It is a rented room in a W Hotel in Union Square, its location moved because its regular place is in use. A tall woman with an accent welcomes me and hands out pamphlets; my contact there is apparently an organizer with a lanyard around her neck. A young, nervous, long-nosed Latino man eyes me from a few feet away. Two men stand at the front row on the side, while in the rest of the rows stand women. The worship service starts; we stand for our four-person musical ensemble; I am awkward in my wordless observance, but tap my feet to the rhythm. We at last finish the two ditties whose words are printed on the front sheet for – surprise! – a third song on the back to finish out the opening. Repeated verses cause my foot to tap more forcefully. We sit down and the sermon is on a part of the Bible with Martha preparing for guests while Jesus lectures and Mary listens. Words stick out at me from the sermon, other references to the Bible, or lectures on it: “abandoned your first love,” “alone, vulnerable, naked, broken, before you, oh Lord.” The speaker relates a somewhat personal detail of seeing a therapist and coping with fatherly neglect. He provides three ways to listen to the Lord: to be quiet, to cultivate serenity (accept solitude) and to accept surrender. Take away: you can work for the Lord, you can spend your life working, but it means nothing if you do not worship. “You are anxious and troubled by many things,” says the Lord to Martha, after she complains that she is alone in preparing for company while Mary sits listening to his words.
Intimacy: he asks to raise our hands, those who are single: the two men keep their hands by their sides. I am unhappy at this survey before the tall, long-nosed slanciato Latino man says he has an announcement. The girl whose shoulder his arm has girded accompanies him to the front of the room to announce that she will soon be something-something Robles. Applause bursts out from our paltry audience. She does not look forward to a planning a wedding, she admits, in contrast to most others of her sex, but she states, heartfelt, that she looks to make it the most meaningful. She looks forward to being under the real head of their household, she says, the Lord. There is something almost hurt in her expression when she says this. I am in disarray as a I contribute obligatory clapping.
Yes, the Latino man continues, he met so-and-so about a year ago, at this very worship service, so you can count their story a success for the church. As quickly their year together described had elapsed we are thrust into singing songs on tranquility again. I am turbid as I try to focus. The service ends and we disband. My contact comes over to me and asks about things, politely prodding into intimate details. Have you always been part of the faith?, she asks. The phrase disconcerts me. I am Roman Catholic, I state, the religion of which I have just now turned into an identity. How is your relationship with God?, she asks. I feign optimism in my murky response. My contact, clear-skinned and youthful, looks straight at me without being disarming as I talk. She is a vegan, she says, went to culinary school but works at a café; she eats nearly exclusively fruits, and has just converted to a raw diet. She uses the rather elevated phrasing for a facet of her day-to-day that I wish was not prevalent in our common parlance: that she has “chosen a lifestyle” (veganism). Yet absolutely serene, with the countenance of images you see in canonization notices, she must be doing something right.
We are finishing up our seated session of prattle, a casual беседа while women interject to introduce themselves brightly. I gather my belongings with the intention to soon get coffee with her, for a dare not now shine a light into the cave of my spiritual world. On my way out, I shoot the tall man a raise of the eyebrows and jerk my head upwards, lips unmoving. In the typical Staten Island manner of my sex – in a way I have made my own – the women remain exalted; the men, snubbed. He stares back, weakly returning the gesture.