Sunday meditation to Saint Anastacia: Love’s greatest revolution is the one that happens personally. The core of love begins with self. A deep sense of self-worth prevents self-imprisonment and bitterness. Love is truly the seed of growth for all creatures, and all nations.
Aria closed the book and kissed the cover. She prayed:
Anastacia, holy Anastacia, You who were borne by Yemenja, our mother, give us the strength to struggle each day so we may never become slaves, so that, like you, we may be rebellious creatures. May it be so. Amen.
As she had done each Sunday since turning thirteen, she retrieved a white ribbon and tied it against the skin of her waist. It was meant to be a reminder for the younger initiates that each breath held the opportunity for greater self love and service to all. Then she placed a choker of blue and white beads on. This was to mimic and remind initiates of the endurance and suffering of Saint Anastacia. She hesitated, but retrieved her picture of mother and herself from her bag, and placed it on against her belly. She chanted in Portugeuse:
Ago Lona O Ya Le
Open the way for the most powerful mother
Ago Lona O Ya Le
Open the way for the most powerful mother
Ya Le Ya Luma O
Most able mother who protect children
Ya Le Omi Ab
Mother’s house, house of the deepest waters
A Ya Ba Omi O,
ruler of the great water
When she finished singing, she repositioned the offering of a small glass of apple juice and three sugar cookies on the nightstand. She returned the picture back in her bag, wishing that the yearning for her mother could have been as easily packed away.
She put on her white cotton dress with flowers, something Oma had sewn and embroidered for her. Daisies and tulips circled the hem, a small bit of lace lined the straps. It fit perfectly, last summer. More like a pinafore than a dress, it called for an undershirt. She pulled a red tee over her broad shoulders and narrow waist, then accessorized with white knee-high socks, and a light blue sweater. The red shirt and sandals pulled the outfit together quite nicely. She tied her hair back into a ponytail, the curls buckled, rolled, and foamed. Finally, she pulled down her grandmother’s hat with the flowers and put it on. She quoted the little note and imagined that someone had written it just for her, “I will always wait for you. You make my life worth living.” It did nothing for promoting her objective of disappearing, but for the moment it made her feel good inside and provided some small root to the past.
’Grandma, promise I’ll take care of it.” She picked up the photo of Mildred and kissed it.
Ready for her meeting with God, this also was an opportunity to make amends with Trish. One of the covenants of Saint Anastacia required appealing to empathy, never being a slave to anger or bitterness. And her father mentioned that this was an important opportunity to connect and soften things a bit with Trish.
She heard her father call. “Aria, are you almost ready?”
As she started for the door a hollow ball of pressure formed against her sternum. It was her old friend calling. Turning back she grabbed the camera, the pressure subsided. Her father waited at the bottom of the stairs. His smile was like the sun, sometimes. She lived for the light in his eyes when he did see her. She barreled down the stairs, skimming her hand along the wooden banister. Rudy greeted Aria with the same smile.
“Ready to go, Lil’ Bit?” asked her father.
He slipped his hand into hers, glancing at the camera.
“Deacon Rhone, ready to go? God’s waiting, don’t make him wait too long,” Rudy chimed.
Trish sauntered out. Clothes, hair, makeup, shoes, nails polished and white. She wore a sash that had Deacon Rhone on it.
“Let’s not keep God waiting!” Trish responded.
’Miles you look decent. Aria, what do you have on your head…what is that in your hand?”
“It’s my grandmother’s hat and my camera, Aunt Trish.” It is her church, maybe I should take the hat off.
“Why are you wearing that gaudy hat and why are you bringing that video camera to church?” asked Trish, pointing to the camera as if it were a piece of rotten meat.
Her father intervened, ”She needs it. This is a new place for her, it gives her comfort. I am sure there is no harm with God or anyone in church, if she brings it and even does a little recording. I suspect that people are proud of their worship rituals.”
“Well, how will it look? It’s just weird, what child acts like that? Rudy you know my mother will be there. She’s going to take one look at that camera and if she starts with her fingers…”
“Aria and the camera will be okay.” Rudy cut in, beads beginning to dot his forehead and squeeze between his expressive brows. “I love that hat. I think it looks sharp and she reminds me of Mama. Come on, we are going to be late.”
Trish threw Rudy a vile, spiteful look. Poor Rudy, he’d have to hear about this later, Aria thought. They piled into the car, but before rolling away, she leaned forward towards the front seats.
“Is Kiev coming?”
Trish, in earshot, didn’t answer. Rudy gave a hushed “no” under his breath and kept his eyes straight ahead. Aria fell back into the car seat and looked out the window. She saw nothing except the reasons she could imagine for Kiev not coming to church. Her fingers danced. They got to the church after an uneventful and quietly tense car ride. No one made small talk. Aria figured maybe the talks with God had already begun.
