The day I finally saw inside the four walls of a church after so long was because of a good friend of mine.
“Walter, we’re going for thanksgiving this coming Sunday,” I was informed.
No, it wasn’t this good friend of mine who said those words to me. He’s one and can only speak babynese. It was this good friend’s father who said the words. And this good friend’s mother sat beside him, the stare she planted on me a duplication of her husband’s expression.
Walter, we’re going for thanksgiving this coming Sunday.
And all the kingdom of Middle Earth within me was set into a furor. The two spokespersons of the different factions of this my inner Middle Earth settled on either side of my shoulders to lend their voices to the navigation of this impending dilemma.
“Look at them,” Saruman sneered from my left, his gnarly fingers stroking his snowy-white beard. “Just imagine them telling you about church, as though expecting an ‘Alleluia’ from you.”
“You know you’re expected to go along with them, right?” Gandalf said gravely from my right, wisps of his grey waist-length hair blowing over his lined face. “What are you going to do?”
“He’s going to say no, that’s what,” Saruman fired.
“You cannot say no,” Gandalf urged, ignoring the other voice. “The thanksgiving is for their son. You love the boy, don’t you? Well then, do it for him.”
Round One went to Gandalf.
So it was with a heart burdened by a mixture of reluctance and intrigue that I dragged myself out of bed that Sunday morning and got dressed along with the family. The reluctance was mild, overpowered by intrigue at the prospect of spending some time with brethren in the House of God.
“You’ll be bored, I’m telling you,” Saruman said.
“Stop discouraging him!” Gandalf admonished.
“Well, at least take a novel with you,” Saruman suggested. “That way, when they say ‘Open to the Book of Matthew’, you can open to Chapter Five.”
“No, you mustn’t!” Gandalf protested.
But I was already picking out a novel from my bag.
Round Two went to Saruman.
“Oh, and your earpiece too,” Saruman encouraged with glee, “so you can be nodding to Craig David’s music during the sermon, instead of just nodding off.”
Gandalf began again, “No –!”
But I’d already pocketed the earpiece.
Round Three went to Saruman.
Within minutes, my good friend, my good friend’s parents and I were inside the car, driving off to the Catholic Church they attend. The little boy yapped away in fluid babynese, a language so complicated that even his multilingual mother, who had mastered English and Igbo, had to struggle to hold a conversation with him.
Frustrated by her abysmal efforts to hold up her own end of the conversation, she turned and zeroed in on me – with my novel and earpiece. Displeasure tightened on her face and she reached out her hand, palm open, wagging her fingers at me with that ‘Oya give me those contraband items’ gesture.
“Don’t give them to her!” Saruman hissed, glaring hatefully at the woman.
“You can’t just defy her on this holy day of love and respect,” Gandalf countered.
I sighed, and let her have the book and earpiece.
Round Four went to Gandalf.
It wasn’t very long before we pulled up before the church. Parishioners milled everywhere, thronging in their Sunday best into the church premises, some of them taking a few moments to flick their fingers over her faces in the universal sign of the cross before some altar-like structure erected some yards away from the main church building.
We were early and picked out choice seats beside a standing fan, whose blades whirred and stirred cool breeze in our direction. Soon, the church began to fill up, the choir started on a glorious hymn, and a procession of solemn-faced and robed administrators marched down the aisle to the altar. We stood during this procession, and remained standing for several minutes while more hymns were sang and some recitations were said. Then we sat, and stood again, and stood some more.
My phone vibrated in my pocket. I fished it out to cut off the call and spied my father’s Caller ID. I let the call ring out. Then we sat and then stood again.
“Oh for heavenssakes!” Saruman groaned. “Even those listening to Jesus’ teachings sat around him.”
“Do not blaspheme!” Gandalf snapped.
“I’m not. I’m just saying – look at him!” And Saruman waved a hand at the bright sheen of sweat collecting on my temples. “He’s uncomfortable. We really should go outside for some fresh air.”
“That’s not a good reason to leave the House of God!” Gandalf said sharply.
“How about returning his father’s call?” Saruman shot back. “The man must have something really important to say for him to call on a Sunday morning.”
Round Five went to Saruman.
I was outside, feeling the cool air brush soothingly across my heated skin and drying my perspiration. I spent some minutes talking to my father and then my brother on the phone. Then I hung up and turned toward the church building.
“Do you have to go back inside?” Saruman protested.
“Yes!” Gandalf said firmly.
I started back for the church entrance that was closest to where I was seated.
Round Six went to Gand –
Wait! I spied a woman now occupying my seat. It should be mentioned that at this time, the church was filled to bursting. The crowd of worshippers had even spilled outside, with people seated on the benches in the verandahs, peering into the church and murmuring after the priest as the mass went on.
“Go on in,” Gandalf urged. “It is your seat. Just kindly tell the woman to vacate so you can rejoin the service.”
“And let your sense of Christian love be called into question?” Saruman said with a mock-gasp. “You would rather go in there and turn away an elderly woman from your seat in the full glare of the church, than do the christianly thing, which is to remain outside here and promote the gospel by posting church selfies on instagram, hmm?”
Round Seven went to Saruman.
For the next several minutes, I religiously used instagram to pass across the Good News, while indulging in some praise and worship through my Media Library. Time flew quickly by, and before I knew it, my good friend’s mother was jolting me out of the Spirit with a tap on my shoulder. It was about time for the thanksgiving.
We began congregating at the main entrance of the church, the parents and a number of us well-wishers. At the signal from the altar, a chorus burst forth from the church and we began to file inside, singing along and shimmying to the music. We got to the altar, and the priest began to say a prayer of protection and prosperity on my good friend.
Then he lifted his scepter and waved it over the small crowd before him. Sprinkles of what I could only assume was Holy Water dropped on us. He waved the scepter again and again, causing a small shower to move this way and that.
At the touch of this potent liquid, my inner Middle Earth was sent into an uproar. The fires of Mordor sputtered with outrage, and all minions and inhabitants, orcs, elves and hobbits alike, shrieked for redemption from this torture.
“Quick! We have to get out of here!” Saruman screeched, recoiling from the droplets of the Holy Water that had dropped with angry hisses on his beard.
“Save yourself!” Gandalf agreed with a shout.
And so, I spun on my heels and fled from the onslaught going on at the altar. Phew! That was a close one, I thought as I burst out onto the cool afternoon air once again.
Several minutes later, the mass was declared over and the morning worshippers began to flock outside. My good friend’s parents soon found me and we began strolling out of the premises.
My good friend’s father took one look at me and quipped, “You still look alright. I was half expecting you to burst out into flames in there.”
Oh you have no idea, I thought and reached out to take into my arms my good friend, for whom I made the sacrifice of coming to church.
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