Tuesday, March 18, 2008

(In)Glorious Excess

(In)Glorious Excess

One word comes readily to mind when I remember our time in Zambia: excess. There is just so much of everything here it seems. The natural world is not unlike other parts of Africa where we have been; its dirt is filled with diamonds and other gems; here in the Copperbelt its copper and amathysts that lie right at hand. The array of plant life is stunning with its many exotic and flowering trees, shrubs, flowers, and tall thickened grasses. You can simply stick a stem into the dirt and soon a plant emerges. Snakes of all sorts live here, as do a dizzying array of flying, crawling, burrowing, slithering, and dancing life-forms. We have watched the geckos chase each other playfully across our walls, ignoring the humans in their habitat. We have seen the flying termites erupt from the ground on long, gossamer wings that look like flower petals—a fitting garment for their final hours. The space around us is filled with nature gone crazy in its exuberance for life.

But there is another excess here too. The pure pleasure of the surrounding beauty is matched only by the sharp pang of the pain and suffering also evident here. It is probably no accident that the termites are most beautiful just before their final acts of love and death. Or that every snake can be considered poisonous. Or that the same dirt that nurtures lovely flowers also harbors destructive weeds or harmful parasites. Or that the precious minerals that bring jobs also bring greed and violence. Or that the abundance of water breeds malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The beauty and abundance of nature is both wonderful and terrible.

It is also true of humanity. The beauty of the human spirit, its capacity for music, love, art, dance, joy are matched equally with its capacity for darkness. Zambian music is wonderful; Zambian witchcraft is terrible. Under the fa├žade of poverty is a very harmful world view that keeps its adherents enslaved to sorcery, occultism, and fear. The village of Baluba (of which I wrote earlier) lies in a beautiful valley with a river running through it. Its people enjoy sunny days, clean air and blue skies, space in which to grow a garden, and Kafakumba right next door. Many of its people huddle instead into tiny, airless, windowless houses, fearful of their very families and friends. In a world of incredible natural beauty, they experience instead the fear of witchcraft and its attendant terrors.

Yes, excess is a fitting word by which to remember our time in Zambia. So much beauty; so much pain. So much potential; so many problems. So much richness; so much poverty. Such fertility; such barrenness. Rainy season and dry season—the only two seasons that exist here. My prayer is that the exuberant excess of God’s love and mercy will simply fill this land.

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