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Worship Symbols

Here is an example of the kind of enculturation we do at the baptism of a Traditional Maasai Community. After opening prayers by a number of elders, we give the sign of the cross on the forehead of each person to be baptized. As cattle are branded with the sign of their owner so we are signed for all to see that now we belong to Jesus. You will see the cross traced on the foreheads of the people with a kind of chalk. The crosses are visible in the picture. This is done in the traditional ceremonial way according to Maasai tradition. Custom dictates that lines are traced on the body of a person by the medicine man with a crushed chalk like stone. Traditionally the gesture is use to sign the warding off of evil and curses. It seems a fitting basis for the giving of the powerful sign of Jesus who protects us from every evil.

We bless the Maasai village with a sprinkling of milk from a sacred gourd. The people, cattle and all the houses are blessed using the gourd stuffed with rich green grass, the sign of plenty of God’s blessing.

I am wearing black, the sacred color for the Maasai. It is the color of the rain clouds, the rains that bring God’s blessing and all good things to the Maasai. In fact the word for God and the word for rain are the same, EnkAi. My vestments are sewn with lots of cowry shells, the decoration for sacred objects and objects of special blessing like milk gourds.

In the picture, I am blessing the new fire following the traditional ceremony that takes place whenever the Maasai people build a new village. We heap green branches on the burning fire to make lots of smoke as is customary. We use the traditional antiphonal prayer forms. Notice that I’m blessing the fire with milk from a gourd sown with many cowry shells and grass stuffed in the mouth. Especially the women carry tufts of green grass in traditional religious ceremonies. Green grass is one of the most important signs of the blessing of God. To tie green grass to ones’ clothing or to carry a tuft of green grass is to publicly invoke the blessing of God. Gourds of blessing, like the one in the picture, traditionally have green grass stuffed in the neck.

The new fire will be taken by the people to their homes and used to kindle fire that was extinguished the night before. The new fire lit in all of the houses of a village signs graphically both the community becoming a new person in Christ and also the light of Jesus entering each family.

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My 56-Year African Mission