The late Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe is one of my favorite international artists. Tuku was a strong activist and legend among African musicians, his music bridging many genres and often loudly echoing his message to spread awareness of minority oppression, disease, and other conditions prevalent in Zimbabwe before and after its independence. One of my favorite songs of his is “Kusaziva"(Kusaziva Youtube video), which is sung in both English and the native dialect Shona. Kusaziva is the Shona word for ignorance, or lack of knowledge. In the song, Tuku pleads to know what is on the listener’s mind while reflecting on the potentially harmful impact of ignorance and the unknown. The Shona refrain, kusaziva mvuri werefu is loosely translated as “ignorance is like a shadow of death.” Reflecting on this meaning has made me view Psalm 23 in a whole new light. Previously, whenever I read that psalm, I would come away primarily with the reminder and appreciation that I must rely on God for guidance and protection, but I would always take verse 4 with something of a grain of salt.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4, NKJV)
While David wrote from circumstances of living in constant fear of death, I did not see how the first part of that verse applied directly to my own life. Sure, there would undoubtedly be dire consequences if I strayed from God, but it was hard to literally fathom death lurking in the unseen background. When I think of ignorance as that lurking shadow, however, I realize it is very directly relevant. There are numerous ways in which I overlook or ignore God in my own life, not by my own intention, and it affects me in adverse ways. Everybody does this whether they realize it or not. The effect could be as subtle as increased stress or decreased patience, but even that will take its toll on relationships and ability to perform crucial tasks. I do not agree with the expression “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” if you are ignoring what is right in front of you or all around you. To overcome the shadow of ignorance, the focus should be on what we do know, which the rest of Psalm 23 highlights. God is always there, guiding us, comforting us, revealing important truths to us. In the face of our most adverse circumstances, he prepares a table for us and anoints us with oil. His goodness and mercy follow us as long as we choose to dwell with Him. Solomon echoes this decision and counter to ignorance in Proverbs 3:6: In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths (NKJV). Acknowledging God can take many forms – praise, thanksgiving, prayer, offering, to name a few. It is a simple but vital gesture to turn our center away from ourselves and back to the Lord. And yet I often find that even acknowledging Him can be difficult in the fast pace and many goings-on in my life. This Advent season is a great opportunity to restore and refresh our connection to the Lord. Some questions to consider might be: What’s (predominantly) on your mind? How and where in your life might you be overlooking God? What are some simple ways you can acknowledge Him? As we together celebrate the Lord’s coming, we can also celebrate individually with some simple reflection and responding steps to keep the shadow of ignorance from casting darkness in our everyday lives.
- picture from Wikipedia