I have not been able to remove myself from the hazy funk that I have been in and come up with a sunny post just yet, so, in lieu of that, I will tell you a story. It kind of ties in with my last post, strings and all.
I went to church today. I dropped the kids off at their school, run by Methodists, and drove down the street to St. Matthew's, spiritual home of the Catholics in that neighborhood. Yes, I know it's Ramadan, yes, I know I am neither Methodist nor Catholic, but I was feeling weary and worried and sad and burdened and just wanted a place to sit a spell and say, "Hey, God! What's up?" I don't think God cares much where we visit with Him. Just that we do.
St. Matthew's is great for that. It is a simple church with a very sunny sanctuary, and off to the side is a smallish chapel anchored by a very large portrait of the Virgin Mary bordered in velvet. Tiny metal charms (milagros, or miracles) are pinned to the velvet, signs of devotion and gratitude glowing in the soft candlelight. Pictures of people are tucked into the frame: soldiers, babies, old women in resplendent beehives, couples young and ancient. I imagine all the prayers sent out in their names, and feel a bit sad. There was one other person in the chapel with me, a kind-looking much older man who had a small pamphlet with him that looked like a kind of Saint's Directory - an illustration of a saint on one page, with a prayer on the next.
I almost set this church on fire, once. I had come to light a candle for the wife of a dear friend. She had been sick, and was going for a battery of scans and tests and blood work to try and pinpoint what was making her so dizzy and weak. I noticed there were no matches by the candles. "That's odd," I thought to myself. "What am I supposed to do?" I looked around: there was no one to ask. Ever resourceful, I dug into my purse and found a pencil, and breaching all sorts of religious etiquette, stuck it into a lit candle, intending to use the flame to light one for my own devotions. The pencil caught fire pretty quickly. I almost dropped the thing, but managed to quash the flame out with some energetic blowing. Later, I found out from a Good Catholic that churches no longer have the matches out - you have to donate money to get one! I think that's ridiculous. Collection boxes used to be next to the candles, and you would give if you felt like it. Like God really cares. Out of annoyance, I bring my own matches now. (Ssshhhh!!) Oh, and the wife turned out to be ok. Health-wise, anyway.
But I digress. I was feeling lonely, and low, and had the foresight to bring with me a small wad of tissues (because, as you recall, I am a crier.) I tried not to cry. I sat quietly, meditating a bit on life, but all the pictures of bald babies next to St. Jude's statue made me even more melancholy, and soon I was sobbing, sobbing so hard I couldn't stop. I had rested my head on the back of the pew in front of me. I wanted to pray, but just didn't know for what. I felt utterly empty.
Suddenly I felt someone next to me. It was the silver-haired man with the prayer book. He flung his arms around me, and pressing me tight, stroking the top of my head, he said in Spanish, "Don't worry, daughter. God has given you a great sorrow, but you must have faith that He will take it away. It's ok to cry, don't feel embarrassed. There, there." I just held on to him and couldn't let go. He took a handkerchief (new and pressed and embroidered with a nice, solid H, that is it in the photo) from his pocket and gave it to me, refusing my refusals. After thanking him profusely, I got up to leave, but he held my arm. "Wash up first. Go freshen up, you'll feel better." Everything about the man was gentle: his soft, wavy hair, his voice, his deep brown eyes. He showed me the way to the restroom, gave me another hug, told me to take care, that I was still young, and shouldn't worry so much, and that I would be ok.
I felt better after that, as though a tiny bit of my burden had been lifted. In Islam, we don't believe in praying to saints (although, I admit, I do call on St. Anthony when I misplace my iPod - and he doesn't seem to mind, because I always find it!). We prefer no intercession and just call on God directly. We do believe in angels though - and I think I may have just met one today.
Thank you, Mr. H.