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February 29, 2020

Carnival, our people’s cleansing

Presbyterian Minister Rev Clifford R L Rawlins gave a public lecture on ‘The Theology of Carnival’ at St Crispin’s Anglican Church, Woodbrook on January 30. The event was hosted by the Sehon Goodridge Theological Society. This is the conclusion of the three-part series, of an edited version of the presentation. Part one appeared in February 16 issue and part two in February 23 issue.

This leads into another dimension of the Carnival that can be overdone, but which, if kept within perspective and not abused, shows a basic aspect and need of living in a human body; and those are rites of sensuality, sexuality, fertility and prosperity.

They are ancient and are seen generally as pagan. But human beings are sexual beings and sexuality is necessary for the fulfilment of natural urges and desires as well as the procreation of the species.

It is the mindset of Victorian and Edwardian prudishness that has cast this annual fertility cult of Carnival in a negative light and calls for its total abhorrence.

Traditionally one would expect to hear in church on the Sunday before Carnival, or Dimanche Gras, a sermon condemning the paganism of Carnival. The Revised Common Lectionary to which all mainline churches now subscribe, commends this day as a celebration of the culmination of the season after the Epiphany with the Transfiguration of Jesus.

It is a logical conclusion seeing that the season begins with the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles [Wise Men] and goes through several of His manifestations or revelations of His glory through His ministry on earth climaxing with His revelation as the Son of God on the Mount of Transfiguration.

In a similar vein, Carnival is also a call to become a more just and equitable society by unmasking the realities behind the masks. There is a common link between the revelation of the ‘chabod’, glory or presence of God in Christ in the liturgical season leading to the climax of Carnival and the festival of Carnival itself in the God who struggles with His people, who knows, understands and identifies with their longings, hopes, desires and frustrations, a God who lived in such a situation in Palestine.

It is seen in a God who changes water into wine and thereby has power to transform the ordinary into the glorious. It is a God who engages actively with His people, the undesirables of society, neither scorning nor rejecting anything He has made; who even had a terrorist, Simon the Zealot, for a disciple, for that is what Zealots were to the Romans in that time.

And out of this engagement, God is able to bring healing and transformation to the twisted and distorted lives of the jamettised society, portrayed in the ole mas’.

The festival of Carnival is a time for the annual purgation of the people. It is a time when after a year of pent up frustrations relating to a neo-slavery work environment, the pressures of family life, traffic jams, political and social tensions and so many other stress causing factors, there can be release and rejuvenation.

It is a demonstration of the catholicity of the peoples of this land, of all races, cultures, and religious persuasions, social and economic backgrounds merging into one massive, pulsating force of energy, where there is absolutely no segregation or discrimination of any kind.

One is not even able to tell the difference between vagrant and upper class, as the mask covers all, especially the mask of oil, mud and paint of the J’Ouvert/ Monday festivities.

It is a time for rejoicing and singing praise, in the words of Psalm 150, where everything that breathes, yea exists, is called to worship and celebrate the One who lives among them, witnesses and shares in their pain and suffering, who is crucified for them and takes into His pinned body on the Cross, the tormented shape of their daily anguish.

Carnival reveals the creative aspect of humankind’s nature with the remarkable structures of skill and beauty in individual portrayals. It is a time when the industry of the people comes alive.

Long, tireless hours are spent designing and fabricating costumes, tuning and preparing steel-band arrangements for the competitions and then having to go to regular work the next morning after little or no sleep, only to re-enter the vicious but beloved cycle over and again each evening.

Trinbagonians have thus been labelled a Carnival people who live seemingly only for the mere pleasure of the festival and have a love for fêting and partying or for the next Carnival in another Caribbean island, North America or England, without any real substance in their lives.

This should not be. For to be a Carnival people in the truest sense of the term would mean to transfer all that energy at Carnival time into the regular work ethic during the rest of the year and seek to become—again called to become—  an all-round productive people, excelling to even greater heights than have already been achieved.