His hand-held flood light is debilitatingly bright and his English is better.* He fits his persimmon robes a little tighter and his frame imposes. He wears flip flops like they’re business casual. His voice straightens out your spine a little like I wish mine could – a verbal chiropractor with the prayers.
I rotate the base of my skinny golden candle in the flame of the short, squat oil lamp on the altar. The bottom drips a little gold and I press it down intently but it just won’t stick to the altar. Taking to new practices again and again invigorates; to get better with each first day of cultural, linguistic, social or spiritual kindergarten is fulfilling. But each start might settle in as matter-of-fact just as easily as it could come off fresh.
Makabucha day started with a pre-dawn walk to Wat Ban Glap, our multi-tiered circular tin of food in hand. At temple, our family’s spot of floor is the back of the room; older folks watch while younger ones help me divide the food between pink cups on large trays and deep wooden rice bowls for the monks who soon lead morning prayer. My Maa takes a bench because her knees and hips ask it. It’s family business more than starched spiritual reverence; the 18-month old toodles off to other families’ spots and we all take a turn hopping up from our seated prayers to corral him. I’m the son of a son of a preacher man but my other family isn’t a church family.
The head monk and four others take us through the prayer hour in a separate hall that night. The hour offers a rumble of inspiration that I throw back in – sittings in and out of thought walk parallel tracks in most settings.
We’re back on the cracked tiles just behind them as they chant. They’re cross-legged in front of a gold and green patterned banner painted with diligently eccentric swoops and curls. The monks’ eyes point towards but don’t fixate on a collection of golden and jade buddha statues taking the floor at the front of the room.
Slight upswings and dips carry the ringing chants’ melody; it hums and bows. Music quarter-steps and kicks me a first day that I half-catch. The rhythm skips and jumps but follows you with a buzzing regularity if you tune away or as I heel-toe my bare feet on the chipped smooth cement outside. I try not to drip hot wax or ash on anybody.
Even if I can’t pull out a word of the prayer, they let me walk with – plodding with lit incense and candle balanced between the fingers of one hand, poppy flowers in the other. Five or six families from the farming village take three candle-lit circuits around the main hall of the wat – the “dian tian” walk for Makabucha.
The walking-around-flames part also knocks me happily sideways, in part because it’s come around before. My formal education left off with a black-robed mob of dubious sobriety, all parading torches down a hill to a bonfire. Growing up, for each winter solstice, that family walked a neighborhood lake; the path was lined with brown-bag-and-candle luminaria every year. The paper bags were mostly soggy and I was mostly taken with it. The newest practice isn’t always the most energizing.
A wide cloud of incense floats from the shrinking sticks in the old clay dish of sand on the altar, visible against the night around us in the floodlight’s beam. Orange ember dots suck through another centimeter of their powdery sticks; these burn off to follow the centimeter before them up into the cloud and it’s hard to be a cynic. Spiritual Pocky. The head monk switches off his hand-held floodlight and turns inside the hall to shoo the dogs out and close it up for the night.
* This means he can speak more than ten words.