Midtown

Every Saturday I go to church.
It’s not what you think.
My non-traditional tradition, this ritual,
Calling me each week.
I could sleep in, but no–
I am pulled to be there
in community with this particular congregation,
To receive the blessings it offers me.
There are no pews, but tables in a U-shape, chairs,
No pulpit but a microphone passed around
No altar but a box of paper prompts,
Our communion is our writing,
words scribbled in notebooks,
Then read aloud, no matter how profane
Or tender, absurd or banal.
The sharing makes it nothing less than holy.
This sacred passion we share for words, books, writing,
Intensifies as we gather, emboldens us to grow,
Makes us more than we might be praying
with our pens in our rooms alone.

Every week we write it, minutes at a time. The gospel according to me, to you.
All true, none of it true, so help me God.

The Blessing

In his well worn and weathered left hand he held a bundle of sage, between his right forefinger and meaty thumb he held a single wooden match. He stood among the tall grasses and wildflowers at the edge of Minnehaha Creek, closed his eyes and listened to the songs. He heard the bubbling of cool dark waters rushing over rocks as it caressed the shoreline near his feet. He heard the rustling of the leaves in the Oak trees on the rolling hills around him. He listened long and silently, hearing the celebrations of Sparrows and Mourning Doves. And whispers from spirits haunting the wooded acres surrounding the Burwell Mansion, good spirits, wholesome and kind, spending their days dancing in sunbeams pouring through the canopy over the property and swinging on the tender branches of the willow trees next to the bridge over the wandering creek.

When again he opens his eyes the morning sun begins to warm his neck. He scratches the match against a rock and it ignites with a searing note, a flash and then a flame. He touches it to the sage bundle and flames begin to crawl over the end of it, he pauses, watches as the flames lick at the open air and then blows it out. The bundle smokes now, thick and sweet, he raises it above his heart and out in front of him and pulls a large turkey feather from his pocket. To the North he nods, and waves the feather in back of the sage, embers glow and the smoke travels out and swims away on currents of air over the gardens and among the trees. He begins his prayer…

“Smoke of air and fire of earth,

Cleanse and bless this garden and earth,

Drive away all harm and fear;

That only good may gather here.”

Then he turns clockwise towards the East, raises the sage and wafts behind it with the feather and repeats his prayer, a blessing…

“For the garden

For the land

For Mother Nature and for the spirits.

Smoke of air and fire of earth,

Cleanse and bless this garden and earth,

Drive away all harm and fear;

That only good may gather here.”

Afterwards turning clockwise to the South and finally to the West, each time sending smoke from the burning sage into the air, watching it swing around above his head and float off into the trees, over the grasses, through the flowers, over hill and dale and delivering once more his entreaty to all that live and thrive in this place, all whom shall enter here, pass by and meditate upon its rolling and wild hills.

As the sun hovers high above him now, he gazes out over the rippling waters of the creek as it flows towards him, he steps through the tall grass, his bare feet sinking into the mud at the edge of the water, and he sets the Turkey feather and smoldering sage down on a rock and then steps into the water, he takes a few more steps to the center of the creek and turns facing the water rushing against his thighs. The pressure threatening to push him over and swallow him up, but he stands, strong and proud and lets his old fingers trail in the stream. His mind wanders to a different time, a different place, his chest swells with a spirituality that engulfs him, his eyes shine with the sparkling reflection from the sun.

His jeans are soaked, his legs cold, he touches his wet fingers to his face and his lips, and the water is sweet and tastes like iron. Off somewhere in the distance he hears his ancestors singing above the rising current, he closes his eyes and begins to hum, and then his lips part and he sings, he sings loud and he sings true. He raises his arms skyward and the sound of many drums echo in his mind as a single tear rolls from the corner of his eye and falls into the water, he leans his head back and he falls, the water consumes his body quickly and he disappears below the surface, the creek carrying him away.

And upon the afternoon breeze all along the creek today, under the rustling leaves of the poplar and the oak, against the sounds of the creek and the birds in the trees you can hear drums, and somewhere among them he sings, if you close your eyes you can hear him standing strong against the current singing the songs of his ancestors, and if you taste that water, it tastes sweet, and hard like iron, and pure like the blood of Mother Nature.