It is an early memory.
A small-town church,
Where I heard the words:
“Be in the world but not of it.”
It’s gone now. Only a vacant lot remains and
There is no hint of spirits, Holy or otherwise.
(I never sensed them before, either.)
But I’m still not of the world most days.
I remember the grey-painted brick and stone exterior,
The Gothic steeple and the bell, the way a deacon
Would grab the rope high, and tug
It down like he was summoning eternity;
The expanses of varnished wood
Railings and trim, the plaster walls
The cheesy painting of Jesus who looked like a hippie from
Berkeley a couple of decades later.
The dark oak wood in the ornately carved pastor’s throne,
Intricate curved swirls and shapes and walnut words
Of the pulpit, waiting to be lit
By a holy fire.
I remember the long table down front where rituals were repeated
Grape juice and crackers,
Body and blood..
Hoping we’d all feel the arrival of the Spirit…
“Nearer my God to thee.. ” sung every time someone got
Dunked in the water tank built into the wall in front.
I looked and waited, but the Spirit never materialized.
I remember the theater of baptism most. The sacred swimming pool
Hidden behind a red velvet curtain pulled back to
Reveal a sinner about to be cleansed, swooped underwater by the preacher,
Both got very wet.
The new Christian tried to look the part,
Like a light suddenly glowed from within,
But it was still Bob Carpenter who sold cars
At the Ford dealership.
While Bob wiped his transfigured eyes of chlorinated water, the organist
Launched into to another old rousing hymn
And we all stood and welcomed another confused person
To the other side. This was where I began to
In the world but not of it….
The building had been built in another time, the 1870s,
So it made sense. And everything about it told me
I shouldn’t be too comfortable where I was.
Which was how I rolled, anyway.
Let me be honest: I was an odd child.
Born late to parents who surely thought their diaper days
Were long past. Now signed up for a new 20-year sentence.
Middle-aged. Getting tired.
My older siblings were almost grown,
Eager to get up, out, away, who
Found me an embarrassment when their dates were around.
A reminder our parents still had sex, I suppose.
In the world.
But still not of it.