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A reflection on Psalm 96 …

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A few months ago I was ‘not-watching’ Johnny Clegg’s TV series ‘A Country Re-imagined’, when I overheard him talk about some caves in the Orange Free State which somehow helped you connect with your dreams. I had missed most of what he said and had missed most of the segment, but it stayed with me – this place in the Free State whereby dreams could be interpreted – or so I thought. So I googled it, found nothing on the caves themselves until I googled the actual show.

Long story short, I knew I wanted to visit those caves – I wanted to see what it was all about – through a beautifully synchronous process, I got an opportunity to go the Free State this last weekend and visit the Motouleng caves and what a beautiful and moving experience it turned out to be.

On Saturday afternoon, my friend and I stopped at the tourist information in Clarens to find out the necessary information, I mentioned ‘the dream caves’ and the Information Lady looked at me blankly, then I mentioned that Johnny Clegg program and she said – Oh you mean the fertility caves – Gulp – I do? The Fertility Caves??? Um, not really what a young single minister was expecting to go on a pilgrimage to find, but anyway… she gave us directions to where we needed to go … I was tempted to say, I no longer wished to see them – especially when she mentioned that the caves were now filled with cave dwellers – being a child of a country like Africa, my mind went to straight to the image of squatter camps and all I could think, was why do I want to go and look at a bunch of caves filled with people squatting to increase my fertility of all things … O me of little faith I hear you say …

Sunday dawned and the kind, generous people who had accompanied me to Clarens for the weekend jumped into the car to discover the ‘caves’, so we drove and we drove and we drove – there were no sign posts – the caves were apparently on private property and the map was one of those brilliant not-to-scale cartoon type efforts which point you in a vague direction with little to no valuable information – cue blood pressure increase and cold sweats, because by now my indulgent companions are travelling to who knows where to find who knows what on a long and dusty South Africa road. One wrong turn, a few over shoots and a couple of fortuitous phone calls later and we were heading into the mountains – luckily in a trusty 4×4, not a car nor a
house in sight – please God let this be the right direction!

As we bumped along, I bleated pitifully to my friends, ‘you know sometimes a treasure has got to be sought out to be uncovered.’ Praying that in this instance it would be true. My friends didn’t look convinced, but eventually we reached our destination. A cul de sac at the bottom of a mountain with a few stray cars, loads of people, no tourists… My friend asks in Sotho (local dialect) where we might find the ‘grotte’ – the caves … and a grunt and a finger point sent us in a direction and so we started to walk…. At which point in the midday African heat, I was pretty sure my friends were starting to
think pretty unkind thoughts about me (turns out they weren’t, but the ego is a
dreadful little critter) and we started to walk, behind some pilgrims and we
walked and walked and walked!

And as we walked Gods grace entered my conciousness, my devotion that morning, sitting at the bottom of a golden mountain nestled in the Glen Reenen National Park at Golden Gate, was Psalm 96 … ‘Sing to me a new song’ … in the quiet of the beautiful still morning I had said – ‘yes, yes I will Lord – whatever you want me to sing about I will sing to you a new song glorious God!’ (Open and surrendered is easy in a place as special as the Golden Gate Mountains, just saying…)

‘For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made
the heavens.’

Looking around me there was no mistaking who had made what in my surroundings that morning – man had had no part to play in the magnificence that was laid out before me and then He said…’bring an offering and come into my courts’, and I recognised I was sitting IN the court of creation … a true place of worship.

And as we walked I was reminded of God’s word that morning: Sing to me a new song and come into my courts to praise me’ and as I remembered those words, we turned a corner and dressed in the traditional African dress of one of the local churches a lady was standing with her back to me in the shade of the trees with the cross on her cloak in full view, and I thought – here Lord is your new song! Here we are in your temple courts to praise you in a new way (new for us anyway), and my anxiety started to give way to expectation, excitement, anticipation – what would we see!?!

We heard it before we saw it, the singing, for anyone who has heard the voices of Africa in full worship mode will know the beauty of that sound as it bounced off the surrounding mountains and as we turned the corner, down in the valley in front of us were the caves and the people. There was a group standing at the entrance to the caves – some kneeling down, some standing, palms down or face upwards, all in deep and silent prayer – there are no words… no words to describe the atmosphere in that moment. No words could describe the unmistakable presence of God moving amongst his people, gathered in prayer and faith. The place just seemed to hum with the spirit of God. The deep acknowledgment and gratitude of Gods people was palpable and I thought to myself – this is a thin place… the places that I have read about and dreamt about and spoken about – I am experiencing, now in this moment, this is a thin place, a place where the veil between our world and Gods world seems to be very, very thin… some treasures have to be sought out and some heart whisperings have got to be followed. Yes indeed!

As I stood at the entrance to that group of caves and watched the comings and goings of the people, I was struck anew at how magnificent it is that we all worship God in different ways – the rocks were covered with little white crosses and messages from pilgrims over the years. There were traditional healers, children and old people, pretty girls and scary looking men, political supporters and priests and priestesses in full traditional church dress, all in search of one thing – an experience of God and God was fully present!!! One of the most touching images for me was watching a group of young men tenderly and gently assist a weak and very frail young woman to cross the river into the sacred space for her healing. So much faith.

I know that God is everywhere and in everything, but for me on this Sunday, God led me on the most amazing journey into the heart of a mountain, to see his people at prayer and worship, gathering in a place they felt he had called them to and there they would stay until he led them back out again – what a privilege it was to witness… what a privilege it was to be part of, what a privilege it was to get an opportunity to sing to our God a new song – in his court of creation with his special people, his created beings…

Our God is amazing and truly most worthy of our praise. (Psalm 96:4)