Where God is, everything is music

The beauty of music and the joy of dance make us raise our hearts to God: a Sunday in Nairobi.

Sister Eleonora Ceresoli (center), with Sister Elena Rondelli and some of the women of the parish of St. Joseph at Kahawa Sukari (Nairobi, Kenya).

On Sunday morning at Kahawa Sukari, we are woken by the cry of the neighbor’s rooster and of the sounds of birds; in Africa, even the birds sing in rhythm, intoning a background melody. To this music is added the rustle of the leaves of the banana trees that one could even mistake for the roar of water in a storm, if it wasn’t for the fact that the sound is sweeter. It is creation that is waking up and we with it; the hymn that we sing at our Morning Lauds on Sunday in fact goes: “The morn dawns refulgent with glory, the heavens are vested in song, the earth echoes forth hymns of gladness to Christ who has risen from death.”

At 7:30, the first Sunday Mass begins at the parish of St. Joseph, which is under the care of the priests of the Fraternity of St. Charles. The church is only a few dozen yards from our house and megaphones, amplified, allow us to participate in the joyful hymns of the Kenyan people. Our time of morning silence, then, participates in the “vesting in song” expressed by the hymn.

After a few hours we too join the Sunday Mass; the church is a celebration, the children and young people animate the Mass with dancing processions and polyphonic songs that move me every single time. Sunday here in Nairobi is truly the day of the Lord.

I arrived in Kenya a little more than seven months ago, and the first thing that struck me is the care of the liturgy that is lived in our parish: everything has a meaning, everything is thought out to express the beauty of a relationship with God. Our priests, furthermore, desire to place value on the beauty of the local traditions, enriching them with the fullness of life and the truth generated by the faith; in this way, in the liturgical dances, the spirit and the body unite in expressions of resounding joy.

On Tuesday morning, Sr. Erika and I welcome into the parish a group of mothers with disabled children. The group is named after the song Lasciati fare (Let yourself be taken care of) by Claudio Chieffo (in Swahili: Ujiachilie). THe notes that welcome and bring together the mothers and the children are those of a song that describes belonging.

The mothers arrive at the church carrying their children on their backs; even if very few of them are Catholic, they entrust their intentions to the Virgin Mary, during the rosary that opens the morning together. Then there are songs for the children: they have different forms of disability but all of them are smiling. Some of them clap their hands, others make up a dance, still others, simply, look at Sr. Erika and I a bit astonished. With the women, we have a moment of assembly. They have almost all been abandoned by their men and their families and together they put all of their life on the table: the knowledge of their own bodies, affective relationships, the relationship with God, the meaning of life and of death. In these moments, we cry and we laugh a lot. We conclude almost always these mornings with some kind of traditional dance.

When life is illuminated by the Lord, the heart sings and dances

If then we then take a look at the schools, you can see how the children too do not hesitate to launch themselves into expressions of song and dance, just like there do not exist aggregations of young people where the kids do not spontaneously improvise joyful dances in little groups: when life is illuminated by the Lord, the heart sings and dances.

In places where God is not, however, music turns to noise and sadness. From dimly lit pubs comes the echo of songs that promote promiscuous relationships and violence. In the streets of the neighborhood, some deafening music does not entice people to dance but to let go into oblivion. On the day of Corpus Christi, it was beautiful to follow the priests walking through the neighborhood, to see hundreds of parishioners singing festive songs, and so many curious people looking out from the houses to see what was going on. Some turned off their noise to let in God’s music. I love music and singing. God uses this passion of mine to bring me into a relationship of affection and friendship with this land and people but, most of all, with Him.

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