Today is Palm Sunday. I go to St. John’s Episcopal church in Park Slope. I went to Episcopal mission school in Arkansas and I find the ritual and the thoughtfulness helpful to calm the many many noises that go on in my creative brain. I was raised in the Pentecostal Church, which is as ritualized as the Anglican churches, but with movement, great music and serious “testifying”. The noises in my my creative brain often felt amplified. But I miss the music. My mother before I was born was the Preacher’s singer–the woman (always a woman) who sang the most emotional hymn before the Preacher preached. She was in a harrowing car accident and she stopped singing. But she remain a devoted, dedicated Christian and in a few years joined a Christian Methodist Church, where over the years she became one of the matriarchs. I’ve been in NYC for along while and years ago when I told people I believed in God they seemed surprised. Often these were people who are now Buddhists, but mostly they had either been Roman Catholic or Jewish or had been raised with no spiritual tradition. None of the people who believed in African religions never said anything like that. Belief is a personal choice. It is something that you come to for many different reasons, but at it’s essence, it is also deeply emotional and filled with the necessary words of testimony–how the Lord got me over.
One of the reasons, I love Carolyn Rodgers “how I got ovah” was that she was able to connect her deep faith to our desires as Black people for freedom, safety, love. Today is Nina Simone’s birthday and my poem “The Perfect Lipstick” was one of the first to receive wide readership because it has Ms. Simone as a figure of great importance. When she sings spirituals, civil rights songs she reminds me of the sisters testifying: “I give my honor to God . . . ” She gave her honor to the people, Black people. I often wish I could attain that level of confession and purgation. But I think of The Passion of Christ and I think of the Passion of Black People in the United States and I think of redemption and transformation. For me it is the transformation of that suffering into something powerful-the Holy Spirit’s bright message that I find of deepest interest. I don’t know whether I want to go to “heaven” unless my mother and the many good people I have met in my life are there, but the idea of transformation of moving away from the bad habits, anger, mistrust to a place of freedom, beauty, community–I can feel that sometimes in church and yes in art.
Spring is here finally, the crocuses are sprouting, forsythia is on its way and when the white blossoms of the living bradford pears come, I may cry. I will assuredly smile and so will many many others. We have had a winter too frigid, too snowy, too gloomy and we need every blossom the Creator brings.