Scribbling The Magnum Opus In The Heart

by Felix-Abrahams Obi

The scene was riotous. Angry men and women lurched in the Temple in a great press. In their midst was a woman hooded in shame being dragged along by the custodians of the Law. The foreboding fear of death had scorched her soul as she had no one to defend her, over the abhor able sin of adultery; a taboo banned by the sacred scriptures! Knowing that Jesus had showed great understanding of the Laws of Moses, and deep insights in interpreting God’s Word, they brought the woman to him. Not for mercy to triumph, but for judgment in its most gruesome forms. They had grabbed the coarsest of stones to execute the divine sentence on this adulteress.

Jesus had been teaching a crowd of people in the Temple courts when the scribes and Pharisees arrived with this hapless woman. Without a care for those listening to his teachings, the religious leaders quipped, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.” They now brought the moral and legal angle to it. “Now Moses (was it God?), in the Law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say?” they asked to test his sense of morality and love for ‘God’s Laws” as passed down by Moses.

What a simple question that needed a simple and sure answer from Jesus and any other person who had read the Laws of Moses. But Jesus was in no hurry to answer them. Instead he stooped down like a child to run his finger on the sacred sand of the Temple in Jerusalem. He was scribbling his own ‘magnum opus’ that will become a canon of liturgy in the hearts of the crowd. Feeling ignored by his silence, the religious leaders repeated their question; “What do you say, Jesus?”

He lifted up his head and said to them, “He (she, inclusive) who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Then he continued with his scribbling in the sand of the temple. Those words ripped through their heats like a double-edged sword that their grip on the stones weakened. Thud by thud, the stones obeyed gravity’s call and fell flat on the sand, missing the woman’s bowed head. The old men left first upon recalling their own sexual escapades under the cover of darkness. They just dropped their stones and, the young joined till the crowd dispersed leaving only Jesus and the woman. The last words the woman heard from Jesus were, “.Neither do I condemn you; go home and sin no more.”

I have often wondered what it was that Jesus scribbled with his finger and why. Was it a poem or just a couching of a play of life? Whatever that was, it made a powerful statement on the hearts of the accusers and the accused. It brought both life (to the condemned and guilty woman) and death (to the condemners and hypocrites). It must have been a ‘magnum opus’, the ‘singular great work of art’ which every artist, writer, singer longs to produce in his/her life time. For example,Chinua Achebe’s ‘magnum opus’, “Things Fall Apart” which was first published 50years ago was celebrated worldwide in 2008 as a canon of African literature; a voice of repute. While some artists would be able to finish their magnum opus in their lifetime, some may remain in shelves and files as ‘unfinished works’.

But as I reflect over life, I reckon that the best of works are those ‘scribbled in the hearts of men/women’ like the works of forgiveness which Jesus had offered the woman caught in adultery. If her male accomplices were let off the hook, was it not justifiable for Jesus to pardon her? At the risk of being scandalized as the secret lover to a prostitute, Jesus threw away his reputation to identify with a woman of no moral reputation. When everyone stood against her, he was her only advocate even though he didn’t condone her sinful action. And what can be as powerful as those words uttered by divinity himself; “.neither do I condemn you!”

Though I am a lover of avant garde arts and literature, the things that have made some of the greatest impacts on my life and psyche have been when others truly gave of themselves to me. Their acts of kindness have made me feel loved and as a part of human community. I remember with fondness, men and women who have been great mentors and role models to me. I remember as a 100Level physiotherapy student, I needed mentors to look up to, and went on a search, and saw the name of one Dr. Chukuka Enwemeka in a Canadian physiotherapy journal. I figured he’s a Nigerian and decided to write him requesting for his mentorship though he was based in USA. He wrote back and gladly accepted to be my mentor and that relationship has thrived and spanned for about 18years now. Now a professor and dean of health sciences at a university in New York, he’s still my mentor and I am so grateful that he had heard the cry of a young man!

About the same time I was contacting Dr. Enwemeka as an undergraduate student, I also reached out to ask for the mentorship of the founder of the first physiotherapy training program in Northern Nigeria, Dr. Alphonso Onuoha, who then was the head of physiotherapy department at the University of Kuwaiti. We have exchanged letters over the years and I have gained a lot from his professional career and research exploits and experiences that took him to U.K, Canada, Australia, Kuwait, Oman etc before he retired a few years ago after a meritorious service to humanity. How fulfilled I was 2 years ago, when he took me on a guarded tour of the clinic he had built in his country home in Mbaise, Imo State. My hoary mentor and icon of physiotherapy gave me the honor of sitting with him to share a meal in his country home, after we treated one of his patients together!

