[Caribbean Literature]

The Wine of Astonishment and Polyrhythm

The Spiritual Baptist's Church Service

from pages 58 to 61 of Earl Lovelace's The Wine of Astonishment:

And so this Sunday the few of us walk up Zion hill to the church out in the wilderness place, far from the eyes and ears of the police. We stand up and sing the first hymn that as usual don't move nobody. Then Brother Oswald, his big, sad eyes moving restless over the Bible, read the first lesson, the words coming out his mouth in a rush as if he was doing a duty that he in a hurry to finish. He sit down, and we get up and sing another hymn that have no spirit and don't cause us to ring the bell or shout hallelujah or anything, and Taffy by my side start nodding and I elbow him in his ribs for now his father was going to the pulpit, and Reggie turn from me to his father; and the wind was blowing, and though it didn't look like rain was going to fall that day, all of a sudden through the noise of the wind we heard the raindrops pelting, and woosh, the rain began. The church was leaking so the congregation start to move to seats where the water wasn't dripping in through the roofing. On the pulpit Bee wait for us to settle down, then he open the Bible in front of him, bend down his head and start reading:

"My people hath been lost sheep, Their shepherds have caused them to go astray. They have turned them away on the motuntains. They have gone from mountain to hill. They have forgotten their resting place."

And Bee raise his head from his reading and look at tbe few of us packed close together in one corner where the building wasn't leaking, and his voice was low and the rain was soft, beating on the roofing, and we was quiet and listening.

'Brethren, tonight I come to bow my head and to lift up my head,' Bee say and right away his words touch me and my mouth answer, 'Blessed!'

'I come tonight,' Bee say, 'to make a confession and to give a direction.'

And Sister Ruth cry out, 'Sweet Jesus!' and raise the hair on my head.

'I come tonight,' Bee say, 'as a man who stumble in the wilderness for nights, and my eyes open now. I see the light! I see the light!' Bee cry out. 'I see the light!'

'Amen,' the congregation say.

'Brethren,' Bee say, his voice soft now and sorrowful and brave and pleading, 'I is the shepherd that cause the sheep to go astray.'

'... astray...' And we was answering him, leading him on, drawing out his words with our own as in the old way.

'... that have you moving from mountain to hill, so we don't know. . .'

'Jesus, we don't know,' the congregation say.

'I mean,' Bee say, 'we don't know if we is fowl . . .'

'Say it, Leader.'

' . . . or feather. If. . .'

'Merciful Father.'

' . . . we black . . .'


' . . . or white. If . . .'

'Oh Lord!'

' . . . we going. . .'

'Going, Saviour, Going.'

' . . . or coming. If we up, . .'


' . . . or down. We don't know who we is.'

'Tell us, Leader. Tell us who is we.'

'We,' Bee say, ' . . . we is Shadrack, Meshack and Abednigo that burn in the fiery furnace and ain't come out yet ...'

'Tell it!'

'We is the day that don't have no rest . . . '


'We is the grass that they cut and trample and dig out and sprout roots again . . .'


'We is sticks that bend and don't break. We is Egypt . . .'

'Oh Jesus!'

'Ethiopia . . .'


'We is Judah . . .'

'Oh Israel!'

' . . . Solomon, the Queen of Sheba. We is love that rise up, the earth that don't fall down. We is corn and water.'

'Amen! Amen!'

'I is the shepherd of the sheep and the servant of the Lord,' Bee say. 'And if we must worship . . .'

'Beautiful Lord!'

' . . . If we must worship, we must worship in Spirit . . .'

'And in truth, Jeesus!'

'If we must worship we must worship with a ringing of the bell and bringing of our souls with a joyful noise unto the Lord . . .'

'Ooh Lord!'

'Who is greater than the Lord?'


' . . . for he will carry out . . .'


' . . . and he will bring you. He will search you and he will turn you . . .'


' . . . He will touch you with his right hand.'

'Oh God!' - -

'Lift up your voices, oh ye hillsl' Bee cry out.

'Yeees, Leader!'

'Lift up your voices, oh Jerusalem! Lift up your voices, oh Judah! Lift up your voices, Israel! Lift up your voices, oh Ethiopia! Lift up your voices . . .'


And now with the congregation answering him, Bee voice was getting stronger, and all the sadness and anger in his soul poured down in his words. The rain was falling and the church was leaking and the brethren was humming deep in soft rhythm to Bee preaching, and all of us was moving and the church was a sea and we was the boats rocking sweet, and I could hear It coming, I could hear It. I could hear all the angels cwning in my ears with their wings shhhing like a storm of whispers. And heads was bobbing and hands was clapping and the church was rocking and the church was jumping, the church was shaking and humming, and Bee there on the pulpit, his voice ringing out to the four corners of the church above the rain and humming.

Like a strong wind, like a mighty water, like a river of fire, like a thousand doves with wings. It come, the Spirit. And I was clapping my hands and singing. And it catch Bee up and spin him round and bow him down and It hold him up and walk him down from the pulpit to the Centre Post. And he take up the bell and he ring it to the East and he ring it to the West, and to the North he ring it and to the South, Jeesus!

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