Goin’ to Church
GLIDE Ensemble – Welcome Table from GLIDE on Vimeo.
This past Sunday, I did something I hadn’t done in a very long time…I went to Sunday morning church service. I didn’t grow up with an organized religion in our household. Yet, growing up in the bible belt, I felt I grew up with religion standing right behind me, looming over my shoulder all the time. Once in a while I’d be invited to Sunday morning service with my childhood friends. I experienced everything from Mass to Methodist to Pentecostal to Mount Zion. The latter was my favorite because it was held in a small white clapboard church on the edge of town. It burst at the seams with music and soul. Not necessarily because of the religion, but because of the willingness of its people. For some reason I was craving this soul, this movement, its embrace. So this past Mother’s Day, I decided to take my mother in-law to the 9am service at Glide Memorial Church here in San Francisco. If you’ve never been to Glide, it was rebirthed in the height of the Civil Rights movement to embrace all faiths, all people..no exclusions, no exceptions.
That morning we stood in the pews beside women in headscarfs, gay couples, hipsters, families and people who struggle with being on the streets. We all stood before the Glide Ensemble Choir being showered with their immensity. We were entertained by two men ‘vogueing’ on stage as they promoted Glide t-shirts. The 10-piece band belted out tunes from Earth, Wind & Fire along with traditional gospel hymns. We held hands and hugged people around us, we sang, we clapped, we danced. And it was here that I finally realized that the brick & mortar church was simply a place to gather, together, and align with a higher spirit of love and compassion. This spirit seemed amplified because of the collective as it streamed down and through its participants.
We filed out of the church into the middle of the Tenderloin, a place dense with despair. And instead of shutting down or shielding from it, we cradled it with our hearts as if it were our own wound, because in the connectivity of all things, it was. From our divinity, we bowed to its divinity, the ultimate “Amen”, “Hallelujah”, “Shalom”, “Salaam”, “Namaste” moment.
The other evening we sadly paid our respects to a friend of my beau’s who passed away unexpectedly and much too soon last week. I only met her once a year ago, and I instantly got that she was a free, vibrant spirit who loved life with her entire being.
Memorial services for people I barely know always take me by surprise. I go thinking, “Why am I here, I didn’t even know this person?” Yet by the end of each service I find myself melting into a puddle of tears from all the stories shared by people who loved them. Whether it’s an elder whose body has given out or a younger person who leaves this world long before they’re due, the imprints they leave upon those around them are so profoundly felt in their memorial. The stories shared about people, their lives, the ones they touched leave me wondering if they knew? Did this woman who passed know that she contributed so much to so many by just being herself? One of her friends spoke about how she would light up the room with her trademark blend of elegance, poise and childlike playfulness. And then she said, “You know, these days, we celebrate people for their accomplishments, what they ‘do’, what they ‘have’… but we don’t celebrate people for just ‘being’. My friend was perfect because she just knew how to ‘be herself’.”
I saw how simply being herself touched so many people she left behind. And it got me thinking about how we position and posture for this thing & that and so often shove ourselves off the path of just being who we innately are and appreciating each other as such…even in our imperfections.
We meander around our relationships with friends, family, lovers and even strangers with the blinders of who’s doing what, and is it enough…and we miss actually seeing and embracing the spirit within them. We’re all here, trying to do exactly the same thing, which is living our lives for such a short time on this planet. So take a moment today to just soften our hearts. Drop the resentments and the defensive plays, and expand beyond that which holds us back from our own ‘being’. You might be surprised how special it can be in someone else’s life.
Last week, feeling troubled about a family member, I went out on one of my ‘hike on it’ hikes. It was one of those hikes when I hiked to gain perspective, objectivity and clarity on a particular issue. Yet the more I hiked, the more jumbled my mind became..this was a tough one. While striding through the eucalyptus trees, the birds filled the canopy with their ‘good-mornings’. Walking over the sagebrush chaparral I spotted three stones in a row shaped as hearts. Ambling down the muddy hillside, a jackrabbit hurried across my path. Ordinarily I take all of this into account. The animal wisdom, the hearts supporting my step, the birdsong easing my tension, but this particular morning nothing was snapping my vision upward. Getting lost in my thoughts, I became more discouraged and saddened.
As I walked up our hill towards home, I dreaded passing our neighbor who has, what I assume to be, some form of Tourette Syndrome paired with dementia. He’s a man of about 70 years-old, sounds exactly like Jimmy Stewart, stands on his front porch with his morning coffee in hand and always provides imaginative oratory to passersby…typically ranging from rude to downright obscene. I’ve learned to ignore his rants and simply walk by their home focusing my gaze on the hill ahead of me, but this particular morning I braced myself for what was to come out of his mouth. And then he said it…“Do you have..any idea.. how berserk I am about your welfare?” Clear as a bell it hit me, how much the Divine was trying to jerk me out of my head and into my heart, so much that it used this guy to declare its message.
The universe speaks to us in ways, that are pretty darn crafty! It often uses metaphors to expand our periphery out of the tunnel vision entrapping us. This one, however, took the cake!
For the remainder of the day see if you can expand your vision to all the incoming messages of how loved, supported and guided you are. Even though it doesn’t always seem that way, it really is ‘berserk about your welfare.”