Exclusive Interview of CANON PROF. WANGARI MWAI | PAROUSIA Magazine

WANGARI MWAI

CANON PROF. WANGARI MWAI

 

 

 

Kenya’s Anglican Church Canon – cum – Professor of Literature and Deputy Vice Chancellor of Students’ Affairs at United States International University (USIU)

 

 

                       

 

 

 

 

Brief Bio:

Wangari Mwai is a Literary expert, gender specialist with formal education in the areas of Education, Literature and Performing Arts, Gender training, Leadership and Business.

 

Interviewed by Kariuki wa Nyamu                    

 

Nyamu:

Thank you very much, Professor, for accepting to engage in this interview. I’m delighted you have finally found time. Let’s get down to business, describe yourself in three words.

 

Wangari:

Leader, Teacher, Researcher

 

Nyamu:

You hold many titles that accord great honour, which one do you love most?

 

Wangari:

I am Venerable, Canon Professor: I value being a Canon in my Anglican Church. A Canon is an honorary title conferred upon a member of the clergy (and some lay persons) for faithful and valuable service to the church. I am happy that my duty to God has been found faithful and valuable. I believe in what is noticeable and rewardable on earth, the heavens are in agreement. (Matthew 18:18-20)

 

Nyamu:

University teaching-cum-administration versus running an archdeaconry… Which one are you more passionate about?

 

Wangari:

I am passionate about both. Monday to Friday, I serve the university with diligence. Saturday and Sunday, I serve the church with abandon. Sometimes I have to delegate church duties during weekdays or work on the phone. When things are tight, I seek a day off for community service and attend to church related issues. Arguably, this is the most common question in my life and I have always failed to answer it to the satisfaction of my audience. This is because, most of all, it is God who enables me. Once I said and meant it that I can do ALL things through him who strengthens me, he has continued to prove himself. (Philippians 4:13)

 

Nyamu:                                                                                              

Fear not, your response is convincing. And, as a little village girl, did you ever resist any kind of authority?

 

Wangari:

I grew up among tough village boys including my own brothers. They were assured of an authority above girls, but not me. Most of them kept on complaining that I am defiant to them. Unlike most of the girls who were my agemates, I refused to wash my brother’s clothes, warm their food at night among others. Indeed, they often commented that I am too hard headed to ever get a husband or even run a home. Glory be to God, he proved them very wrong! I have a wonderful and supportive husband and children.

 

So, to my knowledge, this is the only assumed authority I defied. I was ever obedient in school and at home. When most young learners had to go through communal punishment where all teachers surrounded them with sticks to beat sense and discipline into them, I hardly ever faced the cane. My mother was also very strict at home and in school. I was ever ready to obey her. My siblings thought that I was favored, but I really worked hard for it.

 

Nyamu:

Wow! That’s very encouraging! Writing in English, Kiswahili or even Gikuyu your native tongue… Which one works best for you?

 

Wangari:

I love best when I can meld them all three. I love when stories are in English, with Kiswahili expressions and Kikuyu songs!!

 

Nyamu:

Having said that, could you please tell us something about the books that you’ve published so far?

 

Wangari:

Most of my publications are academic papers, books and journal articles. I have mainly focused on my core research area of Oral Literature and Women’s issues. Both my Masters and Ph.D theses have been turned into books. My Masters was on “Trends in Kiswahili Poetry (Ushairi). My Doctorate was on “The Woman’s Voice in Kiswahili Oral Poetry”. I have a few other books and many journal articles derived from my research findings.  Some of my papers combine my dual spaces of church, nature and literary creativity. For instance, one paper I am most proud of is “Reading the Story of Jesus Christ as an Epic” in the Journal of Cultural and Religious Studies, Volume 3, Number 4.

