As a child growing up in Lagos, the advent of lent, the season when everything smelled of nothing, provoked something sour in me: the fear of sadness. A rust of recalcitrance, a reluctant and furious blink at the thought of Ijeoma’s head tightly wrapped in a silky multi-colored veil that ended in two flying drops behind her like banana peels, dragging me in firm grip of my wrist, to Stations of the Cross at St. Paul’s parish, Ebutte Metta. It made my days seem overcast.
Each year I felt like I was going to die within this time of my torturous longing for Easter to come and intervene, so that these moods at St. Paul’s parish would loosen up: The altar stripped of gloriousness, the grotto looking bald, the purple Lenten hymns that lightened up remorse, the late afternoon sun that hung low and idle in the skies outside the church building while Father Raphael Kpooh in purple stole repeatedly sank one knee before each one of the fourteen hanging, story-telling arch paintings of Christ’s sufferings around the four walls of the church.
Then he would chime evenly with his tenor voice “we adore thee o Christ and we praise thee”, and Jesus fell the first time, again, and again. I felt slightly angry with Pontious Pilate and the soldiers in thick skirts, often portrayed as haggard-faced, long sharp noses, a tint of sordid guilt in their eyes. I imaginatively wished I could grab each of them by the scruff of their necks and whisper a curse such as “God will judge you” into their ears, often elongated like antennas, because Lenten season wouldn’t have existed if they had been nice people, if they had simply just let my Jesus be.
Among the most moving parts of the liturgy was the twelfth station, Jesus Dies. Chilled silenced hovered around the building. All knees and necks bow to the floor in posture of renaissance paintings. A bright light filters t
hrough the windows as though the clouds suddenly parted, and the sun came out afresh. That was when some babies remembered to cry out their “waa”, “neeh” or “eair” sound, I felt like joining them in this chorus that blended with the frozen moment when the wall clocks seemed to pause “Jesus Dies”. Even the statues in church corners would be overwhelmed by this, their smiles seemed to fade, shrink, all the tiny pink-and-blue Stations of the Cross booklets would be shut closed for the moment, then the pages would flip again when everybody finally arose.
After the final blessing, I would exchange glances with my sister Onyinye, we prayed in our hearts that Mummy won’t oblige us to wait for evening mass, her Fatima-styled scarf which covered her entire frowning fore head, fell straight and long behind her like a curtain, in readiness to sweep the floor. We seemed to share this affinity: the deep fear of sadness.
In no time, without waiting for mummy to decide, a procession of gloomy people draped in purple flowing robes floated into the red-carpeted isle, ushered forward by a backward song “Jesus my Lord, behold at lent the day…” it made me want to escape my skin. I would have to sit close to mummy, hanging my attention on the acculturated crucifix, a crucified bearded black chubby Yoruba man in his thirties tying a thick black towel.
Fr. Kpooh already had this sort of handsomeness, a handsomeness that wasn’t meant to smile, bespectacled. He preached gently: suffering, sorry-ness, sin, death, all colored the sermon. But the aftermath of this childhood drama, this perseverance, was a moment of grace. It was the thought about a vulnerable God that converted me. The thought of one who chooses to suffer when he had the option not to, a God who understands the wounded reality of my inner world.
Once again this God comes to me this year, smiles at the naughtiness of my childhood, sits in presence of his priest and listens to my confession, shows me the wounds on his palms, the marks from the crown with thorns, shows me his back, then a tired smile flickers across his lips when he says: “Now let me see yours, the one in your heart, when they dismissed or expelled you unjustly, when she abandoned you, when he beat you up, when you repeated a class, when they insulted you, when you insulted too..I know you insult a lot, when he blocked you on facebook, when your friend died. Boy, let me see”.
My willingness to be vulnerable, and to serve a vulnerable God, was what changed my life. This year Jesus says again in a confessional “Let me see, open up, let me see the wound, is it bleeding? Come, feel my own”.
Anthony Nonso Dim is a writer who was born in Lagos Nigeria, he is currentlyy working on his first novel. He is also the content supervisor for Afreecan Read. Read his previous posts here