Blinded by the light

It was early morning, a Sunday in mid-April on the coast of South Africa, in what was once known as Zulu Land. As the sun started to crest over the edge of the ocean, groups of believers gathered in welcome. Their religions combined Christianity with older, more primitive faiths. 

As that glowing ball was rising to eye level, a young woman separated herself and headed into the ocean alone. She clasped something in her arms and walked in a straight line toward the waves. Staring straight at that blinding light, she paused momentarily, then swung her arms high and released her sacrifice to the skies. Something small and ragged, perhaps a chicken, flew straight at the sun and then landed in the waves.


She rejoined a group that then formed a linked circle. They bowed their heads in prayer, then, as the sun moved higher, raised their joined hands joyously as if to invite God into their midst. 


Nearby, bodies dressed in white, braved an ocean dotted with surfers catching big waves. These were the Shembe believers, whose churches were under leafy trees with no walls or ceilings between them and God. They were both joyous and raw in their expressions of belief, and they danced with fervor.

There, in a vast ocean, they came to baptize not by gently tapping water on a forehead, but by dragging the incumbent through the ocean until his body writhed through the pain and suffering that seemed required to see God.  

I moved about these believers, sharing their experience, until my vision was blinded by the light of the risen Son. Or, more likely, for me, it was the light of the Sun that was blinding.