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Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Fellow Traveler. By John von Daler

                          Extra policemen direct the traffic at 9:30 am in #Tulsa. It is church time. Our family of four, encased in a glass and steel cubicle filled with smoke, roll into a parking lot. We get out of the swept-back Buick, pat down our clothes and head for the huge Gothic church. Bells are ringing and hundreds of people in their best clothes hurry towards the same broad steps.

                Soon we take our places halfway up the aisle. Mother gives us hymnals and I settle back to look at the glass windows with their pictures of events from the New Testament, all vividly illuminated by the shining sun. The organ blows out a stark bass tone. It surrounds me not as much with sound as with palpable vibrations. We shake like the last leaves in a November storm.
                Then the choir marches by in robes, their faces ruddy and clean, their hymnals open and stretched out in front of them. They sing out one of John Wesley's powerful songs and the congregation joins in, including the little gray-haired lady behind me with her shaky little falsetto, like a little match alight in all this wind.
                Then suddenly everything is quiet and the minister's great, bass voice booms out a chant and the congregation answers him, standing in their places. Soon we sing again and then we reach my favorite part, where the minister quotes from the Bible and then argues with himself back and forth about some great problem, the rich and the poor, the proud and the meek, the sick and the healthy. I love the rollercoaster ride of his logic and his emphatic conclusions. If there is doubt anywhere in his speech, it is so glorious that it reeks of certainty and appears only to have draped itself in this stance for the sake of the drama.
                Then we sing again and we take oaths and then the minister turns on a matter-of-fact kind of voice to advise us of cake sales and club meetings and Sunday school. Then he blesses us and turning his back dramatically, setting off the organ that now pounds out enough sound to fill the huge space between me and God with will and power and clamour.
                Then we reach the steps again and the greetings begin, the shaking of hands, the memories of the old days when my grandfather preached, friends of long past. Then we find our car and Mom and Dad light up and we drive in our little cloud of smoke toward our home as do the thousands of others around us.
                And I cannot stop thinking in the car, even as I do to this day, that even though the idea of God seems inadequate to describe the origins of our universe, He does really put on a good show. After all you don't meet too many aetheists who get together to sing and talk and raise the roofbeams. So I become even at the age of eight a kind of fellow traveler, a stowaway in the holy vessel, godless as the Big Bang, but as humble as I can be, especially at the notion that in the beginning there was The Word.

                My book, Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude (WiDo Publishing) is now available. Order through, the publisher or your local bookstore. Click to buy Pieces at the top of the blog. Please feel free to write a short review of the book in your own language at or GoodReads. Thanks for your support!


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