The sun began to heat the trail just as the steady incline of the hill warmed my leg muscles that morning. This was just a couple of weeks ago. My crafter and I were headed to a friend’s house to test a new story. He was there, as usual, only with a bit of a cold this time. He gladly agreed to listen to our stories as long as he didn’t have to repeat them. Surprise, surprise. No worries though; Salmidu had proven to be an invaluable resource for us in asking cultural questions in regards to our stories.
I plowed ahead with the stories. This day I was not to be deterred- I had the “Prophets of Baal” story in my hands and I was going to test this sucker and get feedback one way or another. Ana and I had been struggling to understand the spiritual landscape here. If you haven’t already, I suggest you read my last post here “Welcome to My Brain…” to see what kind of confusion we were encountering. The rest of this post will make more sense. In any case, the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal (see 1 Kings 18) was sure to bring up some interesting questions about worship of other gods.
We decided in this stage of the testing to translate the name “Baal” as “God of Rain” since Baal was a Canaanite deity that had power over rain, thunder, or storms. This immediately went over well during testing.
Me: Do you all have Rain God?
Salmidu: Yes, there is Rain God, Thunder God, they have the authority (hello, there’s a word I’ve been looking for) of rain and wind. They are down here, watching over those things. True God is above.
I continued to ask more about rain god versus thunder god until he clarified:
Salmidu: You see that is the rain god, the thunder, not something else. If he speaks, wherever the sound is, that’s where he sends the rain.
Now I understand that the voice of rain god is the thunder.
Me: Do you have a rice god?
Salmidu: Yes, Rice God- that’s another one. He watches over the rice and waters it or it will die. Also the woman, the shaman that we buried. When we cook food and bring it to her (grave), its like we are bringing it to God. You ask for rain because its so hot, and you bring a sacrifice.
Me: So you bring this to the grave? And your asking the person right….the one you buried?
Salmidu: We are still asking God above. (here we go, back to the confusion…)
Me: But you are at the grave, asking the person?
Salmidu: Talking to this person is like talking to God. You ask, and they will confer with God.
Me: Like when you make the lutlut (* a traditional thanksgiving feast) you thank the rice god?
Salmidu: Yes, and he goes and tells True God.
I am beginning to get a picture here…..maybe this isn’t such a foreign concept as I thought….
Salmidu: Ok, like if I die, and its really hot and you need rain…. You can come clear off my grave, and I will go speak to God for you.
Me: So what do you call the person, or the god…who speaks to God for you? That person in the middle??
Salmidu: That’s a mediator. They confer with God for you.
THAT’S IT!! That’s the key to unlocking the mystery of all the previous confusion!
This was the conversation that needed to happen. Mediators are a concept that I do understand. It makes sense why they don’t see prayer and sacrifice as false worship, but rather a means of getting to True God. If you believe someone is more capable or worthy of approaching God, or more so that you are incapable or unworthy, then a mediator becomes necessary. And really, this is true. We incapable, but the difference in understanding is that there is only one mediator- Jesus Christ- (1 Tim 2:2) and that because of this we can approach the God of Heaven.
The rest of the conversation was great in that we got a better understanding of Salmidu’s (and others’) worldview and were able to tweak our retelling of the Elijah story to make it clear that rain god was indeed powerless, and thus could not answer the prophets cries. That Elijah prayed to God himself, and we can too. Will the changes be clear? That remains to be seen.