The Gift of Epiphany
Dec 3, 2006
Last weekend I went to church twice. I hardly ever go to church on Sundays so this was a real breakthrough. Friday night I attended a COGIC service in Chesapeake, Virginia. COGIC stands for Church of God in Christ. I, a white woman, raised a Catholic, along with another white lady and the ten children who perform in our abstinence/AIDS education performing arts group were all there. The service was supposed to start at 7:30 p.m., so we were there a bit after 7. It didn't start until 8:30. We were seated on one side of the large sanctuary and about 30 members of a choir were seated on the opposite side. The pastor closed his eyes and began to sing. I wondered to myself how it is that so many black people have such incredible singing voices? The other men on the stage, all of them rather large and utterly devout, raised their hands and closed their eyes and sang along. The praise service lasted almost two hours. We had no hymnals. The pianist played like Ray Charles, the pastor leading the sermon sang like Luther Vandross and the other pastor with dreadlocks closed his eyes and sang in rapturous devotion.
Amazingly to me, someone who usually dislikes the stifling constriction of chicken-squawking, thin-voiced white people howling unemotional, thinly-sung hymns with 19th century melodies that saw through the rafters and our ear drums and our souls in the hope of reaching God but succeed in summoning up the spirit of the tone deaf, dry loined, faith and truth centered, stock punishing, feather and knob smacking Puritan/Pilgrim hellfire members of the Church of the Quivering Brethren (nods to Stella Gibbon's Cold Comfort Farm) preacher who reminds us of the licking flames of hellfire where there is no butter to assuage our burns; I actually enjoyed this time of singing.
Instead of that journey into hymnal lyrics we sang prompted lines; "We praise you Lord, we are unworthy, you are the light of the world, you are worthy" --- stuff like that. And even though the lyrics were repetitious, the soul of the praising was real and I could feel the faith and the humility and the honor being given to God and the truth of their faith and the genuine gratitude on the part of the fold.
Two hours later, the dreadlocks pastor got up. And what a wonderful sermon he gave. He read from Jeremiah, a book we don't open too frequently. I don't remember what he read. But then he spoke about our relationship with God. People love to be stroked. They love to be praised. They don't like to be confronted with truth. We like to scan everybody else and see their faults but we don't like to scan ourselves. We go to the pastor, or a friend or someone and confide our problems to them and look for a hug. And that's nice and it feels good for a moment but it doesn't solve our problem. So then we go to God and we tell him everything. Bring it all to Jesus, bring it all to God. Tell them everything, every little detail, every question, every doubt, every pondering, and offer it all up and be true to the still, small voice within. Because it goes beyond the hug of the pastor, the hug or reassuring words of the friend, and it reveals to us the essence of life and what it's all about.
The pastor talked about his brother and cousin who were shot in a holdup. The cousin died after a gunshot wound to the head. The brother was shot nine times and called out to God for help before he blacked out. A week later he woke up in a hospital and now he doesn't have any "problems." God saved his life. The phonebill isn't a problem, a fight with a friend, the need for a job - all those things are so small compared to the near loss of life. Perspective.
That's what I got praising God at the COGIC church with my black brothers and sisters. I learned, I prospered, I began again. Hallelujah and thank you Lord.
[written on October 27, 2005]
Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.
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