Friday, August 19, 2011

I Got Soul (But I'm Not a Soldier).

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.


  1. Hello Maggie:
    We are so sorry to read that you are feeling sad. You always bring such joy to us with your sunny comments and yet here you are looking for solace in your own life.

    Such a good idea, we think to have gone to the church for the opportunity of quiet reflection and how wonderful that H was there to give you comfort. Sometimes just the warmth of another human being is all that is required to give us the strength to carry on and meet the challenges which seem so overwhelming when one feels alone.

    And yet, as you write so eloquently in your previous post, we are all in some way connected, and so are never really alone to face those 'slings and arrows'. You give so much to others in so very many generous ways, you must be sure at times such as these that you give yourself the time and attention which you need to restore your balance. Our thoughts are with you and we are, of course, only a thin red line away!!

  2. Hope you get out of your funk! Church was definately a step in the right direction. (Up.)

    And what???!!! You have to donate money to get a match? Why don't they just have a cover charge at the door?

    I've never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. Wow.

  3. '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.'

    Babe, making me laugh hard first thing in the morning, I love it! Really liking the playlists you're adding to your posts. 'Under the Milky Way' remains one of my faves ...



  4. Oh yes, methinks an angel found you. I am convinced. I hope you feel better. Now I'm off to see if I can light the end of a pencil on fire, and I hope the thought of it gives you a wee chuckle, since your pencil-church escapade certainly made me laugh! Hmmm, which pencil...I have so many...

  5. Maggie, dear, I had no idea. How could I. You are the life and soul of this blogging party. That you hide your sorrows is not good, taking them to a church, any church is a beginning to lighten the load. Churches, synagogues, or mosques, chapels of meeting rooms, none of them feels like home to me, but I might consider them some time in the future. If one imbues a place with the power of healing then it probably absorbs this power.

    I am so sorry you are unhappy, but unhappy is just one of the states of mind a sensitive human inhabits. Happiness is no right (pace, America).

    Talk to somebody, talk to me, talk to Suze. talk to a kind old gentleman in a church. I want to hug you, like your angel did, and say, there, there, it'll all be good again.

    Why did you need a match for your candle? Couldn't you just light your candle by holding it over an already burning one? Our candles in church are loose; you are meant to put some money into the slot for them. How much is your affair.

  6. I'm sorry you're feeling sad, but glad you're finding some solace.

    I would bring my own matches, too.

    May things be looking up for you this weekend.

  7. Love this blog post! A really interesting read! Followed!

  8. What a sad but beautiful story, Maggie. (I think the matches are a great idea. :-)) Hope you're feeling better.

  9. I know this is lazy, but I want to thank you all for your well wishes. Things are looking up, a bit...but if I answer each one of these comments with the overwhelming gratefulness I feel, I may just...well, start weeping again. Trying to avoid that! :)

  10. Oh, though: The candles are not loose, they are stuck in glass, and I have no idea how much the cost is for a match, as I am sinning by circumventing. Probably totally against Vatican II, right...?

  11. Beautifully written, Maggie! I like this post very much. I really hope you've recoverd from the sadness. And thanks so much for your visit the other day and for your lovely comment.

  12. maggie,

    that's a beautiful story. i was raised catholic and even though i no longer pratice, i still go to church from time to time to do what you did - find a place of peace and comfort. i'm so sorry you are feeling blue - i hope you are feeling better very soon. and yes, god doesn't care where we find comfort - not does goddess ;-)

    p.s. what a lovely backdrop to the comment page - all those votive candles!!

  13. I don't believe in a higher power and so am always surprised to find churches, mosques, and synagogues comforting places. I always figured this is because of the people who care for them and use them and not due to a supernatural force. Your Mr. H seems proof of that to me. I am very glad he was there for you.

    My comment is late and so I hope you are feeling much better by now. I know I am after reading the bit about the pencil.

    'Under the Milky Way' is one of my favorites also.