Thursday, January 26, 2012

Evening Prayer

Luaniua's Anglican church sits in the center of the village.  Its whitewashed, cinder block walls rise only four feet, leaving the sides open to the ocean breeze.  It really is more of a pavilion than a church, except that at the front there is a raised dais with the alter, preaching podium, candle stands, and seats for the priest and catechists to sit.

Every sunrise and sunset the catechist rings the bell that hangs from the eves, summoning the faithful.  The church's 'bell' is really just a hollow, rusty propane cylinder, but it serves the same purpose.  When struck with a hammer, it echoes as far as the island's sandy tip.

I used to go to the evening service every night.  Our house stood just opposite the church, so my walk was a short one, past the carefully tended bushes that ringed the pavilion.  The old man who cared for the building kept the flowers meticulously trimmed, and at sundown every night they opened tiny, trumpet-shaped petals to release their soft sweetness into the air.

It was through this lingering incense I walked, prayer book in hand, to take my place on the woman's side of the church.  The sides were strictly divided by sex, with the women on the left and the men on the right.  Children sat at the very front, their little butts squirming on the worn, 1 x 8 benches.  Behind them were the teenagers, with adults at the very back of the church.

The village catechist ran the weeknight services.  They were always the same, read with comforting predictability from the Melanesian Anglican Prayer Book.  Opening song.  Liturgy.  Sing the Magnificat.  Scripture readings.  More singing.  Prayers.  Benediction.  Dismissed.

The very last prayer, read as the sky purpled and the first star appeared, was a hushed request to the unseen God.
Shine on our darkness, we pray you, Lord, and by your great mercies keep us from all troubles and dangers of this night, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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