The question and answer session was conducted in Polish by an impossibly young priest.
The quiz was not for us; we were only tourists watching the show (and surreptitiously taking photos of the exchange). But we were still nervous.
- The last time you attended church was?
- The reason you are giving your donation to the church is?
- The eldest child is not present this evening; is she part of a parish in her college’s town?
We nearly cheered when we realized we had the answers.
Even we understood the contribution will support improvements to the windows in the church, even we could describe how cold the sanctuary is, how the inside, in winter, is nearly as cold as the outside, how, despite all of the kneeling and rising, parishioners need parkas and gloves.
Even we had noticed, from the jam-packed back of the holiday crowd the Sunday before, the skinny altar boys wore puffy jackets beneath their ample robes.
The family presented the clergy “man” with cash, cake, and delight for his visit.
In turn, he offered us a blessing in the form of something that reminded us of a Topps trading card for Jesus.
This week in Creative Writing, the students are developing a dossier for a character.
Like a rookie card, the dossier showcases the protagonist’s strengths, statistics, and trivia.
This afternoon I was chatting with my friend F– about Black Jesus and the Black Madonna of Częstochowa (also known as Our Lady of Częstochowa). I described the sparkling and revered four-foot-high image of the Virgin Mary and Child I visited at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Poland.
I was asking F– if she might be interested in a wooden, bejeweled, mini version as souvenir. And, she was delighted by the promise of Black Jesus and less enthusiastic about the paler version I also had to offer: a new babe in a diaper who appears to be newly plucked from the manger, in a crib with straw.
I told F– briefly of how the monastery was packed with pilgrims who’d traveled distances to be in the presence of this scintillating icon, to pray, and to be enlightened. I explained how a wall in the sanctuary displays crutches, braces, and other relics of grave injury and seems to promise cures and strength. I detailed how I dutifully carried a bouquet of yellow flowers from a woman with Parkinson’s in Dobra, how a young man in a cobalt coat placed the fragrant bunch on the altar before Mary. I shared how some say Mary is named for where she was found and for her virtues. The virtue of being Black.
Spending Christmas mass at a Catholic church in Dobra, Poland, emphasized that I am a foreigner and a sightseer. I was mostly spectating the hour-long service in pure Polish and then I drove to Częstochowa to visit with the Virgin and Child. And, I felt, as I have so often in Oaxaca, that I am a wayfarer, a church tourist.
And, this reminded me of Dean Young’s “My Process” and the other ways we might be congregants.
by Dean Young
Sometimes it’s like pushing a wheelchair
of bones through the high-tide sand.
Like giving birth to an ostrich,
an ostrich with antlers that glows.
The sense there’s something wrong and
not giving a hoot like going to church
to see what you can steal. Experimental
Read the rest of the poem at: http://poems.com/poem.php?date=17198
Here is another poem on process: http://www.blueridgejournal.com/poems/aw-isaid.htm