The church, moderately large, was entirely off-white with red and blue stained glass windows. As she exited the car, Aria took note of the great number of finely dressed African-American strangers floating into the church. Their clothes shimmered and shoes sparkled. In fact, everything about them was pressed and shined -- hair, clothes, shoes, and lips. Through her ‘knowing eyes’ she also saw myna bird beaks, large eyes outlined in gold, and the slick black feathered hair on most of the adults. A handful of children had the beginnings of these characteristics, but the majority looked like normal children.
Red carpet led to wooden pews. A large choir provided the processional rhythm as disciples strutted into church. She began counting heads and pews, estimating about 250 to 300 parishioners could fit. Her grip on the camera tightened. Trish glared, then rolled her eyes at her. She had a feeling the following Sundays, she and Kiev would be spending the mornings together.
“Patricia,” called a woman, waving her gloved hand.
There was something atypical about the woman addressing her aunt. She immediately thought about how enormously out of proportion chicks feet were to their small fuzzy bodies.
“Good morning mother.” Trish’s posture weakened answering to her. The turkey turned to a pitiful-looking chick.
“Have you put on weight again?” The woman studied Trish’s face and soured up as if finding a blemish. “You’ve got to take better care of yourself or you’ll lose this handsome, successful husband of yours to your sister.” She squeezed Rudy’s arm and planted a kiss on his cheek.
“Is my daughter taking proper care of you?” she asked with a forced smile, her lipstick slightly outside of the pencil lines.
“Everything’s alright. I’d like for you to meet my brother. Mother Smith, this is my brother, Miles, and my niece, Aria,” Rudy said, dots of sweat accumulating on his forehead again.
She brought her attention to Aria’s father and then looked at Trish. “Another handsome Rhone. So pleased to meet you. Married or single?” The first two joints of her fingers limply draped over her father’s right hand.
“Married,” answered her father.
Aria was relieved. He must either believe that she was still alive, or that they’d get back together if she showed up. She hoped it was both.
“Well if that ever changes, let us know. Of course if Trish doesn’t pull herself together here soon she’ll be single.” She chuckled into her palm and batted her eyes at Miles, her father.
“This is my daughter, Aria,” her father interupted.
Mother Smith gave her a once-over and clutched her purse, “Well, I see. I better be getting back to my seat. Patricia you are coming to dinner in September aren’t you?”
Trish nodded, biting the corner of her mouth.
“Don’t do that with your mouth,” she said pursing her lips. “It makes you look like an imbecile. Anyway, I’ll be able to talk to you more, later. And try to lose some weight between now and then. I’ve invited the Moores, you know how they talk.” She turned on her boat sized feet and walked back up the aisle toward the front of the church. Aria watched to see if she would trip.
Trish pulled at her arm.
“Don’t aim that camera at any of these parishioners’ faces, you hear me?”
“I understand, Aunt Trish,” she said obediently and unfazed. “Your mother seems nice.”
“What would you know about mothers, Aria?” Trish retorted.
Aria felt small and as if the wind had been knocked out of her.
She then joined five other women in similar attire at the back of the church. They all held their left arms pulled behind them, and directed people to their seats with only their right arms.
“Damn man, Mother Smith is harsh,” her father commented to Rudy.
“Watch your language. We’re in church.”
They took some seats in the center of a pew in the middle of the church. As they sat down, Aria noticed young women smiling at her father, and girls her age and their mothers examining her the same way Trish had done when they first met. She cast her eyes downward. Trish joined them, initially sitting next to Aria. She changed seats with Rudy and turned her body slightly away from the family. The service started, to Aria’s relief, but she still kept her eyes focused down and tried to pronounce Jesus backwards –‘s-u-s-e-j,’ concentrating on the tone of this new word. What caught her eye on this holy plane was how pristine the majority of the children’s shoes were. No dirt, as if they had brought the shoes in a bag, wearing them once on the red carpet. Some children did have dirt on their shoes. She snuck a peak at their faces, when she could. They smiled at her rather than throwing a look of disgust as did the mini mina bird-children of the uber-clean shoes. She filmed.
Aria shut her eyes as the pastor delivered the sermon, praying:
“Dear Jesus, I know we don’t talk that much, but can I please ask a favor? I didn’t know that I needed clean shoes to be in your house. I’m sorry. I always seem to be doing things wrong without knowing it. But can you help me out? Can you perform some miracle and dust my shoes off a bit, maybe even add a little bit of a shine, if that’s not asking too much? L’chaim.”
She looked down. No change in the situation. Maybe the salutation at the end was wrong.
