Thursday, June 30, 2005

AC&AA part 3

It would be useless for me to recount what everybody at the Ancient Chrisitianity and African American conference said. There was so much information, that I absorbed it like a sponge, and I'm still processing it.

It's a lot easier for me to tell things that went on in my heart. I met my father at the conference.

No, I didn't have some Jerry Spinger show episode involving dark secrets between my mother and a priest. I sat in the presence of a very special soul, Fr. Moses Berry, and he captured my heart and there was something inside of me that yielded to him, and I became his daughter.

I love the way he tells stories. They come from a deep storehouse within him. I can tell he guards them carefully. Stories can be trusted with a man like Fr. Moses. He is the founder of the Oarks African American Heritage Museum in Ash Grove, Missouri, and the way he holds our collective stories in his heart makes me want to make a pilgrimage to the museum. He's the Pastor of the Theotokos "Unexpected Joy" Orthodox Christian Mission, and he's not just a Pastor. He is a priest. There's a big difference between the two. It's a mystery.

I wrote a book a few years ago that featured a mystical character that I called Ghetto Black Magic Man. Fr. Moses is the closest thing to Ghetto Black Magic Man that I've ever met. He has an other-worldly quality about him. He seems to be able to tap into what my soul needs most, and handle it with expert hands. Sometimes tender, sometimes, sharp, always in love.

Fr. Moses did some pretty incredible things during his presentation. He linked us to our past in some very tangible ways. He had an underground railroad quilt sewn by his grandmother, which he handled reverently. He told us how it was used to send messages to runaway slaves. The stitches were tiny and intricate. He raised a question. Why would a slave woman take so much care with those stitches? But Fr. Moses is a seer of course. His answer: she did it as unto the Lord. I could see her, and the countless women like her, invisible in this world, but seen by God. Loved by God, and honored where there was little honor to be had in this world. He showed us a neck shackles that bound his own grandfather. He put it on. I had a physical reaction to seeing such a horrid thing. After the presentation, I held it. It was heavy, and full of whispers. Lord, have mercy--the whispers and the stories in that shackle. Lord, have mercy, Lord have mercy.

I didn't grow up with my father. Until I was ten I was raised by my great uncle who was a father to me. His death left a great void in my life. I still find myself father hungry in this world, and listening to Fr. Moses was like listening to the voice of the father that I have missed and longed for all these years.

On the last day of the conference, Fr. Moses was my father confessor. I was unsure about the process. I'd only done one confession before, and I had a list of questions to guide me. But he was gentle, and kind, and he told me stories even then, putting me at ease. I wish I could put into words what I felt with this man. I can't do it. I feel, but words fly away with big black wings back home to a sacred place that one can only visit by way of mystery.

But I can tell you this. I felt understood and cherished. I felt he could see the best of me. It felt like what it must be like when a man loves you unconditionally and teaches you before you discover boys, and petting, and sex, that you are precious, of great worth, a jewel. That's how a good father makes you feel. He is the mirror that shows you the best image of yourself. He has no hidden agendas. I want to cry when I think of it, because I can't believe how very blessed I am to have experienced this.

He gave me books, and a t-shirt that says, "Am I not a woman and a sister?" The image on the shirt is of a woman in chain's looking to God. How many times have I asked that question internally. "Am I not a woman, and a sister?" I wore that shirt for two days. I even slept in it.

There's so much more I can tell. I can write a whole book about that conference.

More tomorrow.


Heather Diane Tipton said...

you are precious, of great worth, and a jewel. Thank you for sharing all this with us. I look forward to reading more.

Natala said...

how wonderful to have met a father.... it reminds me that we do need our 'fathers', and what they offer, and what they have to give and love.... and that fathers can be found anywhere.

Candy said...


bobbie said...

james said it - confess our sins to each other, pray for each other and we will be healed - oh woman, i see so much redemption in your words - so beautiful and complete.

my heart jumps when i see your posts in my bloglines - i get the next installment of claudia's redemption - it is so generous of you to share them with us! love you!

s-p said...

Fr. Moses is awesome. Thank God you met him.

olympiada said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paula said...

Sweet friend,
How we all crave the love of a father. How beautiful of our Father to show you the love of a father. How blessed.

A week ago I attended a 50th anniversary celebration of friends of my childhood family. I was shocked when it made me grieve my own parents divorce. It had been 17 years! I'm almost 40 years old and yet I cried, longing for my family. Both father and mother. Oh! What a powerful thing are parents.How strong the love of a father. How shaping the love of a mother.

olympiada said...

Hi. I had commented here and then deleted it but I am back. My child's father is a godson of Father Moses Berry. I encouraged him to call his godfather, but he has not. I will never forget a conversation we had with Father Moses at the 1999 conference. Perhaps it was an indicator our marriage would fall apart. His wife sent our daughter some books from her press when she was born. They are very sweet people. Your writing inspired me and strengthened me to start dealing on my web site. Thank you.