Dare I talk of ‘my Indian father’ and academic mentor, Prof. P.L Shukla who taught me anatomy at Bayero University Kano? I still remember his beautiful smile and wise sayings. A man of high cerebral prowess and mental acuity, he was a wonder that held my fascinated admiration during those preclinical years. He came into the class with only a box of chalk and duster, but would effortlessly rip apart every aspect of the human anatomy without recourse to a textbook or note. He made anatomy come out as though it was an abstraction that is easily memorized to become a reality which anyone can play back on the canvas of the mind. What I still remember with nostalgia is when he would call out my name, “Obiiiiii Feliiiiiiiiiix” with a stress to ask if I understood him, to the hearing of physiotherapy and medical students crammed into the lecture hall in the faculty of medicine. He left Nigeria back to India before our graduation. How I mourned when in 2001 in Kano, I ran into my former biochemistry lecturer, who told me then that Prof. Shukla had died. How my heart bled. I still remember the picture we took together when I snuggled and giggled in joy beside him as a tiny, lanky 200level student. He was a proud Hindu adherent, who read and knew the biblical stories and I would not forget his wise counsel, “Always respect the tools of learning; books, notebooks and the pen!

In his book, “The Walk: The Life-Changing Journey of Two Friends”, Michael Card glowingly talked about the tremendous impact his mentor of 25 years, Dr. Bill Lane had on him. After his appointment as a Professor of Religious Studies at Western Kentucky University, Dr Bill Lane prayed that God would bring into his life young men who were open to developing a relationship with him and who would be challenged for Christ. He had intimate understanding of the benefits of mentoring having been mentored as student by one Dr. Glen Barker who had invested more than two hundred hours teaching him by example the art of providing guidance to a willing heart. God would answer Bill’s prayers when a jittery and unsure undergraduate student tapped his office doors someday to ask for a ‘block of time.’ That began the 25years of mentoring relationship that turned into an intimate friendship, following the pattern Jesus had set. From disciples, the apostles progressed to become friends of Jesus!

Towards the end of Dr. Bill Lane’s life after a gallant fight against cancer, his mentees and friends organized a valedictory service in his honor at Seattle before his final journey to Franklin Tennessee where he died. While many eulogized him with encouragement, a student shocked them all with these words:

“Everyone has been recounting all your qualities, Bill,” he said to the crowd. “But I would like to mention something that is wrong with you. You have trouble finishing your work!” Silence hushed everyone as they looked on in shock at the shocking words they heard. But he continued. ” And we would like to thank you for not finishing it. For if you had spent the time required to complete the book on Paul (his magnum opus which he’s been researching since 2001), you would not have had the time to invest in us.We are your books, Bill!” That was a perfect farewell t Bill who died on Mach 7, 1999.

Michael Card would learn a great lesson from his relationship with Bill Lane. and in his own words he said that, “Behind every specific call, whether it is to teach or preach or write or encourage or comfort, there is a deeper call to that gives shape to the first call: the call to give ourselves away -the call to die. We can in an incomplete way, give ourselves by writing books or sermons or even songs, but it will always be a fragmentary and incomplete giving because these tasks require no real personal contact. But real contact was what Bill was about, and throughout his life, he was torn between the academic call-to cloister himself within the library in order to write articles and books- and opening the door of his life to real, living, breathing people who needed his gifts. Ultimately, by grace, he listened to the deeper call to give himself intimately to his family and friends and students, and as a direct result, what he called his magnum opus will never be finished.” What a glowing testimony of real-life impartation!

In our little ways as humans, we should endeavor to touch the hearts of people that cross our paths. We need to seek for creative ways to scribble our own ‘magnum opus’ on the hearts of others for the greatest expression of creativity is the ‘giving of self’. While it is commendable to spend time and resources to develop our creative gifts and talents, however, it is much more honorable to develop our abilities to sacrificially give of ourselves in love to others. We need to open our hearts to the extraordinariness that is the gift of another person, for William Lane said that “When God gives a gift; He wraps it in a person.”

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1 comment

Bennie October 30, 2008 - 9:34 am

Nice piece. I think I found my words of wisdom for the day in “The greatest expression of creativity is the ‘giving of self.'”


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