Monday, October 17, 2016

christ in times square

We, all, with one accord, driven by one deep impetus, push our way towards the front of the swarming mass of people, jostling for the privileged place of in the front, pinned against the NYPD barriers, by the crush of crowd behind us. Like a crowd of teenage girls in Sperrys from Westchester, we strain our necks to see the prophet we have come to see. But something greater than Ham4Ham is here.

We are not dedicated fans dressed in haute rap colonial garb, we are the homeless. We are the addicts living on the street corner. We are the man with the dog you pass without a glance. We are the boy eating the tuna on the subway. We are the woman with the grocery cart and the girl with the book and the sad face, tucked in the corner. We long for attention, but fear too much. We are wary of crowds like this one.

But not today. Today someone has come to speak to us. And we are here to listen. He touches the face of the woman next to us and smiles. If he would do the same to us! There are others here, of course. There are two loud men in suits. They are young. And possibly drunk? It's 10am, but they smell like expensive whiskey and the trendy speakeasy bar around the corner. Their shoes are very nice. And their hair is matted by a French pomade made from babies' tears spun into a delicate silk, not by the crust of street dust and soil from park benches.

They shout out to our prophet. It is not quite heckling. It is a question of that class clown in high school who wanted to get the teacher off-topic. Because they are afraid of serious thinking. And following lines of thought outside their comfort zone. They want to pretend to learn, but never leave their zone of proximal development. He listens to them. And responds with a laugh. We all laugh in return, even the two loud men. They seem non-plussed. And, for a moment, sheepish. For a moment, as they drop their swagger and the posture that comes with suits, they are not two braggadocios, but human beings. We lose sight of them. But perhaps they stay to listen.

Our prophet turns to us: and weaves a story with his voice. More mesmerizing than Lin-Manuel's raps, funny and humorous--better than the stand-up acts we've seen here-- more alive and biting than Colbert, a story that cuts through the chaos of Times Square's morning air. A story that we've known all along, but is new today. The fire engine sirens, the pounding of the 1 train underneath our feet, the honking of the taxis, and the purring of the tour buses, all subside into quiet, and the only words we hear are this man's story.

'Rest, Eat, Drink, Be Merry!' cries the heroic antagonist of his story. We can hear the bitter ring in his voice, it matches the bitter ring in ours. We have not rest. And it is not ours to "be merry." It is the lot of those who smell like money at 10am. We are surrounded by their large barns, holding their harvest. "Your life will be demanded of you." Our prophet's voice sends shivers up our spines. We are surrounded by careening trains, by the dangers of bombs, by mass shooters, collapsing skyscrapers, hurricanes, earth-quakes, homicides, overdose. It seems, any day, that our life will be demanded of us. And what will we have to leave behind? What will mark our time on earth? To whom will our carts and plastic bags belong then? It is not a glorious inheritance, but these are the boundaries of our small kingdom. We have not stored treasure up for ourselves. We have nothing to leave here.

But what is it to be rich in what matters to God? Our prophet leaves; he slips into the crowd, and we lose sight of him. He is gone. What is it to be rich in what matters to God? Are we rich in that way? we wonder. Unclear. We disperse, but our bags are lighter now. The man next to us who was bent over is walking straight now. There is a light in our eyes and a lightness in our step, because someone saw how fully human we are, and made us that again. Our activity has new purpose, a new richness, because we have some hope. And a mysterious new goal: to be rich in what matters to God. This strange man with his strange sense of wealth and kind, unsparing sense of humor has brought us hope. The artist next to us, wearing strange patterned leggings and a brightly colored blazer, her hair also matted--into trendy dreadlocks (saves money on shampoo)--is writing furiously. Her pen flows with the fire from the prophet's voice. She has found hope, too.

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