“My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”
Today, in southern Africa, nearly five million believers belong to a unique movement that is peculiarly Christian in theology and doctrine, and yet almost indigenous in polity. They call themselves the Masowe Apostolic movement, and they gather to worship outdoors, exclusively. They own no churches, but they are one.
They believe in Christ, in the Trinity, in the resurrection, and eternal life; they are Christians. But they also believe that the Holy Spirit rides on the wind, that the unspoiled earth is sacred, that true worship is best offered to God in open land, in fields and small farms; when they live in cities, they often worship in abandoned lots or parks.
Sociologists like to assert that the preferences of the Masowe Wilderness Apostles are occasioned by their firm rejection of colonialism and the European Christianity that came with it, a cultural faith which simply assumed that proper and faithful worship could occur only in a sanctuary, a place with walls and a roof. In very obvious ways, the Masowe have returned to something of their native faith by placing emphasis instead on the wind and the earth. Their sanctuary is open space.
Their services of prayer and thanksgiving frequently go four hours or more. I don’t know that I could handle four hours, but I have my sympathies with their visions.
For most of my life, I would have immediately assumed that this verse—and this psalm—refers specifically to a particular building designated by some family of believers as a church, a “house of God” that held my membership papers, a place where each week a community of believers came together for worship.
I’m not sure I believe that anymore, in part because my soul doesn’t really yearn or faint for Sunday worship. If I try to find within myself the compelling thirst the psalmist obviously feels in this beautiful song, I don’t necessarily envision the church down the block, no matter how gorgeous. My soul doesn’t yearn for that for that building or Sabbath worship that happens within. I go—and I’ll continue to, as I have for all of my 68 years. But my heart and soul are not ready to faint to return.
On the other hand, if I don’t go out and greet the dawn every once in a while, I get owly. Seriously. If I don’t go out and look for beauty, I feel bereft. That picture down below—that’s what my camera could hold of the masterpiece painted on yesterday’s sky ten minutes or so before dawn. That’s what was there to be seen, no admission.
When I think about the Masowe Wilderness Apostles, my heart sings. Really.
Who is to say what God means by the psalmist’s reference to “the courts of the Lord”? Why couldn’t those courts be the wide-open spaces just outside of town? Why couldn’t they be the big-shouldered, rolling hills that define the twisting course of the hidden river beneath? Why couldn’t the “courts of the Lord” be a translucent morning sky that spreads east to west, north to south?
Are the Masowe wrong? Are they apostate because they believe the Holy Spirit actually rides the wind? Are they pagan to respect the earth?
And what about me? Am I somehow less of a believer if I long to see his glory detailed on the broad canvas of the sky?—if I want to go back again and again?
“My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord.”
Welcome to the morning.