That Time I Thanked a Homeless Preacher

It was a long walk from 14th Street to Port Authority—about two miles. But it was a pleasant evening, and the walk sure beat spending money on the subway. Besides, I had some things to discuss with God. And long walks are ideal prayer time.

I’d just started thinking of conversion. A new world was opening up to me; the walls of fear and hesitation were breaking down. So that night, God and I talked. I walked the twilit Manhattan streets automatically, paying more mind to my silent prayers than my steps. I don’t know if this is right, I’d told Him. It’s such a big change. One doesn’t go from a non-denominational upbringing to a religion steeped in tradition so easily. Or at all? I wasn’t sure.

Please give me something to say I’m going in the right direction, I silently pleaded, not normally one to plead for anything, silently or otherwise.

I turned the corner onto 8th Avenue, and there was a man bellowing Bible verses on the sidewalk.

He looked normal enough, not like the scraggly-bearded homeless men with apocalypse signs. His voice was crisp, like an actual preacher. I became conscious of my walking again, only because I’d nearly lurched onto the sidewalk. When I stepped up to him, he hesitated in his reading. I spoke before he could start up again.

“Thank you,” I said. “I’ve been walking and talking to God, looking for answers.”
He was speechless at first—had anyone ever talked to him?—but then, he smiled. “Thank you.” He pointed toward the sky. “The answers aren’t down here. They’re up there.”

I can’t remember if he resumed his reading after. Maybe he just watched me leave. Maybe he, too, had been searching for answers. My steps quickened. My vision blurred, the crazy woman laughing and weeping outside Penn Station. I guess this is it, I said, grasping the cross I wore around my neck. To say “Thank You” wasn’t adequate. I had to get home. I had to share it. And I had to start.

Peace

I was driving to church, the same way I always drive to church, and was hit with an overwhelming sense of peace.

Logically, it doesn’t make sense. I’d decided months ago to leave the church I’m a member of, but I still attend occasionally so they don’t know I’ve been searching. Actually, of all the things in my life, this gives me the most anxiety. Because I enjoy spending time with my friends at church. My pastor has become a good friend; he was the first I’d befriended when I’d moved out on my own, and we later traveled together in a group to Israel. So I continue to attend, because I don’t know how to tell them that I no longer can.

Maybe this sense of peace was a long time coming. Maybe I’ve emotionally pushed past the fear. Or maybe God decided it was time for me to calm down already and He smacked me with a “it’ll be okay.” Most likely the latter. Because I’m dumb, and He knows everything.

There were times during the service that I felt singled out, that the accompanying verses or the invitation were solely for me. But it made me sad. Not because I felt any sort of regret, but because they don’t know. I’ve been saying for months that I’m moving on, but for the first time, it truly felt like the beginning of the end.

I won’t say anything bad about the church I grew up in. I learned a lot, and it’s strengthened my faith. And for some people, this is the church they belong with. But me? It isn’t, nor has it ever been.

In the Beginning

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I’d been convicted to change. Maybe it was the first time I attended Mass. Maybe it was the first time I attended Mass alone. Maybe it was the first time I prayed to a saint, or crossed myself. Maybe it was the first time I took communion at a wedding Mass because I didn’t know non-Catholics shouldn’t take communion, because whatever, I was baptized in the Church. (I didn’t know, okay?)

(Maybe it goes back to when I was baptized in the Church, though I can’t claim to remember that.)

Or maybe it was that precise moment I was told something I’d been taught “didn’t make sense.” And for the first time, I saw that it didn’t make sense.

Whenever, or whatever, it was, it was overdue.

I’ve read books. I’ve listened to podcasts. I bought a new Bible. I created this blog.

This is a journey. This is my conversion.