The Coin-Op Church

Off the main highway, down meandering gravel, a road of hairpin turns, no guardrails. At the end, a shady lane, where lies the coin-op church, open 24 hours a day.

I wondered if it were like Catholic churches I knew, where votive candles were replaced by push-button electric lights. Each click, a dollar requested by the coinbox, to flicker a faux light a day and a night, in honor of a loved one who had passed away.

I wondered if this coin-op church was like an automat lunchroom of 1950s New York City, where you plugged in dimes, opened a little metal door and pulled out spiritual nourishment, instead of a mustardy ham sandwich or sticky slice of cherry pie.

Might what happened here be like beads of a rosary, a prayer count-off one-by-one, like dropping coins one-by-one into a parking meter or coin washing machine. In place of dirty clothes in, clean clothes out, could my soul receive the cleansing, or my monkey-mind thoughts be wiped to a meditative state?

As I approached the coin-op church altar, I was pleased they accepted cash only, not forced to pay with my chip card, pay with my phone, pay with my face, take on what some say is the mark of the beast, this beast called mark who just may usher in the cashless society, like a crownless grey-man king.

As I drew closer, I kept thinking maybe it would have been easier to visit the Green Forest Cowboy Church or the Four-wheeler House of Prayer, or simply duck into an old-fashioned phone booth, drop-in a quarter and punch in “Dial-a-Prayer.”

What was I doing here, this place with no one else at this hour but god…and a vending machine.

Then I saw duct tape across the coin drop and a sign pasted on the machine that read “ Out of Order,” with a ribbon of italic calligraphy that also said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to god what is god’s.”

Oh, that ancient silver coin Jesus referred to, the Tiberius denarius, originally worth 10 asses. And I, one of the 10.

Only then I realized my pockets were empty, my eyes closed, the third eye in the middle of my forehead, throbbing, a warm circle lighting up as if to signal “on” or “power” or “go” or “wake,” almost feeling, there at that moment, a gentle push from a wise and determinate index finger.

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Cynthia Gallaher

Cynthia Gallaher, a Chicago-based poet, is author of four poetry collections, including Epicurean Ecstasy: More Poems About Food, Drink, Herbs and Spices (The Poetry Box, Portland, 2019), and three chapbooks, including Drenched (Main Street Rag, Charlotte, N.C., 2018). The Chicago Public Library lists her among its “Top Ten Requested Chicago Poets.” She is a WCDH alumna. See links below.

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