The Hammond 3 organ began to quietly hum in the background, the accompanying Leslie amplifier turned casually in its cage. Aria opened her eyes. She saw Trish scooting to the edge of the pew. The pastor’s voice increased in volume slightly. The paster had the largest plume with long iridescent feathers that went all the way down his back. His ears were tiny, but his mouth was huge. He had a lot to say, but didn’t listen. She tried to surpass what she was seeing.
“And church, I said church,” he called.
The Hammond 3 accentuated the pastor’s pause with one set of reverent G chord. Several parishioners hummed and shifted their leg positions.
“And church, I said church, what would, what would,” he pleaded and stuttered. The Hammond 3 punched out two D chords, the Leslie amplifier began to rapidly rotate. The church was on alert for the correct response to the pastor’s question.
“Weellll,” someone projected.
“Preacher, preach,” another hummed.
A large woman in a floral dress bellowed, “God is good.”
The church responded, sounding like a beehive to Aria, “All the time.”
The Hammond 3 now accompanied the pastor in harmony. People popped, rising and falling, from seats, pleading with stretched out words sung in melody for the pastor to continue or make a point. He asked again, this time singing the incomplete question going from tenor to soprano, “church I said.”
A man in a crushed green velvet suit jumped up and stomped his foot. One time, two times, to the rhythm of the organ. Some of the parishioners followed, rising and throwing their hands in the air. The church was full of squawking and screaming. Aria stopped filming, looked around, wondering if she should gather herself and run. Her father was still seated, but Rudy and Trish were on their feet.
“And church what would our Lord and savior Jeeesuuus do?”
Aria’s gaze met the crucified Jesus hanging above the pulpit. Jesus wore worn, dirty Adidas and gave her a quick wink and a smile . She cleared her eyes with a blink. He was back to his original pose. She appreciated His act of solidarity. Jesus’ teachings and words seemed to be most like Saint Anastacia’s from what she could tell, but the parishiners behavior was the opposite of what the disciples of Saint Anastacia had been taught.
The church folk danced in ecstasy to the music after shouting the answer to the pastor’s question. The answer was to love. Love thy neighbors as thy selves, and spread love to each and every one of God’s children. Each and every one. Yes, this is what the basis of the sect of Saint Anastacia was. She expected to feel a connection now that the preacher had clarified it. Parishioners hugged in solidarity. Aria stood alone, feeling invisible and untouched. Her father embraced her, then Rudy.
Following the service, Trish went to co-teach Sunday school with her best friend Darlene.
“Rudy, I’ll see you at home.” She walked clutching Darlene’s arm, ”I am utterly embarrassed…” She looked over her shoulder at Aria and shook her head. Aria shrunk, feeling about the size of one of the thorns on Jesus’ crown.
Her father noted the interaction, walking with a tilt and scowling at parishioners passing, “If we weren’t in church, Bird, I’d give them all the double finger.”
“I’m sorry. That didn’t work out too well,” Rudy apologized having noted the same interactions, the left corner of his mouth pulled up, his brow furrowed.
“Why do you even go to this church? Do you really think these people are authentic Christians?” asked her father. He ushered Aria up the aisle towards the door.
“It’s Trish’s church. She’s been going here since she can remember,” said Rudy trying to keep up.
“Now I understand, that says volumes. Please don’t think Aria is coming back here.”
The afternoon’s brightness seemed to be waiting for them. There was so much more air outside. A house sparrow landed on a newly-leafed maple and jerked its head from side to side. Raising its tail, it shat and flew away.
“I understand. I’m sorry, Aria. It’s not you, honey, it’s them. Maybe they don’t know how to act around strangers,” Rudy said, shaking hands absent-mindedly with people exiting the church.
“The whole church load of them? I think it’s more a matter of culture,” her father said looking straight ahead. A few men offered their hands, which he ignored.
“So tell me, why don’t you bring Kiev here?” It wasn’t a real question.
Rudy answered anyway, “He doesn’t know what’s going on. Plus last time we brought him, about a year ago, he jumped up during one of the testimonial sessions. Clearly and loudly announced to the congregation – ‘Fabricated, this is all fabricated’ – and walked out.”
Rudy paused. “Go ahead and laugh.”
She and her father giggled, which cascaded to laughter. Rudy joined in, standing on the sidewalk in front of the church. The passing parishioners joined the cheer, not knowing the subject, with smiles and nods.
“We thought he’d be waiting outside the church for us but he was gone. Scared me to death. When we got home he was there. He made his way back somehow.”
She thought Kiev must have been very uncomfortable in church, as much as she was. She felt sorry for Trish, but her fear of her was growing exponentially. Trish had lots of church people and God on her side.
“That’s when Trish had me renovate Pops’ workshop, and put him out back,” said Rudy.