Yesterday on the long ride to work, I happened to sit next to a female lay preacher. She didn’t sound like she wanted to scare us; it was not even a warning of a grim and terrible nature; she sounded, in fact, concerned. She was reminding us. She said that it was always best to be prepared, to be always ready to speak to God when we meet Him of a life well lived and meaningful.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Yesterday on the long ride to work, I happened to sit next to a female lay preacher.
When I first got on I didn’t know that she was a preacher; she looked like any ordinary early middle-age woman in slim jeans and a dark gray blouse. Her hair showed signs of once having been under the care of a stylist, but has since reverted to its natural wavy state. She wore big wraparound sunglasses with a smoky tint, and in her arms she carried a mailman bag and a transparent envelope.
Some 15 minutes into the trip, I felt the woman tense. At first I thought she was going to get off; but she just exhaled and began what turned out to be an hour’s worth of non-stop preaching. It was not the usual holy roller’s hollering exhortations peppered with quotes from various parts of the Bible.
She began by greeting people a good morning, and then asked them what sort of thoughts they had upon waking. Were they positive thoughts filled with hope and gratitude, or were they thoughts filled with anger and negativity, tainted with the poison of envy or malice against others? She reminded us of our mortality and the often sudden and random nature of death and dying: who could foresee accidents? Cars crash all the time, planes fall from the sky, and ships sink to the bottom of the ocean. Are we prepared to die, are we willing to meet our Maker when without warning we are called to stand at His feet and account for the lives we’ve had and how we lived them?
She didn’t sound like she wanted to scare us; it was not even a warning of a grim and terrible nature; she sounded, in fact, concerned. She was reminding us. She said that it was always best to be prepared, to be always ready to speak to God when we meet Him of a life well lived and meaningful. A life given to godliness and kindness; a life lived for the sake of others as a tribute to God to whom we owe everything good and beautiful.
I know I’m making her sound like those manic street preachers I sometimes get annoyed at because they sound so self-righteous, but she didn’t and she wasn’t. She sounded kindly, although her voice rang loud and clear and rose above the noises of early morning traffic.
Most of the passengers looked away, out the window, or at their cellphones, probably pretending to be sending or reading text messages. Many looked embarrassed, some annoyed. I was neither.
I looked at her and listened, studying her breathing, the involuntary way her hands made gestures of supplication and appeal. I felt her to be sincere, and I found nothing essentially wrong about her message that we fight against all this evil in ourselves and go out of our way to emulate what is good in others. She called on all of us in the vehicle — some yawning, some barely awake — to awaken and see God and goodness in everything and everyone and to work against all that sought to bring evil and blight to the world. She said we must not tolerate corruption in government; to not stand idly by or merely mutter in disagreement as officials whether in the barangay level or the presidency stole, cheated or lied. She said we must not let ourselves be instruments of indifference and apathy as the world around fell and disintegrated because of cruelty, selfishness and violence.
She said we must find what is good in ourselves and live in a way that is worthy of God.
But it wasn’t good to be merely religious, oh not at all. Religiosity was not enough.
What good is it, she asked, to be religious in word if in thoughts and actions as evil as the kontrabidas on television and the corrupt officials in government? It improved no one’s chances of going to Heaven if one went to church every day and said mile-long mouthfuls of prayers but ignored the plight of the poor, the needy, the oppressed and the weak. She said that God would rather — well, here she was editorializing, I think, because previously she was quoting the Bible but not in a pedantic way — that we didn’t go to church but did good for other people and did no harm by doing evil deeds to further our own self-interests and in protection of evil.
It was a long drive, but she didn’t stop even to take a drink out of the water bottle she carried with her, its gray and frayed rubber handle curled around her wrist. Neither did she take off her sunglasses or wipe her forehead as beads of sweat formed on it in reaction to the increasing heat of the morning sunlight.
So I listened to her, and looked at her, and sometimes at the others. I nodded at some points she made and became thoughtful over others, but there was never a time when I felt disagreeing or contesting her. In my head I was thinking of how religion and backward beliefs have kept this nation from moving forward. How church officials have time and again disappointed the Filipino people, how they failed to be true shepherds. I remembered how angry I have been at the Catholic Church in the Philippines for going against measures on reproductive rights, and how various priests remain “spiritual advisers” to the most corrupt, most despicable government officials, landowners and big business owners. How it’s impossible for me to believe in a god that allows so much pain and misery to continue without striking down those who exploit and oppress.
I sat silent and focused on her main, single argument: we must all start with ourselves, to change for the better if we want goodness to win and for evil to fail. She pleaded for us to be prayerful; but more importantly, to live selflessly and not always look out for Number One at the expense of others and their welfare. She asked that we seek comfort in the Bible and trust in God, in His word and not in the promises of Man who always, always errs. She didn’t sound very hopeful, though — sometimes there was even a despairing tone to her voice; but all the time too she sounded very convinced that what she was saying was right.
She rounded up her sermon. She thanked everyone who listened. She began to sit back, and to relax her previously rigid pose.
I couldn’t help it, I turned to her and offered my hand in gratitude. Surprised, she smiled and took it.