My life has been short on epiphanies and scant of miracles, and maybe I don't know what I'm missing? After sleepovers in grade school, my best friend Cathleen would beg me to keep her company at Catholic mass and, forever loyal, I did. The ceremony of it felt fun. It was nice to see our neighbors, people were friendly enough but the yawns came quick and fierce. We were 10; no passing judgment here. If it wasn't hooked up to a NES controller, we weren't too fond of it.
When clients started telling me in desk-side chats, hallways and mock interviews, that God was their guiding force and life compass, I perked up a bit. Not appropriate to tell an employer, sure, but there was something to this faith of theirs: Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist. . . a Neapolitan of options. I decided one Sunday to attend a service. Good counselors have empathy and multicultural awareness. My thought is that if I am to counsel those who believe (most of us), then I ought to know where they get and give so much of their love and devotion.
I went to a predominantly black church on the South Side, accompanied by a good Sister and volunteer where I work. It couldn't have happened otherwise. Not how it did. I wouldn't have had a receiving line to bid me welcome; I may not have had a raw palm after shaking so many hands and saying "Praise the Lord" countless times instead of "Hello"; and I certainly wouldn't have been recognized by the Pastor, a hero and king among these men and women, in front of a congregation of more than 3,000. Televised. One of only several white faces in the room.
As I get older, I seek more opportunities to be the minority, feeling it's where the greatest gifts are found. This experience, surrounded by bellowing voices of worship and gratitude swelling with tidal waves in tongues and through tears. . . it was otherworldly. While I was there, somewhat exhausted from experiential overload, I felt it too. Not the presence of the Lord. Jesus wasn't over my shoulder. I wasn't saved.
But there is a magic in the vibration of so many voices singing the same song. Stomping their feet. Looking only upward not sideways to judge. Just unrelenting vulnerability for all to see. And, truth be told, I felt set free that day in Woodlawn. I stopped feeling anyone's glance and looked inward instead. And I have faith; faith in the power of a community like this to do something immense and positive.
No one would have to beg me to go again. Of my own free will, I'm at your service.