Saturday, January 03, 2009

Signs of Devotion in Las Vegas

Outside of Caesar's Palace, between a shopping mall entrance and a walkway over The Strip, sits an altar to the Buddha. It's easy to miss as it's tucked away behind some bushes, and also one's eye is automatically drawn to the 10-story faces of Donnie and Marie Osmond plastered to the side of The Flamingo hotel. Once I saw it, I grabbed Matt's sleeve and slowed down to study it.

It's a place to pray in the middle of shopping and gambling and drinking. The 10 foot high, gold buddha, in full Thai headdress, sits with perfect equanimity in the center of a fenced square. Along the rails are kneelers, on which devotees can comfortably rest their knees and elbows while they pray.

One young woman chose to forgo the kneelers and instead just hit the pavement. In her skirt, she pressed her knees, the tops of her feet, her forearms, and her forehead onto the dirty concrete. She stayed that way for awhile. Around her, other women knelt on the kneelers and held long sticks of incense in front of their faces. They bowed their dark heads and closed their eyes.

"Praying for luck at the blackjack table," Matt whispered. I shrugged. Who knew what people prayed for? The altar offered a chance to dip into spiritual reverence, in a place that seems to revere mostly designer shoes, sex, and winning big. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)I itched to kneel down in front of the Buddha myself, as I see every place to pray as a universal invitation to offer myself up for a few moments. But I worried the people there might not appreciate an obvious interloper, even if I did exactly what they did. I was sure to commit some gaffe. So instead of metaphorically jumping into the hot tub uninvited, I gave a silent inward bow and took a few secret photos.

Our next stop was The House of Blues for a Sunday gospel brunch. There, we ate shrimp and cheesy grits, bacon and sliced melon. We drank Bloody Marys. Then we watched a rousing, Praise-the-Lord gospel performance by a slick group from LA. Since it really was a performance and not a church service, I wondered how much Jesus would be a part of things.

Well. Jesus' name was alive and well in The House of Blues. Witnesses raised their hands. People danced in the aisles. Those who knew the songs hollered along. I watched, in myself and some other people there, a confusing conflict take place. We were swept up. We wanted to ride on the river of Love. But oops, woops, Oh yeah, I don't actually believe Jesus Christ is my personal savior. Kinda forgot about that, and kinda forgot about all my Issues With the Church, and blah blah blah. Aw, screw it. When you think you feel divine love, stand up and say yeah.

So this time I did.


Renee said...

Love it! Love your descriptions of them (the Bhudda and the gospel performance) as well as the mere fact of them.

Scott says I become weirdly reverent in churches given that I'm an atheist, but how can you not? They are so charged with hope and awe and surrender and belief. It's staggering, no matter what your religion is (or isn't).

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...maybe I would enjoy a little gospel music at the house of blues....not a bad idea, sort of a compramise!