I Have Jesus’s Rookie Card

IMG_7786.JPGThe 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.

***

 

 

Madonna and Child

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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.

My Process

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

 

Finding the Saint of Finding Things

 

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In the Tlacolula market on Sunday, I am determined to find a picture of Saint Antonio. Rumor has it that he is a saint of miracles and can help mere mortals find lost items—like love. Here, in Oaxaca, legend has it that you simply need to turn the image of Saint Anthony (usually holding an angelic looking child) on his head (a cabeza) and pray. http://www.stanthonyfinderoflove.com/About_St_Anthony.html

I see a stand selling religious books and jewelry and ask the woman if she has an image of Saint Anthony. She does not, but she offers me directions to a shop two and a half blocks off the market. It is called Adonay. I do not hesitate to head in that direction. I consider it a small Spanish test. Can I find the shop on this unknown street in this unknown town? Do I even know what two and a half blocks might be? I have a hat for the sun and it is not raining. I am confident I will find the shop.

C, who is with me, is not so confident. He does not understand why I don’t just download a picture of this guy from the internet. Always a provocateur, he also asks the woman if we will find readings on atheism at her shop. Her face says no. Then, she abruptly confirms: No.

It is definitely farther than three Sacramento city blocks, but we arrive at a beautiful shop with giant Jesus and Mary statues and portraits. It is part garden, gift store, and gallery.

The patient shop keeper tries to sell me a practically life-size Saint Antonio. I assure him that my luggage cannot even accommodate the baby Antonio holds in his arms. He laughs and suggests I get larger luggage—for next time.

He helps me find five cards with the Saint. It turns out C wants two.

C asks to use the restroom, and the kind man says certainly—after I have paid for the cards. As he leads C into the house, a small dog with a pink bow emerges from her doghouse and tries to attack C. The parrot above starts to squawk. I literally scream because I had no idea we were so close to wildlife.

The dog is named Greta. She turns out to be sweet. C finds the children in the back room painting images of Jesus. There are three of them; the husband runs the shop. The wife is the woman we met in the market, the lady of the good directions we name her.

Back out in the chaos of the streets, we have to smile at the adventure and how we never cease to be surprised by what we will find.

I often ask folks if they were to open up a store in the capital (Oaxaca) what the store would sell. Usually people are set on food because everyone needs to eat, but C decides this afternoon that it might be good to sell religious materials, like these tourist-sized images of Saint Antonio that we picked up for under a nickel each. Yes, we could mark them up double and it’d still be cheaper than downloading him from the internet. And, we could help people find things—as we found this little shop.

Book of Kells

Visit the Kells online at: http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v

We were grateful it is not high tourist season as we headed to the Trinity College Library  to see the illuminated New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that are known as the Book of Kells.

We learned about the venerated manuscript’s ink and the colors (lilac, pink, verdigris, indigo, and red and yellow ochre) and the collaboration between writer and artist, what symbols we were seeing in the leaves of vellum, that vellum is calfskin, that the book faced several rounds of warfare and survived.

I looked and looked for a piece of writing to capture the sense of this adventure. I finally found “Scriptorium” by Melissa Range:

Before the stepwork and the fretwork,
before the first wet spiral leaves the brush,
before the plucking of the geese’s quills,
before the breaking of a thousand leads…

(Read more at: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/scriptorium)

We leaned over the glass case, wishing we had retained more training in Latin, wishing we had brought a magnifying glass, remembering there was a line of people patiently (or not-so-patiently) waiting behind us. We hastily admired the shine of the colors; we tersely studied the Celtic knots; we speedily marveled at how the pagan and religious interconnect on these pages. I could not resist hurriedly scanning for peacocks (symbols of Christ), fish (symbols of Christ), snakes (symbols of Christ’s rebirth), and eagles (symbols of John and Christ’s ascension to heaven) in the intricate pages displayed.

The next thing we knew we were headed out of the gallery and upstairs into a library reminiscent of Hogwarts’s on the floor above the sacred texts. We felt as if we’d just taken in a museum of information; we were as exhausted as we were acutely aware there is much more to learn.

  • The Book of Kells reminded me of Visual Journaling and the power of drafting using visual art as well as words. Here is an example: http://improving-slowly.tumblr.com/post/150287161654/some-of-my-favourite-pages-from-the-summer, and, of course Frida Kahlo’s journal: https://sketchesandjottings.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/fridas-diary-her-tortured-art-journal/.

