Laurenti Magesa. 2013. What Is Not Sacred?: African Spirituality

By Williams, John | African Studies Quarterly, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Laurenti Magesa. 2013. What Is Not Sacred?: African Spirituality


Williams, John, African Studies Quarterly


Laurenti Magesa. 2013. What is Not Sacred?: African Spirituality. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 256 pp.

Laurenti Magesa is a Roman Catholic priest and is one of Africa's most noted scholars. He has authored African Religion: The Moral Traditions of Abundant Life and Anatomy of Inculturation: Transforming the Church in Africa. He has also been a visiting Fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. What is Not Sacred? is a work that attempts to show how different elements of African daily life leads not only to God, but towards a better understanding of how creation, nature, and other elements of African spirituality interplay with many different concepts of Christianity on a daily basis.

Magesa does a fine job of explaining the concept of African Spirituality in the first section of the book. He explains the concepts of ubuntu throughout the entire life cycle. The African understanding of spirituality can be seen as human participation in the total, universal existence, the whole of human existential experience in the world (p. 40). One of the more powerful influences on African spirituality is the understanding that you are a reflection of yourself and that good actions are a result of good intentions. Conversely, those with evil intentions pass them on as well. The ability of one to "perform" or become a participant in the dance of life, is essential to African spirituality. The ability to adapt and use music, dance, art, and other expressive venues as expressions of spiritual life completes a person's journey into becoming one with nature. He concludes with showing how the spirit returns and is made one again with the universe. God can act through ancestors or other spirits because they share in His power. Their understanding of ubuntu encourages them to act hospitably towards all because of our powerful connection to each other through all religions, both Christian and African.

The second part of this work examines the contribution that African spirituality has made to the world at large. Magesa uses specific African religious symbols and explains their parallel to a Christian worldview. One of the more interesting sections dealt with the African idea of eating together. The concept of laying aside one's differences and sharing a meal together crossed familial, cultural, and religious boundaries. Magesa argues that this ritual of constant transformation is similar to the Christian Eucharistic Celebration. It should change our perspective and leave us transformed and stronger in both our friendships and relationships (p. 156). The concept of working together while also learning from each other is really helpful. He argues that Africa and its countries have sacrificed ubuntu and mutual aid for each other for the perceived advantages of the capitalistic West. …

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