I also write fiction; novellas and short stories and a bit of poetry and songs. There is one story I love most, it’s titled “Exorcising the trauma of losing my daughter”. I wrote it to exorcise the trauma and depression that engulfed me after losing my only daughter. This experience hurt me deepest, but I took a holiday and wrote and shed tonnes of tears. After that, I felt almost whole. Here is an excerpt;

 

“As an ordained priest with about twenty years of service, I knew and preached that death is inevitable. I often preached at funerals and reminded people that we all have an appointment with death. Further, I reminded them that we may be diagnosed negative of any virus, but all of us are death positive. However, this triumph over death was felt until the 29th of December, 2009, when I lost a lovely angel, my only daughter, I  never anticipated the grim reaper’s calling  upon any  of my family members.  This time I was confronted by an enemy I had always scoffed at. And when it struck, the parting was painful, followed by grief and an overwhelming sense of deprivation. Indeed it has been a walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.

 

Nyamu:

Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. Glory be to God for granting you the fortitude to bear the loss. Moving on, I understand you’ve published some Christian themed material…Is Christian Literature marketable?

 

Wangari:

My writings are basically for self-disclosure and expression and for preaching and reaching out to those who could be undergoing similar experiences. I don’t sell and they are in open access platforms.

 

Nyamu:                                                                                                                 

Okay. Pick one statement that you love most from any of your creative works?

 

Wangari:

This is drawn from the abstract of the story of Jesus Christ as an epic: “There is no doubt that Jesus Christ is the eternal embodiment of the Christian faith. The story of salvation, especially the life of Jesus, forms the basis through which many Christians encounter the eternal. Indeed, each facet of Christ is intricately intertwined with the others and that Christian literature often focuses on redefining various figures in the image of Christ and on illustrating morality. Without disparaging in any way the story of Jesus Christ, this paper parallels the conceptualization of epic heroism and the narrative of Jesus Christ. In doing this, the article provides a critical exegesis of elements of epic heroism in the story of Christ. Ultimately, reading the story of Jesus Christ through the prism of epic heroism helps us submit that it is a “tale of Christian identity” comparable to the epic identity and able to convey eternal meaning to Christian groups who recognize it as “their story of salvation”.

 

Nyamu:

Wow! Thanks for the elaborate response. It’s very inspiring! By the way, how diverse is East African Literature from let’s say West African Literature?

 

Wangari:

The diversity of Western African Literature is broader when compared to that from East Africa. At some point, East Africa was even referred to as a “Literary desert” which was true to some extent. Even today, looking at the creative spirit that brings us “Naija” movies from Nigeria that keeps women in Kenya glued to their Television sets, still bears testimony to this fact. 

 

Nyamu:

That’s interesting. And, what is the future of African Literature in this modern era of ICT?

 

Wangari:

With open access, the sky is the limit for writing and sharing your thoughts.

 

Nyamu:

Canon Prof, how far should Christian clerics participate in politics?

 

Wangari:

Clerics are leaders and not necessarily politicians. Leaders correct and give guidance. Remember, no prophet held a political post, yet they did a lot in ensuring that all politicians towed the line that God wanted for His people. Remember David and Nathan… What of Jeremiah? Contemporary Clerics should therefore work very closely with politicians. Above all they should avoid being compromised and give direction as God leads. Sometimes, it might lead to confrontation. In Kenya, we have an over dependency on politicians, we invite them to help build churches, yet they are non-believers and they utter sacrilegious statements and hurl insults at their opponents within the church premises.  And when they arrive as guests, they disrupt ongoing services and we also turn to singing to their praises instead of teaching them how to honor God.

 

Nyamu:

God have mercy on us. Well, it’s argued that many literary scholars, authors and enthusiasts rebel from religious beliefs, for your case, you’re very committed in your Christian faith yet you’re also a full Professor of Literature. Could you tell us something about this?

 

Wangari:

I believe rebellion comes from diverse reasons. Literature is embedded into society. Sometimes society teaches that religion and reliance on God has failed. For instance, my Kikuyu culture and history teaches that there is no difference between a white man and a white cleric and that the white cleric was used to lead us into closing our eyes in prayer and the white administration took advantage and took our land. This is found in literary texts and it distorts the mind of anyone who is yet to receive spiritual maturity. This is also confusion between our traditional religious beliefs and exploits with those of Christianity.