Epiphany

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On the twelfth day of Christmas, we spotted a living manger complete with babe, goats, and a cow on the steps of the Duomo.

Then, festive Florence delivered a parade to celebrate Epiphany: several trios of Wise Men; a few triumvirates of Kings delivering gold, frankincense, and myrrh; a spectacle of shepherds; a procession of good ladies and men and horses and falcons and flags and goodwill. But where were the angels?

We were standing at the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio and were so close to the revelers we could nearly touch them. This was particularly electrifying as we witnessed the flag wavers’ exhibition and could feel the whip and whoosh of the banners as well as the cavalcade of horses.

From Christmas Carol

–Sara Teasdale

The kings they came from out the south,

All dressed in ermine fine;

They bore Him gold and chrysoprase,

And gifts of precious wine.

 

The shepherds came from out the north,

Their coats were brown and old;

They brought Him little new-born lambs—

They had not any gold.

Take a look at the rest of the poem at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/57831

I grew up in a household where we packed away the Christmas season’s shiny baubles and synthetic spruce by the New Year. However, it suddenly made sense that one ought to delay these chores. All it took was for me to witness the entire city still decorated on January 6th,  to recognize this as the last day of Christmas. Yes, of course, we need pageantry for those bearing gifts throughout Twelvetide. Yes, we should not be so hasty in wrapping up the season.

  • Some believe that one should receive a present every day of the twelve days (as the song suggests). These believers insist that the offerings have the power to represent an aspiration for each month of the new year. What dozen tokens will you furnish for a lover, a child, or a parent?  What is the corresponding wish?

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Celebrating St. Carmen’s Birthday with an Awful Choir

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I enter the church to what sounds like a tired monster karaoking to a song about God being before our eyes. It is a deep voice that, without the raspy, husky edge, could be warm.

The guy sending off the fireworks to get the tardy sinners to church peeks in the side door; despite hearing no pause in the singing, he elects to send off five more explosions into the dawn.

The hoarse voice instigates another song that goes something like Buenos Dias, paloma blanca/ Good morning, white dove. A younger voice joins in, a more human one, but this voice has problems with the micas he leads us in a round of Viva Carnens!

This is the worst choir I have ever heard. And I was in Mr. Tomlinsin’s choir when he told us we sounded like a truck with four flat tires flapping down the road.

The priest welcoming us is undeniably the creature whose exhausted voice drowns out the rest. I decide that maybe he’s just excited about being at the saint’s birthday celebration.

If I’m translating correctly, he just said that we can shout out requests for the choir, since it’s a day of celebration.

Next, there is an open mic session where people speak to Carmen. They ask for peace for the world and for Oaxaca and for all of the Oaxacans in these difficult times.

“Santa Maria” is the next song.

The sky outside is lightening from charcoal to the dense blue that surrounds the sun or accompanies a flickering flame.

A woman hangs a banner that says: Te Suplicamos Madre de la Misericordia/We supplicate to you, Mother of Mercy. It is crooked, and three people conspicuously struggle to rearrange it. It takes an Adrian Monk from the pews to get the job done.

A large dark butterfly flies in, capturing our attention not only because It is as large as a bat.

The swinging incense carrier makes the sound of drumsticks struck together. I wait patiently for this place to break into a flash mob. It does not. The sweet scent makes me hungry.

Creemos en ella y tambien confia en nosotros/We believe in her and she trusts in us. This is the heart of the sermon that resonates above the din of our stomachs which growl back at the choir as if it part of the morning’s call and response.

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Some keep the Sabbath going to Church

–Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —
I keep it, staying at Home —
With a Bobolink for a Chorister —
And an Orchard, for a Dome —

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —
I just wear my Wings —
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman —
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at least —
I’m going, all along.

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/some-keep-the-sabbath-going-to-church/

  • I am a foreigner to Spanish, in Oaxaca, and in the Catholic church. Most days the differences are magical and result in all sorts of learning and understanding and lingering wonder and delight. Approximately one thirtieth of the the time, being a foreigner is excruciating, practically unbearable. Drill into the ecstasy or misery–whichever is harder.

How to Get Closer to God: Stilts

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It is Sunday morning and the sky is revving up its blue engine so that everyone in the neighborhood can’t miss it. Some people are in the church at Santo Domingo; some are relishing this start to the day under the palms. Others of us are strolling in these hours of stolen sunshine.

In a city that slows on Sundays, it is hard not to feel a little closer to some sort of spirituality–or at least reflection.

It is hard not to observe all of us (in our own small ways) reaching for something higher.