Christian literature on the rise

Beaven Tapureta Bookshelf
Stanley Mushava’s “In Memory of the Future” (2015, Books N Guides) is a collection of poetry on spirituality offering fresh insights, comfort and love to Christian and non-Christian readers at this time when the world is grappling with a number of difficulties.

Even though Christian music has competitively made a mark on the local music scene, written spiritual poetry is yet to garner a following in literary circles. Literature of this nature has always been there since allegorists John Milton and his namesake John Bunyan published “The Lost Paradise” in 1667 and “Pilgrim’s Progress” in 1678 respectively.

Yet many of our gifted local Christian poets have suffered a certain ‘absence’ on the main literary scene mainly because their publications are hardly classified as “the literature” worth putting under academic scrutiny.

Only a few years ago when writer and poet Ignitius Mabasa added music to poetry which he called “gospoetry” (short for gospel poetry) that we realised the value and power of spiritual poetry. How paradoxical it seems then that the Miltonic type of poetry or literature on spirituality was or maybe is still part of the academic memories of our elders who today live in a context that does not accept its own creators of spiritual works.

There is a well thought out essay titled “I Believe, Therefore I Speak” at the end of the anthology where Mushava defends creativity as “a function of divine anointing”.

“Art, as a miniature of the known world, is a site of contest. There is truth and error, righteousness and evil, life and death. Babylon has been at it, in the lapse of centuries, blurring these lines. And it has made no mean headway. The viral, seldom questioned, diffusion of confused redefinitions of values, institutions and experiences such as freedom, love, marriage, family, gender, sexuality, tolerance, truth and the meaning of life indicates as much. I am writing to remark the cultural landmarks in defiance of conventional propaganda,” says Mushava in the essay.

Last week Bookshelf featured a review of Patony Musendo’s novel titled “The Emmaculate Calling” which looks at divinity and the modern church, the Pentecostal church in particular, and how far some of its characters are removed from the “truth” of the gospel. Could this frequency of Christian works on Bookshelf’s desk be an indication that the Christian writers are now coming into the open? There is an interesting combativeness of spirit running through this novel and Mushava’s poetry, a protest against a poisonous worm eating right in the place of Christian worship.

While there is not any allegorical form attached to Mushava’s poetry and Musendo’s fiction (as is found in classical Milton and Bunyan), their work still remain valuable creative works of general literature suitable for reading pleasure due to the outstanding skill they exhibit.

Indeed, we are witnessing a new respect to Christian poetry and fiction which will give readers relief from the “gut-spilling” type of literature that bursts from the writer’s emptiness. If Christian literature is written by authors and poets who have had a personal “contact” with God and therefore have testimony, it becomes a sentinel for the world.

Far from preaching, Mushava’s poetry challenges church dogma and he presents his message in verse which tallies well with the consciousness of the times he is living in.

A reader can deduce the inspiration of Christian theology, for instance, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, but the poet also sticks his voice out against the divergent church inhabited by “Hypochristians” whom he angrily chides:

You, self-appointed referees

Have deserted your own races

To douse fire with fuel

And bury your wounded comrades.

Flaunters of religion

And yet slaves to indulgence.

Mushava also presents somewhat persecuted personae in some of his poems. In the title poem “In Memory of the Future”, the bearer of the good news protests against an unresponsive “generation shorn of its soul”. In this powerful poem, the poet is dedicating his poetry, the good news, to the uncertain future:

A bleak spell is holding the future.

The age reels under a manifold scourge,

Terror, decadence, war, crime, disease,

Recession, anarchy, natural disasters,

A looming menace of nuclear holocaust

Flaring full circle over a napping world.

It is the beginning of the end;

The door of mercy is now closing!

Having read Mushava’s anthology, established writer Memory Chirere sensed out the musicality of the poetry. Mushava’s love for music is deep and he at times has written articles about local musicians and their music. He also intends to work on a biography of a certain local musical icon. In this anthology, he dedicates the poem “Songs of Zion” to the late gospel artist Brian Sibalo.

“These pieces remind me of Gerard Manley Hopkins for their dappled energy and musical cadence as they deal with our need to return to the divine because ‘The door of mercy is now closing!’ And the overriding insistence that: ‘Worship is the staircase to heaven.’ But sometimes I find here echoes of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage because of the young man’s reflections on travels from innocence to experience.

Mushava writes with a triple awareness of God, Country and the Universe. He can create a terrible beauty with these lines until you feel that indeed, ‘Love is the title deed to heaven.’” Chirere says.

Although Mushava’s sensitivity regarding the broken, hopeless reality surrounding him is felt, he is highly optimistic that a bright future awaits especially his beloved continent:

Realigning Africa to divine destiny

Is our only passage to ascendancy.

Though tortuous and enduring our woes,

Jesus will deliver Africa from her throes. (Africa Spring)

In another poem titled “Jerusalem” which is inspired by Jesus’ Second Coming, he foresees a place where “death the ultimate gloom/ stalks no more the trail of our steps”. Among other additional issues the poet touches on there is joy of spiritual rebirth, the deadly influence of a materialistic world and the comfort of believing in the Messiah.

Stanely Mushava was born in Gutu, Zimbabwe, in 1990. Poet, journalist and literary critic, Mushava’s work has appeared in The Herald, The Southern Times, Teacher in Zimbabwe, Gospel Times, Moto and several project consultancies. He started writing the Literature Today and Christian Entertainment columns for The Herald in 2013. Mushava holds a BSc (Honours) Degree in Journalism and Media Studies from the National University of Science and Technology (Nust).

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