 

Nyamu:                                                                                                                                             

Since you were ordained as a Reverend, have you ever felt like throwing the clerical collar?

 

Wangari:

Interesting! Though quite often I have felt like throwing in my towel in the university administration especially during times of students and staff strikes, I have never felt like denouncing my priestly call. Even when things get tough, I feel re-energized to serve.

 

Nyamu:

Of what significance is Easter celebration to modern-day Christian community?

 

Wangari:

In my opinion, Easter, which celebrates Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, is the core of Christianity. Jesus came from heaven to earth to die for our sins and then resurrect as evidence that if we die in Him, we shall resurrect and live forever. Therefore, this is Christianity’s most important holiday. This holiday follows the Lent period. For forty days, without counting the Sundays, we take time to re-evaluate our relationship with God. From Ash Wednesday, when we are reminded that we are human and thus culpable to sin and thus need to repent to Easter Sunday when we celebrate the rising of Christ from the dead, we take time to rejuvenate our faith.

 

Nyamu:                      

Canon Prof, Easter holiday changes dates each year, unlike Christmas which falls on every 25th day of December each year…Who determines these dates and why do they change each year?

 

Wangari:

The date for Easter was determined in 325CE when the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox (a Latin term in reference to the time at which the sun crosses the plane of the equator towards the relevant). From that point forward, the Easter date depended on the ecclesiastical approximation of March 21 for the vernal equinox. Thus Easter is celebrated on a date based on moon cycles. Easter changes dates every year as it falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon in the northern hemisphere’s Spring time.

 

Nyamu:

I’m glad you’ve explicated to us about this shift of Easter dates. I’m sure there’re many people who are oblivious of this. Kindly demystify the glorification that followed the resurrection and ascension of Christ.

 WANGARI MWAI (2)

Wangari:

The glorification of Jesus refers to His Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven. When we speak of Christ’s glorified Body, we refer to its honor, splendor, majesty and visible radiance – it gave off rays of bright light and hope. With this understanding in mind, we find that the glorification of Christ was not only after resurrection and ascension. Before this, there were many instances where Christ was glorified in preparation for this. At baptism, the Holy Spirit came down in form of a dove and the voice of God glorified Christ his son in the hearing of all. After this, Christ performed many miracles that glorified God on high. During transfiguration, we witness Christ being glorified in the presence of John, James and Peter. For forty days after His Resurrection, Jesus remained on earth. Filled with the glory and honor of His Divinity, He appeared to His Disciples at various times and places. By eating and drinking with His followers and conversing with them about the Kingdom of God, Jesus assured them and us that He was truly alive in His risen and glorified Body.

 

Nyamu:               

Canon Prof, should Christians live a saintly life especially during the Lent season and Easter?

 

Wangari:

Saintly life is what we have been called to lead not just in Easter but throughout our Christian lives. The Ascension of Jesus, is a sign and symbol of the Second Coming. Christ will return to the earth in the same manner as He left it. When the risen Lord returns again in glory, God’s will for mankind will be fulfilled. Christ shall not only be glorified but we shall also be glorified with Him. In John 14, before his crucifixion, Christ urged us not to worry but to prepare for his return, we should await him in joy and not in worry because He went to “prepare a place” for us and because He is forever present before the Father to intercede for us. This means that we should be taking care of ourselves and our bodies as part of living a saintly life. Our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit should be exercised, fed healthily, get enough sleep, and avoid temptations such as drugs or bad habits. Living like a saint may also be interpreted to mean living a Godly or holy life which is applicable to all Christians. We should all be striving to live a more God centered life. In my Christian walk, I find it easy to deal with holiness and being saintly by asking myself, “What would Jesus do in such a situation?”  or “ What would Jesus say to such a person?”

