Church changed my life today.
Last year, I started attending service at a local Baptist church. I was hired to paint abstract paintings during the praise portion of the church’s Easter Sunday Service.
During the dress rehearsal, the day before, I was moved to tears. “We know you love us,” the large man, one of the praise singers, said on stage, looking up, pointing his finger with a humble conviction towards the sky. “We know we’re loved,” he said.
These words, combined with the sweet, sentimental music playing in the background, hit me like a ton of bricks. The words went straight to my heart. A wave of emotion moved over me as I stood with the director of operations for the church (I’m usually comfortable crying in public) and I thought, “I can’t cry here. I don’t even know this woman!”
Needless to say, I left the rehearsal affected. After attending the Easter Sunday Service the next day, I decided to attend regular services at the church.
I was raised Catholic, you see, and I never quite connected with that religion, nor the messages and ways they did things in the church. But, ironically, last spring, before I was asked to do this Easter gig, a major shift occurred in my life. One day I opened up during contemplation in my apartment, and I “received Jesus” back into my life. Now, I put quotation marks around those words because I don’t always take Jesus and the stories people tell about him so literally. (I know, I know, I can hear all of the protests. That’s a debate for another time.) To me, Jesus can represent many things, and in this sense, Jesus is a representation of love.
As I began attending the Sunday services, I was amazed by how moving the energy of “the spirit” was. Preacher always said, “Come for a word,” so that is what I did.
At the end of the church’s services, the preacher or other pastors or deacons call people up to the altar who would like to join the church, receive Jesus into their lives again, or gain some form of healing and clarity about a challenging situation they are experiencing.
I’ve approached the altar at the end of many services, but I’ve often questioned myself, especially when I’ve felt called to go up to let Jesus back into my heart again. “But, I’ve already come up here,” I’ve protested to myself. “Why do I keep feeling called to come up again?”
Even after officially joining the church earlier this year, I’ve still felt myself called to go up there when the preacher would ask those to come forward who wanted to join the church.
This morning, I arrived to church pretty late. (It’s tough for me to get there on time on a Sunday morning.) A different pastor was preaching today and he began to talk about fear. In that moment, I realized that I still have a lot of fear in my heart over things that I don’t think I need to be afraid of anymore. Upon hearing those words, I asked “God” to remove this fear from me.
When the preacher finished, he left the stage and a woman in blue walked up with a big gold cross around her neck. She began asking those who wanted to let Jesus back into their lives to come up to the stage. Standing already, at this moment, I instantly felt “the energy,” I call it, move me to walk up to the stage, but I resisted. “Why?” I said to myself as fear kicked in again. “But why do I have to go up there again?” I wondered.
Let me give you some background on “the energy.” Over the past several years, I have begun a journey of learning to trust the “inner guidance” I receive on a moment to moment basis in my life. I hear promptings inside myself of where to go, what to do, what to say, and to whom. So I do my best to have the courage to follow this. And, yes, sometimes I resist it because I’m afraid it could be embarrassing making odd requests to people, saying things to complete strangers that may be quite personal, asking that guy for his number, hugging and leaning against that tree, etc., etc. So, I hold back at times.
And today was no different. I felt the prompting, literally as if someone were moving my body, from my hip area, to walk up to the front of the stage.
I sat down. I checked in with myself: “Do I really need to go up there?” I asked myself. I felt “the energy” again. At first that impulse to go to the stage seemed to disappear. Then I could feel it again, “No, ok, it wants me to go up there,” I reckoned.
“O.K.,” I said to myself and “the energy.” I gathered my things and walked down the row and up the aisle towards the front of the church.
In the meantime, the woman in blue stood there patiently and persistently asking, with complete courage and conviction, for anyone to come up who was ready to receive God into their lives. As I approached the front of the church, I could see one lone woman standing there at the stage with her hands raised to the sky. “Oh, boy, I have to go up there in front of all these people?” I say to myself.
As I got up to the front of the church, I saw two people blocking my path to walk further. Relieved I didn’t have to walk all the way up to the front, I decide that was far enough, and I contentedly stood behind them. But, no, much to my chagrin, I heard a woman’s voice behind me say, “Go on, get up there. Don’t let anybody stop you from walking.” I felt her hand guide me firmly and encouragingly on my back as I walked in between the two people in front of me and further up towards the front. (A little girl in gold and I nearly tripped on each other. She was running alongside me as I walked further towards the stage.)
