Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Shroud of Grace

Entering the dimly lit room, our ears immediately recognized the high sweet strains of a woman’s voice blending with the lower voice of her male guitar playing companion. While they sang, a large group of people sat with somber faces. Some joined the couple in their singing and others seemed focused elsewhere in their thoughts. As my friends and I sought seats amongst the crowd, the quietness of the place took hold in our minds. Usually a rambunctious lot, our lips barely opened throughout our time in this space. Little children noises punctuated the quiet as babies gurgled and toddlers whispered to their parents. Soft music dictated the mood of the people.

Around the room, candles flickered. Some reclined on pedestals upon the stage where the couple sang and other candles danced on the tables sitting in front of the crowd. To the sound of the crooning of a cello, a French horn yodeled in melody. Pictures hung on the walls. Each picture had a conglomeration of brown and black with resolute faces staring out. Often, one specific shirtless man continued to show up in these pictures. The people depicted in these pictures looked seriously out at the crowd gathered on this night. Projected on the screen behind those devoted to the musical aspect of this evening, a rugged picture filled with shadows portrayed a man with head bowed and arms limply sprawled out from his body.

The people gathered in the room had an odd expectancy. Even young children although fidgety waited in a hushed interest. When beckoned to sing, most everyone joined in regardless of age or sex. Unlike other concerts, it seemed as though every individual thought about the words that came out of their mouths. Occasionally, a mother stood to take her baby from the room. A couple of times, a person shared a long passage from a book. The people in the room hung upon every word shared. Finally, at the request of a man on the stage, people filtered to the front of the stage. One by one, each person stood in front of a man with a small container of black soot. When they walked away, a dark cross stood out on their forehead.