Sunday, February 1, 2015
It's Sunday and most of my friends are heading to some sort of church or Quaker meeting or have been to Temple this weekend. I am at home with my family, doing the usual weekend things and making a custom order of plantable paper seed bombs.
Sundays always bring up my ambiguity about religion. I want that unquestioning connection with God, that trust that there is something bigger watching over me. I have tried organized religion throughout my life. I was raised attending church and I have attended some as an adult. But I have never found what I was looking for in those places. I consider myself spiritual but I have found "God" in other places: in a hug, in a stranger's kindness, in whispers of love or in moments alone in the woods.
The most spiritual day I ever experienced was in South Africa in a place called Soweto (SoWeTo = South West Township). I had been to Africa a bunch of times but always in more of a touristy way - going to game parks in Tanzania, taking white water rafting trips in Zimbabwe, camping with a guide in Botswana. But this particular day, I was invited to go to Soweto, just outside of Johannesburg, a township created when white South Africans pushed black South Africans onto this dusty land, not suitable for very much. I was with three white Americans and one black South African, Joan, who lived there and had invited us back to her home for a meal. We never would have gone into Soweto without an escort at the time. As it was, on the way in we were almost tangled up with a group of Inkata freedom fighters, rifles out, looking for trouble. (A story for another day.)
We arrived in Soweto and walked the dirt streets to our host's house, passing houses made from bricks, rocks and, many times, whatever scraps of materials the occupants had found or scavenged. I have never seen old Coke cans used in such creative ways, mortared into walls. By the time we reached Joan's home, we had a group of kids around us, talking excitedly, asking questions about us, and wanting to show us their lives.
Joan's house was one of the nicer ones on her block. Since she commuted into Johannesburg and worked for a very generous white family, she could afford running water but still had an outhouse. When I walked in, there were several men sitting in her living room, drinking beer. I thought they were friends or family members but I learned later that she made extra money by running a "shebeen," which is an informal bar. There were all kinds of side businesses everywhere, anywhere somebody could help to enhance their meager wages earned through hard labor.
After lunch, we walked and visited some of her friends and family, then we continued to a field with a questionable structure in it, just some poles supporting a corrugated tin roof. This was her church. We sat down in the back on folding chairs, aware that we were four white faces among a see of black ones, on a dusty, barren hillside in a place that whites didn't come. We sat through a lovely service with raucous singing and prayers that were shouted, moaned and cried up to the Heavens. Towards the end, the preacher asked for any new people to stand and be recognized. A smattering of people stood throughout the congregation but I stayed seated, uncomfortable, feeling like I was an intruder. But Joan, with a joyful smile, poked at me and made me stand. I stood slowly, my eyes down, hoping that the four of us wouldn't be seen standing towards the back. I heard some clapping, and then more, until the sound of clapping and cheering made me raise my eyes in curiosity. I was met with the eyes of the entire congregation looking back at us, whooping, smiling and laughing at our presence there. I have never felt as welcomed anywhere else on earth as I was in that field, in that make-shift church, among strangers. It was a stunning moment and God was certainly present.
Anyway, that's what I have been daydreaming about as I roll hundreds of seed bombs for a custom order, and my mind wanders...