Thursday, January 21, 2010

recipe for love

A true story:

One evening at twilight while a certain man was inspecting his garden, his wife approached to report that she was going across the way to visit another woman on the location. Returning some hours later, the husband "felt something telling him" to search his wife's coat, after she had taken it off. His suspicions were confirmed: in the inner pockets he found two plastic baggies of "powder"--"poison" in his assessment, intended for him. Later confronting his wife about the find, she denied such intentions, claiming instead that it was medicine for a certain ailment her mother had been carrying. Knowing, however, that the mother had previously been healed, the husband pressed his wife further for the truth. Eventually she conceded; the powder was for him. Even so, the wife did not intend for the powder to kill her husband. On the contrary, she was going to feed it to her husband in order to make him love her; the powder was a love-potion.

This situation is not uncommon. The city of Mthatha is littered on any day, its buildings likewise adorned, with flyers of traditional doctors--sangomas--advertising their services to the public: enlargement (or reduction) of sexual organs, abortions, the attaining of jobs or riches, curing HIV-AIDS, and yes, bringing back a lost lover. That it is so, I now understand, is not for no reason; where the demand is great, so the supply.

One of the most common explanations we hear for cause of death among this segment of the population is "poisoning": "they are saying she was poisoned"; "maybe he ate poison"; "they poisoned her." It is also worth noting that poison in the South African context has political connections; the apartheid regime maintained chemical labs in which lethal mixtures were produced and applied by secret agents, for example, on the clothes of political dissidents. That which differentiates these two examples of poison--the one "traditional", "primal", "premodern", the other "scientific", "sophisticated", "modern"--is not as relevant as what unites them. Both were devised in the shadows, in secret, with deception. These ingredients are the impetus of such concoction, the biological combinations mere conductors of their master's malice.

That malice was not the wife's, for she loves her husband. Nor even does it belong to the woman who supplied the powder, the sangoma, though she deals in the powers of darkness. It belongs to the evil one, "the father of lies" (Mt. 6:13; Jn. 8:44), the one who bends desires for good to evil.

God bends them back. Though he later noticed only one bag of powder, the man will not refuse to eat the food his wife serves. To reject his wife's gifts is a greater threat to their marriage than the poison powder. Someone must break the cycle of doubt and fear. The man knows he's complicit; his own falling with another woman three years ago set back his wife's ability to trust the love she now seeks from him in powder. Eating is an act of faith--one simple act, among others, with power to remake their marriage according to God's intention.

What the devil intended for evil, God intended for good (Gen. 50:20).


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