Before the advent of ‘drop me a pin’ with google maps faithfully taking over – in 400m turn left, take the third exit, you have reached your destination – many a laugh has been had at the expense of the African, or is it women, on how directions are given.
Without the benefit of street labelling, to find your way you would latch onto someone who looked trustworthy and likely to know the area well and asked for directions to, say, Maina’s place. They might ask, which Maina? The one who was recently bereaved or the teacher? After clarifying they will go on – continue down this road, further on is a turn to the left, don’t take that one, continue until you cross the second river and you will find a huge tree, turn towards irathīro, the direction of sunrise and you will see a maize farm, on the southern side is a small gate and that’s your destination. They will then wave you off with a cheery and predictable sendoff … huwezi potea…ndūngīūra…you can’t lose your way! From experience, that statement is the surest sign that you will miss your turnoff, go round and round in circles, and possibly approach another three people for guidance before you stumble into your destination.
When you arrive you will incredulously wonder – you mean that tree? This is a shrub, I thought it would be bigger. The description of the landmarks and signs depends on your guide’s powers of observation and their sense for detail. When you ask, what kind of a tree, it’s not unusual to receive a dubious response like, not too small but also not too big…medium…yes, medium. Sometimes the guides confer with one another…why not direct him to the road that goes towards ithūīro, sunset? The southern route sometimes gets flooded, and it’s a bit hidden, let him go uphill, that one is easier to follow. And on and on it goes with the different directions, some conflicting, being offered by this well-intentioned folk.
Now the shepherds, key characters on the nativity scene brought to the fore of our minds this season, did not seem to have any problem finding their destination. After the initial shock of receiving unexpected celestial visitors, they set off hurriedly to catch a glimpse of the action announced to them. The directions they had, though brief, seemed to be just enough.
This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. And sure enough, they found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
With the popularity of the GPS and ‘drop me a pin’, finding our literal way has become much easier. Finding our way figuratively, however, seems not as easy. Despite the abundance of gadgets, maps, apps, books and advisors we still find ourselves seemingly going round in circles when it comes to the timeless questions of life: where did I come from, why am I here and what happens to me when I die? Some of the guidance we receive seems mixed up, conflicting or determined to send us on a wild goose chase as we try to find our bearings in life.
Maybe the answer is in orienting ourselves, as the shepherds did, towards the baby, wrapped in cloths and lying in the manger. The fisherman-poet John would later write of this baby, the word or logos, the integrating principle behind the universe, had become flesh and dwelt among us. In him was life, and the life was the Light of men. This was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.
Even a good GPS will sometimes throw us off, we can miss a turn and head in the wrong direction. How encouraging then to have the once-upon-a-time-baby-in-the-manger unequivocally declare – If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.
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