punishment on our psyche and blunts the edge of our decisions, it interrupts the flow of our living, for movement is life. Does our government know, do our leaders care? They should.
Half-way to the next Christmas, the sports world would passed through history. The World Cup would have finally inscribed Africa into the annals of world sport, and we would have acquired full credentials to go for the ultimate â€“ The Olympic Games – in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, Nigeria would have had a full dose of severe trials during the African Cup of Nations.
Half-way to the next Christmas, political positions in the country will be better clarified. For instance, we would have known the new Governor in Anambra State. The portents may seem to indicate a bit of turbulence ahead. It cannot be otherwise. The situation of the election for the post of the State Governor appears to be tailor-made for chaos. And everyone seems geared up for it. But in the end, good sense is bound to prevail.
These are people who have felt the searing pain of a massive upheaval involving kith and kin in the past, and the memory must have been branded into their being even though they were all on the same side at that time. How could they now even contemplate, in an irreversible manner, another trip towards the Abyss?
Half-way to the next Christmas, we should also have known the final outcome of the entanglement which still keeps Osun State on the edge of a final decision about its Governor. It has gone on for just too long. The term itself is already spent much, much, more than half-way right now – to say nothing about half-way to another Christmas.
Half-way to the next Christmas, we all would probably have forgotten what this recent one was like, and started panting after the next. That, I suppose, is what makes us human, after all.