“Oh boy, here we go,” I thought to myself as I walked up closer.
As I approached the side of the stage, I stopped. “I’ll just stand here,” I thought, ” I don’t need to go any further. I’ve done this before, I’ve joined the church, I’ve let “Jesus” into my heart again. Maybe I’m just here to support this other woman whose walked up,” I thought to myself. But, no. This time a lovely, friendly looking woman in an orange melon colored button down walked over to me and said something like, “Come on,” as she gently put one hand on my back and held my other hand in hers, “I’ll walk with you the rest of the way.”
OK, by this time, I’ve realized, I’m in for it. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I just hoped I didn’t make a fool out of myself! “Why am I up here?” I really started to wonder. But, I was being swooped into it all. It was out of my control now.
In the meantime, the woman in blue, on stage, with the gold cross, started saying this prayer about letting Jesus into our hearts and believing that he died for us and all of that. I recited the prayer because I thought that’s what I should have been doing, even though I knew I didn’t totally believe in the words of the prayer, and “Then,” I think, “I can get out of this!” But, no, after she prayed with the other lone woman, she set her eyes on me.
“Oh, there is another woman who’s come up to the stage,” she said as she walked over to me standing there, alone. The woman in orange had stepped away.
“Did you recite the prayer?” she asked me on the mic.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Do you believe it?” she asked.
“Not totally, I think that’s why I keep coming up here,” I said to her (hoping the other parishioners would hear me and not think I’m crazy for walking up there all the time. I mean, I’ve never belonged to a Baptist church before. I don’t know how they do things around here!).
She started speaking more words and I’m just tearing up at this point. I didn’t realize it in the moment, but I felt totally vulnerable, exposed, as if I’m was someone who’d just come out of hiding. I was there, in front of everyone (I don’t even know most of these people), and I was seen.
“This fear, this doubt, it will never get in your way again,” she said to me.
Tears start sliding down my face.
“Will those singers on stage, some of whom are the same ones from that Easter Sunday Service last year, think I’m weird or dumb?” I thought to myself. And, “I don’t even know why I’m crying, but something touches me in the definitiveness of what she’s saying.” She was no bull shit, she was looking me right in the eye, she was saying this and believed in it and was doing all of this in front of all these people too.
“What is going on here?” I wonder to myself.
“OK,” she said in a deep and meaningful voice, ” with these tears coming down your face and all, will you repeat these words with me right now?”
I nodded my head and said, “Yes,” in a quiet and humble voice.
“Raise your hands up,” she said as she asks for someone to hold my coat. I put my hands up in the air. “Higher,” she said, “so we can all see them!” I raised them up as high as I could.
She began to pray with me. She said the words and I repeated them. I thought this was going to be the same prayer she had just said before, but it was different somehow, as if it was tailor made for me.
Suddenly, I wasn’t speaking anymore. I couldn’t speak actually. Something she said about believing she repeated a second time, and that second time I couldn’t even repeat the words. Something, some energy welled up in my chest and out of my mouth came not words. My hands flew up to my face and suddenly I was sobbing. She pulled me to her chest and hugged me, holding me as she spoke to the congregation.
“When someone breaks down like this it’s because they’ve let the Lord in,” she said with conviction, when what seemed like the entire congregation went into an uproar, cheering and shouting behind me, praising Jesus, the Lord, as I was totally exposed, crying, like a newborn baby, in front of everyone.
After the crying subsided, she looked at me again and proclaimed, “From this day forward your heart is forever changed!
I smiled softly as I felt more emotion well up inside of me.
She thanked the congregation and asked them to support me. After the service ended, I turned around and the woman, who held my jacket, handed it to me. As I walked to the car, a few fellow parishioners stopped to hug me or share their support.
Although I felt and knew that I had some more crying to do, grieving my past relationship with what “God” and “Jesus Christ” was for me in my younger years, I moved away from that experience changed. What will change or how I don’t know, but what I can tell you is the difference in what I feel in the center of my chest right now. Where there once was a sensation of something blocking my heart, there now is the feeling of an open, clear space that is full of a golden, white light, that I can see with my minds eye.
“What’s possible now?” I ask myself.
And what I ask you is:
What are you afraid of?
What blocks do you have around being seen, being loved, being heard?
What will be the key that opens your heart to the golden light of pure essence, of love, of “God?”
With more love today,