The Sacrament of the Present Moment: A Souk Story

We reach the Marrakesh bazaar as it awakens. Families huddle in their shops around fresh bread and scalding tea, steam aglow with sunrise. Aromas of mint and cumin compete with odors of freshly washed concrete. Carts (and those pushing them) groan under loads. Peddlers shine their wares with week-old cloths made heavy with the oils of their owners. Crowds grow among the colonnades as when a river rises from some unseen floodgate.

Arabic, Berber, and French intermingle. Derizha, the local dialect, is the bass note, while the other tongues chorus their tones. Laced through the din are the incantations of blind beggars and the bells of desert nomads.

But Another is here too, walking the maze of the market. He is disguised, but He is here. This is how:

“Sir,” I say to a merchant in a blue gandoura, “I am looking for a book holder, the kind I can rest my holy book upon while I read it.”

He rummages through his shop; he inquires of his neighboring colleagues.

“Sorry, we do not have the kind you are asking for.”

We amble on, bargaining for potatoes, haggling for a plug adapter, walking away from a pocket watch that has winked at me but is priced too high to keep me curious.

A Moroccan man finds me, his smile made brighter by the contrast of his work-weathered skin. Though young, his face reveals the long hours he has labored. He holds out an item to me.

“Sir, here is the book holder you seek! Cedar wood and special markings! I know you will use it to hold your Injeel, your Holy Gospel. There are few in the souk that fit your custom. Behold, I have found one!”

I consider the book holder. It is not delicate work, but its rough-hewn features and dull brass stars are distinctive enough. This is not the book holder for an elite erudite; it is for an earthen vessel in search of water. I am intrigued.

But I am a stranger here, unable to discern quality, unable to ascertain the price. I place my hand on his shoulder.

“Thank you, but not today.”

He guards his disappointment, but his sigh reveals it. 

“You are welcome, sir,” he says.

Proceeding further, we navigate a place where not only are the overstacked stalls spilling their merchandise into the corridor, but also a series of “shops” in the center thereof do the same. In each of these center ones, a person sits. Meanwhile people are flowing in both directions, and one must mind not only his feet, but his wallet and his phone. We meander forward.

I pass one of the shops in the center, where a lady in a green hijab sits in the midst of her goods. After passing, a thought whispers to me. A still, small voice.

“She has myrrh. Turn around and ask her.”

I turn.

“Excuse me, do you have any myrrh?”

“Why, yes I do. Here.”

From amid soaps and cigarette lighters, she extracts a single sealed cup containing an amount of myrrh that would fit into the palm of your hand, enough to burn as incense in an hour of prayer.

“Where is it from?” I ask.

“I do not know,” she says. “I only sell it.”

Her honest answer builds my faith. I purchase the myrrh.

“This is good myrrh,” she says. “When you burn it as incense in your home, it brings healing to your body and cleanses the atmosphere of your dwelling place.”

Though my purpose for the incense is otherwise, I thank her for the advice. I open my hands in a prayer posture customary since the time of the Hebrew prophet Daniel and before.

“Thank you,” I say. “May God bring you a blessing.”

She receives my open-eyed prayer by opening her hands as well.

“And also you.”

We are thirsty. We stop at a cart where a lad, about thirteen,  produces fresh juice, crushing with a steel lever one orange or one pomegranate at a time according to the request of the customer.

I look at him, and a word passes through me. It reaches my lips.

“Young man, God is giving you a key, a key to your future. Rest assured of it. I see it.”

“Thank you, sir. This encourages me. I need such a key.”

And I drink the pomegranate juice as one takes in Communion while he smiles.

At the intersection of half-naked manikins and fake designer handbags, an elderly man shuffles along, stooped but smiling, chanting for alms.

I see him, and I am reminded of the change from the purchase of the myrrh. I place it in his hand; he gently closes it not only on the coins, but my fingers as well. Clasping one another’s hands, we abide with one another, communing in mutual gratitude. And in that moment, it is not clear who is actually the richer, the one with coins in his pocket or the one with faith in his heart.

The hour is late now, the bazaar filling to fever-pitch proportions, though the mercy of the coastal weather prevents the air from turning overly warm. But it is time to go.

We attempt to retrace our steps through the labyrinthine halls. Reaching a courtyard where local coats of many colors are on display, I pause, for a thought settles solidly within me.

“I would like that book holder, but how shall I find the seller in this maze of shops?”

I lift my eyes, and there, coming through the crowd as if on cue, is the man. I hail him.

“Sir, take this money and return to your shop. Bring me the book holder. I will wait here. My friends are ahead of me going to their car, and I cannot return with you. Hurry now, thank you.”

He takes off running with the money. I stand at the stone archway of a shop, pondering what I have done.

“He will come back,” a wizened, bespectacled scarf seller assures me. He is seated beneath the arch, sewing with his back to to the courtyard.

And so I wait.

After a time, the scarf seller, with no visible prompt, rolls his eyes above his readers, fixes them on me, and nods in a certain direction.

I turn.

There he is, the man I had commissioned, holding close to his heart the book holder for the Scriptures. Smiling, he gives it to me. In return, he receives a bonus for the errand, a reward more than the agreed upon price.

He returns to his shop with joy. I emerge from the souk as one whose Communion bread is still dissolving on his tongue, silent upon the peak of how such a common thing could be so holy.

© Kurt Mähler

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