Saint John the Evangelist (Lockport, IL)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

"Where is God?": A Ghanaian Reflection

Saint John the Evangelist (Lockport)

"Where is God?": A Ghanaian Reflection
Elizabeth Kaeton

This is the Season of the Epiphany in which we, having been surprised by the manifestation of God in the form of a baby born in a manger, look for the other manifestations of God in unexpected and extraordinary ways.

I've just returned from a ten day visit to Ghana, West Africa, where I experienced many epiphanies - some which were startling and others deeply disturbing - that I am still trying to get my head wrapped around, take in, and understand. I want to share with you three images that are indelibly imprinted in the eyes of my soul.

The first is the notorious Slave Castle at Elmina in Cape Coast, Ghana. It was first built by the Portuguese, and then taken over by the Dutch and then the British and served as the detention center for all captured Africans before their trip to the Slave Markets in the West Indies, Brazil, Cuba and America.

All around, evidence of the human capacity for evil abounded, while in the very center of the courtyard sat the Portuguese Church. The Dutch were no better; they built their church on top of the slave quarters for women. Imagine! Worshiping God while just beneath your feet, or just a few steps from the church, human beings were tortured and kept in subhuman conditions only to be sold into a life of slavery. The second is the image of two small children in a desperately poor village in Tamale, in the northernmost region of Ghana. About two or three years old, one was trying to help the other who had her plastic flip-flops on the wrong feet. There were only two Caucasian people in our group, and when we walked by, there was no mistaking the fear that crossed their little faces.

Now, I've never met a baby or a small child I could resist, so I left our group and went over to visit with them. As I moved closer to them, fear folded itself into panic and they wailed and screamed for anyone to come and rescue them. It wasn't until the women from the village began to apologize for the children's behavior that it finally registered - these babies were afraid of me because of the color of my skin. They had never seen a white person before and it scared them half to death.

The final image is that of being at the Cathedral at Cape Coast where I was invited by Bishop Daniel Allotay to concelebrate at the altar. In doing so, Bishop Allotay was in direct defiance of the decision of the Bishop of Accra and Archbishop of West Africa, Bishop Justice Akrofi, who had told me directly just three days before that he could not license me to practice my priesthood while in Ghana.

However, it seems that in 1987, the Province of West Africa had passed a resolution allowing the ordination of women but no one has ever acted upon it. After a brief investigation to assure that I was, in fact, ordained, Bishop Allotay, incensed at the injustice, looked me in the eye and declared, "I am in communion with you." And so it came to be that on Sunday, January 9th, the Sunday of the Epiphany, I participated in small part of history and became the first American woman to officially concelebrate at the altar in Ghana.

It is the Year of our Lord, 2005, and yet the evidence of the potential for human evil continues to abound. We may no longer be selling human beings into slavery, but we have made little or no progress in the "War on Poverty" which enslaves and dehumanizes and robs one's soul of hope. Neither have we won the "War on Drugs" which shackles so many human lives to the bondage of drug abuse.

We are five years into the Third Millennium, and we have not yet reached the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., that his "children and his children's children" would not be "judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

To fear what we do not know is a basic human experience. I saw that in the eyes of those small children in that village in Tamale. The children of God who live in the Global Village have a responsibility, like the women in that village with their children, to help ourselves and each other to move beyond basic human fear and into the kind of love which respects the dignity of every human being - black or white, young or old, gay or straight, male or female

Ever since the Tsunami, people have been asking, "Where is God?" That is the central question of The Season of the Epiphany. The answer lies buried deep within the question. It can be found, as the Three Wise Men discovered, in the active search to seek and find God. It can be found by looking past the potential for evil and the fear, which are basic to the human condition, and risking the possibility of love and justice.

These are the days of miracles and wonders. Evidence of evil continues to manifest itself. So, too, does God's presence among us. The epiphanies of our lives begin by asking, "Where is God?" All we need do is follow the question. No matter where it leads us. No matter how far it takes us. No matter what unbelievable things we see with the eyes of our soul.

the Rev'd Elizabeth Kaeton

The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
200 Main Street
Chatham, NJ 07928
973 635 8085

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"The magi, as you know, were wise men - wonderfully wise men - who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi." O. Henry "The Gift of the Magi."

Posted with permission by John Larson


At 6:56 PM, Blogger Tonine said...

The reflections by Elizabeth Kaeton moved me immensely. It is so easy for us to overlook what happens in the rest of the world and to forget anything that happened more than a week ago. I have a friend who was born in Rwanda, and she told me that she once wandered down into a low spot in a field, and was suddenly overcome with sadness and began to cry. It wasn't until later that she learned the area where she stood had been used as a holding area for those captured for slavery. Apparently, slavers would chase their victims and "herd" them into the area much as you would cattle or sheep. It's truly sickening to think of the ways in which human beings treat each other. The question "Where is God?" is exactly what comes to mind when you remember such things. Suffering continues in Africa. Do we care? If our charge is to do God's work, maybe the question is "Where Are We?".


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