It is only fitting that our readers take a break from the literary criticism of Mukanaka’s poetry and focus on a national subject, which inexorably is the day of prayer and fasting for ourhomeland following the public declaration by the Republican President, Edgar Chagwa Lungu,quite recently. Today, the18 October 2015, all roads lead to the church sanctuaries across the breadth and width of our country to seek the face of the creator of the universe, the all-wise, all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present God. This is an admirable decree needing the obedience of every Zambian from all walks of life. There are, however, certain stricturesworth consideringin view of the times we are living in today.For a thorough understanding of the significance of the day, we should, as a matter of necessity, turn to Scriptures to glean the essence of prayer and fasting. So, in a sequential approach to our conversation what should be cardinal includes: recognition of the God we will seek to encounter, even if, for a brief moment; his permissible will for those who seek him, his splendid response and; finally,the unique position of Zambia in relation to the God of our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Bible consists of two major parts: The Old Testament and The New Testament both of which comprise 66 books;five of them written in poetry including the book of Psalms. The Old Testament reveals to us the God of Israelin all his power and majesty who is later made known to usin the New Testament through his perfect Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In an exceptional turn of phrase and apostrophes of poetic expression and sublime beauty, this is how the Psalmist lifts up the name of our God (Psalm19):
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
The skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
Night after night they display knowledge.
3 There is no speech or language
Where their voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out into all the earth,
Their words to the ends of the world.
This is a psalm of David and his marvel and awe at God’s creation. It would not surprise anyone that David would describe creation as he does considering his work as a shepherd boy in Israel. What should be surprising,nevertheless, is his ability to compress such transcendentthoughts in human language about our creator. In Hebrew language poetry is designedby parallelism, a scheme used to introduce an idea in one line only to reinforce it in another; as can be noticed in the first line above declaring the awe-inspiring heavens butreinforced by the splendour of theskies in the second line alluding to the masterpiece of God’s handiwork. There are other kinds of parallels of poetic forms, for example, antithetic and emblematic parallels. Anyhow, our focus today is on Scriptures brief though this may seem to be. Let us again look at the words of the Psalmist in an earliertext of the same book (Psalm 8):
1 O LORD, our Lord,
How majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
Above the heavens.
2 From the lips of children and infants
You have ordained praise
Because of your enemies,
To silence the foe and the avenger
3 When I consider your heavens,
The work of your fingers
The moon and the stars,
Which you have set in place,
4 What is man that you are mindful of him,
The son of man that you care for him?
5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
And crowned him with glory and honor.
In understanding the greatness of God, we turn toscientific enquiry about God’s created universe. The evidence of science is terrifying about the wisdom and power of God. An illustration of scientific evidence about creation gives us a bigger picture. And we depend here on the work of William MacDonald author of the ‘Believer’s Bible Commentary’ who sets out a glaring five areas of creation’s panorama; first, he says that if we travelled at a speed of light (186,000 miles) per second or roughly six billion years to reach the farthest point we could see with a telescope, we would still be far from the outermost limits of the space; second, there are so many stars and heavenly bodies and that with our naked eye we can only see five thousand stars but with a telescope we can see two million and better still, with a Palomar we are able to see billions of galaxies, to say nothing of individual stars; third, that there are millions of miles between heavenly bodies and the earth and between each other; fourth, that the light travelling from the most remote star takes ten billion years to reach the earth to the extent that when we look into space we are looking backwards in time and that we do not see the Andromeda galaxy where it is now but where it was two million year ago and; five, although the stars look crowded in the firmament, the distances between them are so great that they have been likened to lonely lightships a million miles apart, floating in an empty sea!
So, what does all this mean to man whose God is mindful of him? Simply this: that a living God so great as this cannot fail those who trust in him; he is infinite in wisdom, he is far above any name that can be named in this age and in the age to come and obviously greater than anyidols fashioned by man which are dead and lifeless gods. Zambians cannot do anything less than accept to come before him in humility and repentance at every level of our social spectrum.Ultimately, our response to a God of this nature and character will require that the words of the prophet Isaiah (58) are observed to the letteras wepray and fast:
3 Why have we fasted, they say,
And you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
And you have not noticed?
Yet on the day of your fasting,
You do as you please
And exploit all your workers
4. Your fasting ends in quarrelling
And strife, and in striking each other
With wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
And expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
On a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
And for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
A clear picture of what the relationship was between God and Israel requires the reader to intently study the whole Chapter. But what seems to be at stake is Israel’s complaint that God was not attentive to their commitment to prayer and fasting. However, God who is holy and righteous responds and gives reasons why their fasting was utterly inimical to his will. He notes that their fasting was reduced to a mere religious activity; fasting was not able to address issues of sin among them (because fasting provides an opportunity for repentance); fasting did not add any value to their spirituality; fasting did not improve the state of their relationships; fasting was rather self-centered; fasting ended up in strife and quarreling; it was in a sense an outward activity. God’s will for Israel and I do hope for Zambia on the day of prayer and fasting is to reflect on the very opposite of what did not please God in Israel’s case. Generally, there is a need for the nation to reconcile which thankfully His Excellency President Edgar Lungu emphasized and practically demonstrated after hisparliamentary inaugural speech by interacting with members of the opposition parties.It is in single acts like this one during and after our day of prayer and fasting that will enable God to remember our nation once again.
Zambia is a unique country in so many ways and her history attests to this fact. It is said that David Livingstone, the nineteenth-century Scottish explorer, who combed the breadth of this country died on his knees in solemn prayer for our land on May1, 1873. On his visit to what is now called the Victoria Falls—The Smoke that Thunders— in the southern part of our country, the Scottish missionary, fascinatedby this great wonder of God’s creation remarked that it was a scene gazed upon byangels in their flight. Declared a Christian country several years ago (and today an unprecedented day of prayer and fasting), Zambia is uniquelypositioned to allow God to hearken to her desperatecall. One hymn writer implores that God can make the rain— he can calm the storm and make the sun shine again. O! how much this nation yearns for the rain and sunshine!