Monday, June 10, 2013

Sunday Best

“Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat wearing Muslims.”
-Yann Martel, "Life of Pi"

I woke up on a fine and blessed Sunday, with the plan to find some gospel.  I love gospel music, and its soulful connection between music and belief.  I put on the closest I had to my Sunday best, and headed out to find some of that praise music.

I headed west down Montgomery, sweeping over by the Ortho section of the hood.  As I was walking, I saw a woman come out on her phone and break down into tears.  Real emotional, visceral tears.  I stopped just out of sight, and wondered if I, a complete stranger, should try to offer some comfort since she was alone and sobbing (albeit on the phone).  Then I realized this: she was orthodox, and I couldn't give her a hug even if I wanted to (Harry, on the other hand, has no problem hugging Orthodox women- for shame!).  Thus.

I continued on, up to Eastern Parkway to ask where I could find some gospel.  I asked some colorful women where I could find some gospel, and they said that there was a fellow who usually sold gospel music at this junction.  No, I explained, I was looking for a church.  They pointed me over to a big church across the road named St. Matthew, and told me there was a service at 11:30am.  I thanked them, but had my doubts I was a doubting Thomas.  I thought St. Matthew looked Catholic (Can't trust those Romans, it is a Popish Plot!  I joke, I kid) but at least I had a start towards finding a church.  I walked down Eastern Parkway, in my awfully uncomfortable shoes, and found another woman going to church.  I asked her where she davened, and she told me about her church and their service at 11:45am.  Now I had two options, and a little time to kill.  See under: ethnic ambiguity.

As I was making my way back to church for the midday service, I started thinking about immortality.  What does it take to achieve immortality?  Alchemy?  Immortality is seen in the longevity of ideas.  The body withers away, but ideas that take hold are immortal, eternal. I had names running through my head of those who achieved such immortality through their ideas.  And then I felt her.  That ephemeral warmth when I find
the Muse.  I picked up the pace a bit.  I pondered about how it seemed like it had been so long since I had felt her presence; then I realized that she had been with me these last few weeks.  I always found myself trying to hold onto her mercurial glory, only to see her slip away; I finally realized that she is always here with me, I just need to give her time and space to spread her wings.

And thus, I entered St. Matthew.  I stood at the doorway of the full church, and was correct in my thought that this was a Catholic Church.  While it was a primarily Black congregation, Catholic services didn't have the spirit I was looking for on this occasion so I headed on to find another church.

I went looking to find the Jamaican Apostolic Church that the woman had directed me to.  I didn't find that one, but I did find a small Pentecostal church down the road.  I held the door for a homeless man and we both entered into the church.  I came in to a church that was largely empty, there were just three parishioners- the homeless fellow, a natty dressed Black man and me.  I sat in the pew, listening to the old matronly lady sing hymns that echoed off the wall.

The choir did a few songs, then set up three chairs in the front of the church for us parishioners- and small carpets to kneel on.   The matronly singer called us up to the front, and I followed the other two gentlemen- watching them for cue.   On the left and right chair, they kneeled and bowed their heads in their hands with elbows on the metal chairs.  I followed suit in the middle chair.  It must have been such a scene: on the left, a homeless man in his rags; in the middle, a swarthy, bearded Jew in a shirt with snaskrit prayers in calligraphic glory; on the right a dapper Black man with a clean shaven head.

I kneeled and bowed my head, and listed to the Bishop call out our sins and iniquities, our blessings and faith.  I said my own prayers, probably the first to say kadish and shma in such places.  And I listened.  As one who is equal parts saint and sinner, I found myself offering a lot of amens.

After about ten minutes or so, we returned to the pews for a few rounds of lively hymns as the church filled up.  Not long after, the congregation called for testimonials.  A few people got up to speak their convictions and gratitude towards God and the church.  Never shy to talk about God or faith, I did as well:

I have come a long way to be here today, down many long roads.  I have been so blessed in my journey, to which I thank God.  I have been to so many churches, mosques and synagogues on that path, and I am always in such wonder at the communities of believers, who have such faith.  I believe that all believers (and non believers) share God's grace.  I am about to start my way down a new journey, and I pray that God lights my path so that I can choose a righteous direction.

I shared a passage from Micah: turning swords into plowshares- and I prayed that my work would be an instrument for such pursuits.    I stayed with Micah to conclude: Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with thy God. Amen.

I listened to other parishioners.  One woman had just lost a cousin in a drive-by in Jamaica, and she was grieving.  Another man had been down and out on drugs and depression, but had pulled his way back through faith.

The bishop gave a rousing sermon.  Some of which I agreed, other parts highlighted our theological differences.  I don't believe I was conceived in sin.  I don't accept original sin.  I might have sinned along the way, to which I will repent, but I was born (early) unto this world a blank slate.  But theological differences matter not in the big picture.

I stuck around for a few more songs, and another pastor read verse, then I headed on from the church.  One of the church elders thanked me for coming, and gave me a small book of psalms Our Daily Bread, and said she hoped I would return.  I smiled, and said: inshallah.


John Brown said...

Paul -- Great piece. Thanks for sharing.

Paul Rockower said...

God bless, JB.

mahoganyjo said...

I love this! Indeed. "when you seek me with your whole heart, I will be found by you." you went searching whole heatedly and I know He found you, finds you, adores you.

Paul Rockower said...

I <3 MJ!