Hearts unfold like flowers before thee
My relationship with my grandmother began months before my birth. Into her late 60s, she had seen her son and daughter’s marriages produce five children, all girls. My grandmother, Clara, being the strong woman that she was, decided she was going to change that. After the decision, the great halls of San Fernando Cathedral were often occupied by one small figure and pit-pat of her even smaller feet as Clara would frequent those great stone caverns and light candles in hopes of a grandson, my future to be.
Mortals, join the mighty chorus
Every year thereafter from the time I was born, the relationship I had with my grandmother went on to flourish, especially under the roof of the institution from where Clara first reached out to me. At 8:45 on any given Sunday morning, I would be waiting in the lobby of the Olmos Tower, eager for Clara to come down the elevator so that I could take her to the 9 o’ clock service at St.Luke’s. From days of Pentacost to traditional celebrations of Advent, I would have my first concert hall to sing without abandon, to read along to hymns with her, always in the front row, hearing repeated scripture and seasonal recounting of Gospel and miracle for 16 years of my life. Sunday after Sunday, Christmas after Christmas, I bonded with her – the frayed noise of my voice sewn together with those amongst all the pews by the threads of song and lyric, to one homogenous sound.
Call us to rejoice in thee
On January 7, 2011, my grandmother passed away; and with that passing, so perished tradition, so perished my way of worship and so faded the tradition and threads that bound together not only the harmony of our voice – but of our hearts and souls under those great wooden arches among those front few pews. A couple days after her exodus, we gathered back at St. Luke’s for her funeral. Standing from the pulpit and giving a speech to the assembled host that she had known and affected, I thought of but did not speak on how appropriate it was that I be the one to speak for her. That after the relationship between my grandmother and me had began with her begging for my arrival, I, under my own holy canopy, was so yearning for her return.
Then I first began to question the basis for my stint under that roof. My grandmother was never very religious, originally coming to San Fernando for a hope of a new child than to celebrate one passed. Was mine the same? Were my chants of “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” in thanks of a more recent relationship of mother and child? With Clara’s passing so fell the traditional child-like faith I had harbored. I came to know what I had misconstrued and justified for faith to be just a happy medium, a method of conversation over which I could build a relationship with my dear grandmother. The great blow dealt to the base upon which I had built my faith forced, from me, a reevaluation of that “house that God built” was inevitable after what had happened to its base. To this day, I know I went to church because of some sense of duty, fealty, or intent to join the company of either my father or grandmother – and that wasn’t faith.
An Israeli soldier who began his mandatory year in service in the Israeli Army solely for duty and because he felt he “had” to for reasons personal, moral, or simply by law – would leave after he had completed his stint or to the point that his or her duty would no long apply. After the death of my grandmother, I made the connection that my attendance in church, the hymns I sang, and the scriptures I followed were all in the same spirit as that of the Israeli infantryperson. When my motivation, the end for my tributes of time and effort was gone – so, too, was my personal sentence. Almost as an exodus from the realm of religious worship, the final verses of “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” return to me in that reflection.
“Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.”