 

Nyamu:                                                                                      

Thank you for expounding on that. Is new birth, new creation or new life related to Easter?

 

Wangari:

Our role is  to accept him hence rebirth and He like the potter will continue to remolding us and we can surely say that behold the old person in me is gone and the new is reborn.  This is the whole Easter stories. Christ died so that we may live. He rose so that we may die in sin and rise up new creations in Him.  

 

Nyamu:

And are there any virtues that Christians should reminisce from Christ’s suffering during Easter? 

 

Wangari:

During Easter, we should remember that Christ suffered, he humbled himself and sacrificed for the sake of others. Even if we might find ourselves repentant and forgiven, we should take time to pray, fast and deny ourselves for the sake of others who do not know Christ. When we fast, the money saved should be used to feed the needy.

 

Nyamu:

Alright, in some Christian cultures such as in the Philippines, Christians mark Good Friday by re-enacting Christ’s suffering whereby some have real nails hammered into their palms and feet while others drag heavy crosses, crawl on bloodied hands and knees as others flog them. As a member of the clergy, do you think this is worth?

 

Wangari:

Our sacrifices should be to the glory of God. They should also not be for public spectacle and drama, but should touch our own hearts and change us.

 

Nyamu:                                                                                                                

Canon Prof, if by chance you meet Judas Iscariot, what one thing would you tell him?

 

Wangari:

I have met him very often. Betraying Jesus continues. It is even more apparent today when we hurt our neighbors…

 

Nyamu:

If there is a film in the making re-enacting the life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ, what acting role would you wish to take up?

 

Wangari:

Mary, the Mother of Jesus. After losing my only daughter, I know how it feels to lose your own child.

 

Nyamu:

There’re a few complete Christian themed literary texts coming from Africa. Why this trend?

 

Wangari:

Christian themed literature is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the Bible itself is a literary text. It is a biography of Jesus Christ. In it we find poetry in the Psalms and the romantic Song of Solomon. We also have the Proverbs, the Sermon on the Mountain and the many parables told as moral narratives. The influence of all this should be tremendous. In fact, African writers with a Christian or religious background have no choice but to source their stories from this base. Further, our writers of old borrowed heavily from culture and from traditions, but, today traditions have been mixed up and maybe what remains is the religious culture.

 

Nyamu:

Of course there must be one thing the world doesn’t know about you… What is it?

                     

Wangari:

I hate driving. I love my comfort zone in the back left.

 

Nyamu:

Canon Prof, don’t you think readers out there are thirsting for your memoir?

 

Wangari:

Someone should write this. I have the notes and chapters ready.

 

Nyamu:

Would you like to disclose your greatest fears?

                   

Wangari:

Hurting anyone and making them question the love of Jesus because of me.

 

Nyamu:                                                

As we wind up, share with us any Easter message…

 

Wangari:

Easter is not simply a religious ritual. Let it be a time for us to learn to love and to serve others like Jesus did.

 

Nyamu:

Canon Professor Wangari Mwai, I’m dearly grateful for giving this interview full attention despite your busy schedule at university and archdeaconry level. You are a great honour to African literary scholarship and Christian Ministry. Parousia Magazine wishes you all the best in your endeavors. Thanks very much for the lively, educative and inspiring conversation.

 

 

Interviewer’s Bio Note 

nyamu-kj

Nyamu KJ

Kariuki wa Nyamu is an award-winning Kenyan poet, scriptwriter, editor, literary critic, translator and high school teacher. He obtained a BA in Education (English Language and Literature) from Makerere University, Uganda. He is published widely both in print and online. He recently co-authored a Children’s Poetry and Short Story anthology titled When Children Dare to Dream and won Babishai Niwe 2017 Haiku Prize. He is presently pursuing a Master of Arts in Literature at Kenyatta University, Kenya.  Above all, he is a convinced Christian and attends the Anglican Church.

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