by David Guerra
It was a chilly Tuesday afternoon, where scattered clouds scurried across the sky to deliver bursts of showers. I was taking some self-care time in a walk around Lake Merritt when I took a detour to my favorite place, the bird sanctuary. I was thinking about the sounds of life; the repertoire of the songbirds, the gentle whir of wings, the drumming of the rain on the water. As I approached the fenced-in area, I heard another sound: a human voice lilting on the breeze.
I saw him; a black man seated on the bench looking out at the sanctuary, his eyes half closed as he sang an intricate melody in a language I didn’t recognize. He didn’t seem to notice me as I walked by.
A few minutes later, I walked back. The man was still singing and I was curious about his music. I slowed down, hoping to make eye contact. He wore layers of old clothing and a large knitted cap which bulged with the hair beneath. He stopped singing and looked up.
“What are you singing?” I asked.
“I am chanting.” His voice had a strangely beautiful accent.
“Chanting,” I murmured. “What language?”
I nodded. “It’s beautiful. I wondered what you were saying.”
“They are praises to God,” he said. Then he explained that all things use breath: the animals, plants and people. We share that in common – breath – and it connects us. We are all created by God. God is in us, but we are not God. And God gives us a certain number of breaths in our lives.
“Some people choose to waste their breath,” he said. “I choose to use mine to praise God.”
I was dumbfounded. This conversation had traveled so deep, so fast. I thanked him for talking to me.
He looked at me and smiled. “What is your name?”
“I’m Heaven, David.”
“Pleased to meet you, Heaven.”
So that’s the message I got from Heaven, on a Tuesday afternoon under leaden skies by a place of personal retreat. Heaven is a black man, an angel, with words I needed to hear.