Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Feeling it

As a college sophomore, I still had not heard many people talk about God.

Sure, when I was a boy – 5 or 6 at most – Mom would take me to The Church of the Heavenly Rest for morning chapel services. This Episcopal church, where as an infant I was christened (which is a religious rite that is more about the martinis afterward than the vows during), is a gothic structure on 90th and Fifth Avenue, which arches imposingly over the Engineer’s Gate entrance to Central Park where on any given Sunday, its flock – albeit a scant group of sheep – would file into the sanctuary while joggers assembled across the street for a ten o’clock race sponsored by the New York Road Runners Club.

Mom and I would sit in the side chapel, and she would kneel and pray, while I would thumb through the Book of Common Prayer.

We never talked about God at home as far as I can remember, and talk of Jesus was even less common.

When I was 19 and trying to understand my place in the world and feeling somewhat “convicted” – to use a Christian-ese word to mean guilt that makes you feel good in the end once you’ve resolved it – about my carnal relationship with Carla, my college girlfriend, and after I had had an encounter with Artie, another student, a senior, who was part of a campus ministry that was rumored among us heathen to require its members to give 25% of their income to it, which sounded awfully cultish to me, but an encounter in which he and I spoke for what seemed like three hours out on the courtyard in front of the dining room at the north side of campus, in the middle of this period in the spring before my 20th birthday, somewhere in the fog I went to a student-sponsored church service in the Student Union.

There was a sea of black faces. Maybe sixty to seventy of them. I was perhaps one of five whites. And at one point there was music and swaying and praying and people were getting up and one black girl got up and walked over to the corner of the room and started shouting, “HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH!” and was jackknifing her body into right angles up and down like she was dry heaving while she was shouting. And I knew that this was not ordinary. Nor even something I necessarily wanted to participate in. But I was fascinated. And transfixed.

And then the preacher spoke for probably 45 minutes on Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” At the end of his sermon, he asked everyone seated to bow and close their eyes. And he asked if anyone wanted what he had talked about. And I did. And he asked those of us who wanted what he had described to raise our hands. And I did.

We who were hand raisers, maybe six of us, were led into a small room and those who were sponsoring the service prayed for us and then with us. And they said that we were “saved” and that things would be different.

I didn’t feel it.

But things were different, as I would learn in the coming weeks.

photo: anissat

1 comment:

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Great piece! I can't imagine what it might have been like but you paint a wonderfully uncomfortable picture.

Also, I like your description of a christening, "which is a religious rite that is more about the martinis afterward than the vows during."

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