While I have lived in the S.F. Bay Area since 1988, last Sunday, I finally walked through Glide Memorial’s doors. I have known about their works for years and have been invited by my cousin and more recently and repeatedly, by my sister, but the despair of downtown has always challenged me. The moment of acceptance arrived the day before Cecile’s birthday bash, as we were scouring my closet for the perfect dress for me to wear in celebration of my 50th birthday. My sister squealed with excitement and jumped up and down as I finally accepted her invitation.
Let me tell you, I love the Lord. I rarely miss church and I would love more than anything to mix my deep pull to help those that have lost Hope and praising the Lord, but the despair quickly consumes me and I get lost in my own fog. Unfortunately, I have seen very dark things in the city, certain images that have haunted me for years, taking weeks for my mind to recover. I have been practicing immersion therapy for years and this past year, I have taken it to another level. So off we went, en route to the heart of the city.
What I normally do when I go into the city is sit as a passenger and look at my phone. This time, I conferred with my husband and we decided I needed to face my fears. So I drove the streets littered with human souls, allowing my own to settle into their reality. As we were walking to the church, I noticed that my anxiety levels were not as high as they were a year ago. When I saw the church, I was surprised, as I expected something far more elaborate. We were welcomed by the greeters and instructed where to sit. The church is like a mini opera; it even has a balcony section. The stage is consumed by tiered rows for the choir and musical equipment, making it clear that music is prominent. We were fortunate enough to find a seat close to the front, as we were told it was standing room only.
As soon as the music started, my sister became animated, singing and clapping, the music moving her soul. There was an energy that I am not accustomed to in the Catholic church. It reminded me more of a party with a touch of an A.A. meeting. Perhaps, it was more like a party since they were celebrating Rev. Cecil Williams 90th birthday, but I am sure I wouldn’t be wrong to think that it must feel like this every Sunday. We were asked to hug everyone around us and the person who normally hides behind a peace sign in the Catholic pews, yours truly, gave hugs! We started with a prayer poem from Cecil’s wife. It was profoundly perfect. It spoke of love and recovery and settling into a pattern of life that most souls search for on this planet. In between beautiful songs, there were a few individuals who spoke directly to the reverend on behalf of his birthday, including his daughter. The theme woven throughout their stories was how this beautiful soul assisted them into recovery. I was so moved when one man presented himself with a laundry list of things that a lot of folks find fault with, including being a gay, Latin, recovering man. As he spoke, his words dripped with gratitude. The prayer poem was profound, but his testimony touched the slumbering addict in my own soul. This beautiful, humble man, was profoundly grateful to Rev. Cecile for assisting him in finding his way home.
When we were told to give a gift for Rev. Cecil’s birthday, I grabbed the orange envelope they suggested and filled it with our monetary donations. The seal of the envelope was glaring at my OCD-filled eyes, but I looked at my sister, we exchanged a look of challenge, and then I embraced my immersion therapy and licked that very envelope! I can’t say that this very act didn’t cause me angst throughout the rest of my day, forcing me to come to terms with it in my mind, but I have lived to tell that the choppy waters of my mind eventually calmed.
At one point, a protester walked into God’s house with her own message from God about sinners going to hell, but she was quietly escorted out, but not before a beautiful soul behind me told her to leave or they would personally escort her out. Clearly, these folks have Rev. Cecile’s back!
Attending this church woke my soul, for it is a place where Hope, Help, and Healing are solving the world’s woes. At this church, all souls are radically welcomed because this man embraced the lost, at all costs.
When we were walking back to the car, we ran into the head of the choir and I thanked him for his profound performance. I shared with him that this was my first time at Glide and why I don’t get down here that often. I even told him I licked an envelope! I was like a child, sharing my minor growth, but for me it was monumental.