The Art of Tangibilitating
Dear old and new friends,
Perhaps the most famous of all black preachers was Father Divine who preached the art of tangibilitating in the 1930’s in Harlem. During those difficult years of the Great Depression, Father Divine would thunder at the crowds attending his services, “You got to learn to tangibilitate!” (What a wonderfully melodic word; let it ripple playfully off your tongue, “tan-gi-bi-li-late”). He challenged his faithful to transform their gratitude into substantial expressionism, and that they indeed did as they came forward singing to place their gifts at Father Divine’s feet. This call to give concrete thanks wasn’t limited to just a single offertory collection, as in the ritual in white churches, but a gathering of gifts came numerous times in black worship as it was the central drama in their act of worship.
Let Father Divine inspire us to tangibilitate our gratitude to God daily as our central prayer and worship. Along with or instead of verbal prayers, let us be creative in finding physical gifts or actions to say thanks to the Great Gift Giver. When we give thanks to others (and to God invisible in them) let us strive to “show” our gratitude by tangibilitating it instead of simply speaking it. Some gifts have such deep implications they can call for repeated thanksgivings. In some black churches it was customary after the people had given the ushers their donations that their gifts were immediately counted. If the total collected wasn’t sufficient to meet the present needs of the church, this fact was announced and the ushers took up other collections until the amount needed was achieved. If your parish is having troubles making ends meet, as most are today, consider suggesting to your pastor he introduce in your church the ritual of Black churches with “on-going” collections. Which reminds me of a story.
In a poor Jewish village in Russia lived a tailor’s son named Adam eager to marry the beautiful young Rebecca, but he lacked the money to pay for a wedding. Three village men decided to take of a collection from their fellow villagers so this unfortunate Adam could marry. They went house to house where each family gave what they could, but the amount collected fell short of paying for a wedding. The leader of the three, Samuel, said, “Let us go up to Jacob’s house and ask him to donate to our cause.” The second of the three, Abram, negatively shook his head, “You’re crazy! Jacob is a heartless miser!” Levi, the third villager, said, “What do we have to loose, let us go up to Jacob’s house.”
Now Jacob lived on top of a hill at the edge of the village in a large house. After the three had climbed up the hill, Samuel knocked on Jacob’s door. Finally it very slowly opened a crack as Jacob asked, “Why are you bothering me? What do you want?” Samuel expressed the sad plight of poor Adam the tailor’s son who wanted to marry the beautiful Rebecca but lacked the money for the marriage. When he finish Jacob said, “Everyone has problems but I’ll go and see if I can find anything to contribute.” After a long while the door opened just wide enough for Jacob’s hand to reach out with a single penny, “This is all I could find! That tailor’s son must work harder if he wants to get married.” Samuel replied, “O thank you, Jacob, for your most generous contribution, may the God of Israel bless you.”
“What a waste of time that was,” said Abram as they trudged sadly down the hill. Then they heard Jacob calling loudly, “Please come back. I just found more money for that poor Adam.” So they returned, but once again were given only a single penny. Samuel thanked Jacob profusely and asked God’s blessings on him for his generosity.
Again the three men began descending the hill, and Levi said, “You’re right Abram, he is just an old tightwad penny pincher!” Samuel replied, “Levi, let us not judge Jacob; judgment is reserved only for God!” Not long after that they heard Jacob loudly calling them to come back. “I don’t know about you two men,” said Abram, “but I’m not wasting my time just for another penny.” Samuel however begged them to go back up to Jacob’s house.
As they approach his house Jacob came running to meet them, “Rejoice with me, I remembered where I had hidden a bag of money. I’m giving it all to that young couple, Adam and Rebecca, so they can be wed in the magnificent style of the Tsars!”