Daniel Tran English 1A #73 09-October, 2007 Essay 2 draft An Experience in a House of God It was a few minutes away

from 6:00 PM on a Saturday afternoon, the last Saturday in the month of September. I stood in the outside air of Eastern San Jose amidst the sunny yet mildly blustery weather. Behind me lay a large parking lot, filling up bit by bit as more cars pulled into the scattered empty spaces. Beyond the parking lot was a small playground, a recreational park, and just beyond those, a small suburban neighborhood. Children, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, all of them would walk past me as I stood still, staring at the large building before me. In my eighteen years in the world of the living, I have experienced many things that would not be considered as everyday: various museum trips, sporting events, scuba-diving, court cases, snowboarding, concerts, social galas, weddings, funerals, conventions, expos, etc. However, I had never set foot inside of a Catholic Church, or any type of church, nor had I ever had a religious experience of any sort. I was about to have my first minutes inside a house of God, the first minutes for an atheist like myself. I was invited to accompany the family of a friend, Theresa Ngo, a Sunday School volunteer at the church she attends. “It is where I received my communion. I have been attending for the last 10 years and those years have been so memorable,” she told me. The church, more properly called as “The Most Holy Trinity Church”, was interesting at a first glance. It was certainly not the first church I had looked at, but the most striking of

details do not stick to my mind unless I observe with serious intent; before, churches were simply “the buildings with crosses somewhere on their exterior” to me. The white building that stood before me, the church, had a very aged appearance. The old shingled roof was covered with leaves that had fallen from the neighboring trees, towering at a tremendous height as if they could seem to pierce the sky with their long-reaching branches. On the sides of the building, one may immediately notice the colorful stainedglass windows, three on each side adjacent to the front. As I continued to gaze at the building, I noticed that there was no bell on the roof, something that I would have thought to be present. After gazing at the church building for several minutes, I followed my friend Theresa inside. The first thing to strike my mind as I crossed the threshold and into the place of worship was that the building seemed to appear much larger on the inside. The structure’s high ceiling was the first to catch my interest. There was nothing out of place about it yet it did not fail to draw eyesight. As I followed my friend and her family, I continued looking around. The seats, or benches rather, were arranged into three sections, with two aisles cutting, one between each section. My friend and I both sat ourselves in the second to last row of the middle section of benches, placing us towards the back of the large, single room with equal distance from both the aisles to the left and right. As we sat and waited, more people began to fill up the room. According to Theresa, the room would be able to hold a full capacity of 700 persons. To most people, that would be a large amount. To my surprise, I found that the room began to fill with so many people, several families ended up having to stand in the back.

At 6:00 PM sharp, the room suddenly fell quiet and I was asked to stand up. All those present stood as a group of people wearing white robes began to file through a door in the front of the room. I took a good look and assumed that they were members of the church choir. As they took positions at the front, an older man that I recognized as a priest. At this point I remembered that I was attending a service that would be performed in Vietnamese rather than English and despite my own Vietnamese heritage, I was going to have a difficult time entirely understanding what was going on. As the priest reached the large altar at the front of the room, he said a few words that I was able to understand as a formal welcome and immediately, the melody of an organ, which I had not noticed until now despite its large and brown appearance, began to play in the air. The choir began to sing a loud and slow melody that I wasn’t able to understand due to my lack of proficiency in the Vietnamese language. My friend would later explain: “The song is titled ‘Xin Chua Thuong Xot Chung Con’, which translates into English as “Please Have Mercy on us”. As I listened to the beginning of the song, I was quite amazed at how powerful a choir of only twenty people singing collectively could sound and the power only increased as people around me joined in and began to sing as well. As the song played for the next five minutes, rather than sing along (I didn’t know the lyrics), I started to think about what the rest of the session would be like. I began to imagine the portrayal of church in the many sitcoms Americans watch for their entertainment. I recalled each and every one of them as being an experience where the children are taken only at the persistence of their parents, where the father usually falls asleep and dreams of a barbeque or football, where only the mother is attentive. I looked

around and saw something quite different: Everybody was singing, not idly as if trying to feign participation, but with a light intensity. Every single person around me, regardless of age, wanted to be here. “I like to go to church because it is comforting. When I am sad, I can empty all my sorrows there. It is a place where I can reflect and search within my spiritual life,” Theresa would later tell me. After the song was finished, the priest began to read several stories from the Bible. There was one particular story that stuck to my mind: A story about three men who each came across pieces of silver. One of the men was able to use the 10 pieces he found to make 10 more. The second man was able to use the five pieces he had found and earned five more pieces. The last man only found one piece however, and thinking it was not enough for anything useful, buried it and ended up losing it. Theresa would later explain the meaning of this story: “That parable was about our talents. We should not hide them away or waste them. The abilities we have, no matter how big or small, should be used as best as we can, otherwise we may lose them like the man lost his silver piece.” Forty minutes had passed through the entire service. Stories from the Bible as well as short songs in-between had gone by. At this point, the room grew very quiet as everybody rose from their seats and began to kneel on small projections coming from the benches in front of them. At Theresa’s urging, and my own desire to not look out of place, I did the same. I quickly glanced around and realized everyone was praying. What everyone was supposed to be praying about escaped me. I decided that I would pray for something simple: to not drop dead the next day (something I wish for each night). Prayer went by quickly and another song commenced. The hour service was coming towards its end. During the song, a small basket was passed around and people

would place money inside. I understood this as a donation basket for the church. I decided to single dollar inside when it finally made its way to where I sat. During this time, announcements were also made but as I was not a regular member of the church, nor was I a part of the surrounding community, I paid no attention here and did not bother to ask Theresa what was said. In the last five minutes, the choir stood up and began a more joyous song. According to Theresa, it was a Vietnamese version of “Hallelujah”. As the song played, people would stand up, row by row, and slowly walk back out the door, back to their routine lives. As it was our turn to leave, I began to think about the experience. The song went on and I felt like a better person, just for going to a church. It was not an experience powerful enough to make me into a religious believer, but it was still strong nonetheless. Despite my beliefs regarding religion, no one can deny that people who attend religious services regularly or practice religion faithfully are able to feel good about themselves because they do so. As I followed Theresa out the door and into the parking lot, I began to understand why people would have a desire to be religious. A drive to be a good person exists in all human beings at some point; religion offers a way to help.