Friday, March 29, 2013

Gethsemane Watch, Black Madonna and Moses

There is a Marian window in the St. John's chapel that has caught my attention for the past few days during Morning Prayer. Due to the time change, the window,when we start the service, is very dark and as the service progresses, it becomes lighter until we see all of Mary's very Aryan features, according to the artist of this stained-glass window.

But, when the sun is down, and the glass isn't illumined, you can still discern Mary's figure, but she is black. Like a Black Madonna. It's interesting.

And very provocative, especially on this evening of the annual Gethsemane watch in the chapel. She may very well have been the one nudging me to put my nose where it probably didn't belong, and yet had to be put.

There was a man at the watch who had, apparently, been there for a few hours already. Our security guard had been alerted to this man's presence. He was a 6-foot-three-inch dark-skinned black man in blue jeans and a baseball cap. When I came in to start my time, he was on the floor, knelt over the piano bench in the chapel. The guard, who I will share is also a black man, had let me know that he was keeping his eye on this guy. When I saw who it was, I recognized him.

An advantage of being a Eucharistic Minister during the weekday services is that you get to see some characters at this large downtown church that the usual Sunday suspects NEVER see. In this case, I recognized this figure folded over the piano bench as the guy who has been coming to noon day Eucharists on Fridays. He never says a word, and always stays behind in the chapel praying long since the time that the service has ended. He doesn't make eye contact or, if he does, it's fleeting. At any rate, I told the officer I was OK with this guy being there, and I went in and did my hour or so of sitting, journaling, and otherwise, remaining present with God at this daunting hour.

But I became aware that the officer had roused our praying man, and ordered him to get moving. His crime was sleeping in the chapel.

Or was it that his presence had made some uncomfortable?

Or was it a combination of both?

I came upon the officer and the man outside the doors of the chapel in the church breezeway. I looked at the man.

"Good evening," I said.

"Good evening," he returned.

The officer ordered me to keep moving, that he was handling this. And so I did. But I felt that I needed to stick around. I couldn't leave this poor guy to fend for himself. I had a sense that the darkness of his skin, coupled with his dress and his unorthodox method of keeping the watch, were all working against him in this situation. And I couldn't bear it. I recalled a dream I'd had some years back in which a room full of white congregants and bishops were up-in-arms at the presence of a dark-skinned black man and ordered him to leave. Later, in that same dream, I stated something about the people who "had thrown God out of the church," a reference to the expulsion of the black man.

As the two men made their way down the ramp toward where I'd stopped, I asked the officer, what is his crime?

There was no crime. It was that some people were uncomfortable. The man attempted to defend himself, but the officer kept telling him to be quiet because he was talking to me. When the man kept insisting that he hadn't done anything wrong, that's when the officer pulled out the handcuffs. Game over. The man was going to jail.

I watched the officer take the man across the street to the cruiser. He called into the Sheriff's Department and verified that the man was not a criminal. No record of any kind. I was pacing back and forth across the street from them.

"What's on your mind, ma'am?" the officer said.

"Look, officer, I don't want to interfere with your job, but who are the people complaining about this man?"

Women, mostly. Women who were intimidated by his being on his knees under the piano. People questioning whether he was praying or was he just sleeping?

Not stated: he's a dark-skinned black man and this is a predominantly white congregation and we don't know him because he doesn't regularly attend one of the Sunday services.

"Officer, I've seen this guy before. He's a little strange, but he's not a threat. I will vouch for him."

The officer gave me a sideways glance. "What's your name?"

"I'm Susan Gage, and I will vouch for him. What's his name?"


"Do you want me to speak to him?" The officer, a bit wearied from this whole exchange, agreed to let me talk to him. He got him out of the back of the cruiser and we all stood in the eastbound lane of Call Street.

"Moses, listen. I don't want you to go to jail when you came here tonight to pray." He insisted again with the officer that he was praying, not sleeping. He was on the piano bench because he doesn't want to be around any other people when he's praying. That was all consistent with his behavior at noon day. He often would be far in the back, would take Eucharist, and then find a spot at the end of the service where he could sit away from any hub bub to continue praying.

"Moses, can you take a seat on a bench or in a chair. I think there's a perception issue here and maybe if you sat upright, it would be better."

He agreed. He then apologized to the officer. As the deputy unlocked the handcuffs, I said, "Well, I'm glad to finally learn your name!"

He smiled. "Thank you, Pastor Gage."

I didn't bother to tell him that I am not deemed worthy of such a title in this Episcopal diocese. He went back inside, agreeing that he would do those things which would keep people from getting the "wrong idea" about why he was there.

Personally, if he was sleeping, so what? It would be an illustration of what those beloved disciples did in the Garden of Gethsemane while their friend was preparing to meet his brutal end.

As the sun rises, and the light streams through that Mary window, I hope our Lord's mother will release more light into the consciousness of the congregants at St. John's. Judge not, lest ye be judged.


Phoebe McFarlin said...

Now I know why it was an extra long Thursday watch. I'm glad you were there for Moses sake. I'm sorry if the security guy in his fear of the unorthodox disturbed your meditation time.. but ministry is frequently in the 'interruptions'. You may not be recognised by DOF but many of us know what God has done.

SCG said...

Thanks, Phoebe. I had a long talk with the security officer, too. And I know what his difficulty was in the situation: he's hired to protect the people coming to pray, and he'd heard from more than a couple of folks about "that man" who was in the chapel. So, I understand what his dilemma was in the situation. If he did nothing, would people have complained that he wasn't doing his job? He told folks, "Some people have different ways of praying." That didn't seem to satisfy them.
In the end, I can only hope that there were many lessons learned from this. And I hope anyone reading this entry will give some reflection upon what it means to show Christian Love and hospitality.