Coming into the Sanctuary
In the part of the world where I grew up, we regularly made appointments to meet with God once every week. We opened his vast chambers on Sundays, and into those celebrated walls we flocked like black sheep longing to be shorn of our excess wool. The sanctuary decorators and keepers took certain pains to make the stage where the ‘man of God’ stood and spoke as the mouthpiece of the divine as commandingly majestic and rapturous as they possibly could. And when the work was done, when the speaking was complete and the words delivered, we would leave our wool scattered among the pews in the wake of our Lord’s shearing – happy to be free of our burdens. Happy to be made whole.
We did this for years. Without fail. Every Sunday. Sometimes on Wednesdays for the more spiritual ones among us. We would come. The doors would be open. God would be there – or so we were told – and we would bask in the afterglow of his majestic inscrutability and sacred unquestionability. I however had plenty questions. I often worried how he was doing, if he was keeping well being locked up behind the fabric of our anxious seeking, being harangued with our constant praise and prayers. Being ‘God’. But he just sat there, barely perceptible in the curious shapes of the dust storms our stomping feet whipped up in the roofed tabernacle. Strangely regular and well-behaved.
He never failed at showing up.
Until he did.
I can’t remember the day or the moment, but I distinctly remember arriving at the ornate doorsteps of the sanctuary, sitting myself in the chair, and feeling that God wasn’t there. He had slipped away, leapt over the fence, shed his embroidered robes and run mad and naked into the wilderness. No one else seemed to notice. They just went on as usual, stomping up dust storms, screaming loudly, adoring him with all his usual names – leaving the sacred behind them as soon as the last benediction was uttered and the Grace shared. Back to the ordinary they went. The rankling, deadening familiar.
For me, his footsteps still glowed seductively in the rough sands where he had declared his freedom. His clothes marked the spot where he slipped away, no longer hesitant about what he had done. His great sin: re-enchanting the ordinary. His sacrilegious act: changing his name and address. No longer the irrepressibly transcendent one, but the diffractively immanent manifold. No longer the one who sits at the end of the straight and narrow, but the crossroads – the intersection where things are confused, where things meet, where thing shapeshift. No longer the Sphinxian figure who solves all our problems, or even the one who asks new questions, but the one who muddies the water. The confounding variable. No longer the omnipresent, or the omni-absent, but the omni-emergent. The omni-imminent. The one always yet to come. Yet to happen. The one who slips away.
I have sought ‘him’ ever since. In the glistening eyes of my wife. In the tantrums of our children. In the joyful moment the tap water pierces through the air and hits the stained dish. In the rippling of a Chennai dawn. Through the permeable membrane of a flying fox’s outspread wings. At the very instance the tiny countdown on a YouTube ad becomes ‘Skip Ad’. Under boring rocks. In my sticky folds of my hypocrisies. In the moment the right words become apparent. And especially in those moments when words are no longer useful.
When others ask me why I do not show up on Sundays, I often try to tell them about this confounding notion of ‘god’ – about this bubbling spring that wells up in the cracks of the ordinary, urging us to notice the world anew. I want to tell them about a vaster sanctuary I am coming to know: not one where you walk in broken and leave mended, but one where you walk in mended and leave broken. Where you walk in eloquent and leave with a lisp. Where the cavorting gait of the confident is disciplined by the hand of god upon the thigh – dislodging the bones. I want to tell them that in these times of painful losses, of starving bellies and emaciated hopes, where the lingering spectacle of destruction shadows the lands and the story of our godhood still gnaws at the bones of the world, we cannot afford those knowledges that presume our superiority. We cannot practice escape any longer – if we are to survive. We cannot cleanse ourselves of our sins or hope for the parting of the clouds to bring a convenient saviour. I want to tell them we must now gesture toward hopes and worlds beyond modern imaginaries. Beyond humans. Beyond the intelligible. Beyond our usual ways of making sense. I want to tell them that we must go to the edges, toward the hedgerows teeming with hagodays and gargoyles and stuttered beings, and learn to witness with-ness the world we once banished to the peripheries of significance.
I want to tell them that ‘god’ has left the building. He is not ‘there’, behind the tombstones. He is not risen either. He is fallen to the depths where clever words and maps cannot unravel. At the edges in the middle where roads meet and where things come to be. In an arboreal oasis, you might find him spread out under a sympathetic tree, her roots lithely decorating his wounds.
Join Bayo Akomolafe for his ‘Making Sanctuary’ six-class online course from February 21 – May 1, 2019. The course is hosted by the Jung Platform, and is created to explore the conditions that necessitate a gesturing towards decolonial hopes in our troubling times. See here for details.