The God-shaped Vacuum [Faith is a Romance.]

 One of the fascinating things about life as an American in Africa, is that I have the unique opportunity to define the finer points of American culture for my students. For instance: as of November 26, 2009, there are approximately fifteen Senegalese students wandering around Dakar that believe that a traditional American Thanksgiving consists of unusually dry rotisserie chicken, lumpy mashed potatoes and a viewing of The Passion of the Christ. [Butterball Turkey and the Macy’s day parade have nothing on us!]

Yesterday, I got to share one of my favorite aspects of American culture: coffee! Clearly, Americans do not have the market cornered on coffee, but the Senegalese are even farther off than we are. Their preferred coffee drink [café touba] can be purchased at rusty little rolling stands that precariously teeter down the side of the road. Café touba is served in tiny, brown plastic cups, and is the equivalent of a shot of grainy Nescafe sludge with enough sugar in it to throw you into immediate diabetic shock. It is positively undrinkable even in the direst of circumstances. I went my first two weeks in-country without even a sip of coffee, which will put this in perspective for anyone that knows me! I digress.

Bineta and I with our coffee. ...clearly, I had already had some and she had not.

Bineta came over yesterday for a “traditional American lunch” [read: egg salad sandwiches and French fries.] and help deciphering Shakespeare’s Othello [which she is reading in English]. Can you imagine reading Shakespeare in a foreign language? I love theatre, and it was fun getting to explain some of the themes and translate old English words for her over a cup of vanilla hazelnut crème coffee. One of the weightier themes in Othello is betrayal-a topic that sadly resonates with almost every single one of my girls.As Bineta and I began to discuss betrayal [specifically in regards to romantic relationships], something in her demeanor changed. You see, my girls grow up expecting betrayal in a way that you and I do not. There is an odd tension when you discuss romantic relationships with a Senegalese woman like Bineta. They really love talking about romantic relationships-partially because they all want one, and partially because they’re all afraid of them in light of what they’ve seen their mothers endure. Almost without exception, my girls expects to be abused, cheated on, and eventually left. They live with the reality that if their husbands can afford more than one wife, they will be one of many. A girl named Sophie articulated the general sentiment well when she confided that she would “never give her whole heart to a man, because he would only break it.”

It might sound simplistic, but to a Muslim woman, the idea that God treasures her, delights in her, rejoices over her with singing and is passionately, relentlessly pursuing her, is entirely new. It stands in breathtaking contrast with the graceless, fear-based, legalistic religion that she has known since she was a little girl-and with the romantic relationships that she has both observed and experienced. Faith is a romance-I am Christ’s bride, not His captive.

Yesterday, as I began to describe my walk with Jesus as a reaction to a torrent of unconditional love that I could never begin to deserve, I saw Bineta’s eyes visibly brighten. That’s a love that she has never experienced-or even seen-and just like you and I, she was created for it. 

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man, which cannot be satisfied by any created thing.” –Blaise Pascal

Pray that Bineta comes to understand this.


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