I did something on a Friday night that my mother would be extremely proud of. I actually went to church. No, I am not (again) at a particularly churchy period in my life. I was drawn there knowing that the Jesuit priests from my old school were going to be performing their hymns that night. (I went to a Jesuit school in Manila and, back then, was enamored with liturgical music — don’t ask me why — of whom the Filipino Jesuits were at the forefront.) Also, the venue being St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit parish in Union Square, was inviting enough. I believe that this domed space is testament to God’s big tent on earth, where the faithful, both pious and sinful, come to meet. Xavier, after all, has always been refuge to Gay Catholics in NYC (as it is home to Dignity, the homo Catholic group) and includes in its apostolate a lesbian prayer group and an HIV spiritual support group. (In light of a Black Southern Church issuing a statement on the gay rights issue relative to the civil rights struggle to not compare the sin [of homosexuality] to the [color of their] skin, this church is most comforting.)

I arrived and sat myself on a pew, observing the many others who took their places. Here was a veritable crosssection of the transpacific parable — the jeans and t-shirt folk sitting together with the corporate crowd. I have always found it remarkable how this tropical people have adapted to this land of autumn and winter. I found Filipinos flapping their coats as they sat a sight to behold — Burberry’s dark tartan comingling with the nondescript black of Canal Street knock-offs. (I had come from work and my coat, Metropolitan View, Bloomie’s house label, sat indistinct on my lap.) Filipinos have always been a tribal people and here they were, on this brisk fall night, coming from all walks to gather as one throng, supporting their own.

So many were instantly moved by the music, flailing their heads and clapping incessantly. I sat fidgeting with my programme (and trying so hard not to be irked by the lady whose coat was brushing against me intrusively) and listening quite impatiently. Had the music lost its movement in me? I remember vividly how I was so captivated by it in Manila. Now, I sat listenting to it with my thoughts splitting into the recently-uploaded Scissor Sisters songs in my IPod. Maybe it was because the singing really wasn’t that exceptional (except for the two religious women from the Cenacle who were quite divine.) But this was already expected as issued from the disclaimer noted by one of the priests (who I realized used to be my spiritual director — yes, I used to go for spiritual direction) at the start when he said that they were not professional singers but simply people who wanted to share their music across the Pacific. Then, again, I wasn’t paying $113.25 to see A Chorus Line (which I did see last week and was so moved by that I had to buy both soundtracks – the original and the new cast recording — where I realized that everything else was sung better at the original except for Natalie Cortez who did a way better Diana than Priscilla Lopez. I had never seen ACL on stage before and am now a new convert to the Michael Bennett fan club. But I digress.) I was only donating $20 to a worthwhile cause (which I realized was over a tenth of a tenth of the cost to build a house in the Philippines as shown through a video showing the work of a charitable organization who was going to be one of the concert’s beneficiaries.)

I asked myself why I had come as I sat quite frustrated during the seemingly endless intermission. (It was already 8:30 and I haven’t even had dinner yet.) I realized that I had been so pampered by Broadway theater that I now sit through every performance wanting to be entertained to an excellent standard. Sound and structure were critical forms if they came on a stage. Here was a bare altar with 3 microphones and 10 spirited singers. They had come to do more than entertain, to be more than a spectacle; they had come to affect on a visceral level. I grappled with what it meant for me to come to the concert as I realized that the music had lost its grip on me. I don’t think it was because I was any less spiritual. (To the contrary, I think I have remained sane in this most mundane city because I have continued to make sense of my daily struggles beyond the lens of the material and the superficial. There is always a greater mystery that I continue to grapple with.) I figured it was because I was less of a believer, more of a skeptic, much of a cynic. I am much more guarded these days, and rightfully so. To trudge on in this urban jungle with blind trust is foolish, if not deadly. Everything, even liturgical music, is cast in a shade of doubt. This blanket of melodies sits with an agenda and I listen to it with cautious ears. I know it sounds scarily like borderline paranoia but that is how I do with who I am where I am — amateur critic and relentless cynic.

But I am not such a basketcase. There was this one song towards the end that battered at my ego barriers. I used to sing it back in school when I was part of a choir (among other things in that streak.) As the priests sang it, I was brought back to noontime masses in an airy chapel; classes in philosophy and theology in humid rooms; Saturday afternoons in the decrepit slums of Manila as a teacher; a year atop the mountains of Palawan, a Southern island, as a volunteer social worker. For a very short while, the memories that had already been so distant became fresh. The Jesuit Provincial of the Philippine Province (who is incidentally in NYC and came to the concert) summed it quite succinctly at the end when he said that the hope for the concert last night was to bring Filipinos back to a sense of home of which he painted 2 pictues: one of a country so deeply mired in corruption that has led to its people’s own sense of doom wherein salvation solely lay outside the country, and one still breeding hope in the faces of its young visionaries who strive to make the country better in the midst of so many insurmountable obstacles. I find myself having been on both sides of the picture.

I took the F train back home. But I knew that I had already been there for a few moments in that church at Xavier.

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