I pray with one eye open at these services, as I fear that I may miss a significant event such as a tossed toy, a runaway resident, a pinch and a shove, or even the return of the Lord. Any of those have an equal chance of happening if I close both eyes to pray.
We’ve been attending church here for about 3 months and honestly; it’s a beautiful experience. Imagine mashing the spiritual passion and activity of a Pentecostal church* service with the unpredictability of live television. Perhaps that’s what’s missing in most mainstream Christian churches today, passion and unpredictability.
Here, in a service designed for Special Needs individuals with as broad a range of needs as you can imagine, The Holy Spirit not only has, but exercises free range and while I have no doubt that [He’s] present at all the other churches, I think His preference is here, with the people who love him unconditionally. They love Him with screams, slurs, and wiggles. They love Him through plastic microphones that they brought from home, plastic toys, and rattles, occasionally lifting up an empty DVD case as a testament of total surrender to His power. Some clutch a dollar bill in their tight hand, waiting for the collection plate to be passed, others hide in the back. Some worship him through song, bolting from their chairs and leaping onto the little stage at the first few chords of a familiar song. They wrestle the microphone away from the worship leader and launch into their own interpretation of the song – unaware of our conventions of inappropriate behavior.
It’s beautiful, the mismatched clothing; neckties worn over tee shirts with shorts, black socks and dress shoes, all easily overlooked when you see the most important feature in the set: the huge smile and full-body engagement between singer and song. I’m witnessing a real-time, direct pipeline between man and Maker. The cacophony is unnerving, frightening, and distant for those who can’t see what’s really happening here but for me and for the moment, numbers are meaningless, logic is a farce, hope is unneeded, and love in its truest sense is pouring through.
Times like this I feel silly and ashamed about the things that consume my life. My work worries seem so insignificant, my assumptions about personal power, status, and meaning, finances, you name it – anything that has to do with me; they all become a drone of chatter in a world full of impotent noise. I suddenly feel somewhat vulnerable for having placed so much faith in myself and I’m not sure how to move forward, yet another reason to keep one eye open.
In that uneasiness I hear a rush from the back as one resident sees the bread and grapes that are intended for the communion service that was yet to happen. Communion in the church is a sacrament, a Holy action that involves the eating of one little piece of bread and taking a small sip of juice or wine. It’s done as a reminder of the sacrifice that Christ made – offering himself to save us. People who partake of communion are to do so with a “glad heart”; this resident shot down the aisle when no one was looking, grabbed a handful of bread and shoved it in his mouth. Had no one stopped him, he’d surely have made short order of the grapes as well (rather than messy grape drink they offer a single grape). Another reason to pray with one eye open.
The invitation is given to take part in communion and row-by-row, the attendees make their way to the front of the church. There are no straight lines here and only a mild semblance of order. Some are able to walk, others are unable to walk and roll their wheelchairs, walkers, and other devices forward, and more still are reminded to only walk. At the front, communion’s offered in bread or gluten free wafers by a patient, warm-eyed pastor whom lovingly whispers: “this is Christ’s body, broken for you”. A typical response from the worshiper is: “Glory be to God”…not here though. From one worshiper a loud, booming voice yells out: “Yeah man!” from another comes a sheepish giggle, and yet from another, a loud scream. “Yeah man”… dare I ever show such exuberance at worship? I fear not. Lesson learned, this time with both eyes open.
Bethany is with us as we take our turn at the table, it’s the first time Bethany has ever taken communion. Typically in the church, you have to make a confession of faith – the public admission that Jesus is your Savior; from there you’re allowed to join in the sacrament. Bethany will never be able to utter such things nor will she hold our concepts of what God is, in her thoughts. Come to think of it, it’s the first time Bethany has ever been with us this long in church. Most places frown on screaming, and rarely does the crowd openly giggle and smile when an audible and impressive fart is offered. For these very reasons, she’s spent her entire spiritual life out of the sanctuary, something that one day I’ll be held spiritually accountable for. For now though, she’s here and it’s her turn. She gobbles down the bread, eats the grape, punches no one, and cheerfully walks back to her seat with us.
This time, in our seats I give thanks. I drop into a heartfelt, deep prayer thanking God for placing Bethany in our lives. I thank him for the struggle that this has been and the struggle that it continues to be, how it’s shaped our lives, how she as an instrument of His grace has moved so many people’s lives and how through her blindness, so many have learned how to see.
I prayed this time, long and hard – experiencing that direct line with God that I’d seen earlier in the service. I didn’t care any longer about what I may miss, if something would hit me or if someone would run off. This time I prayed with all my heart and saw more than I ever could have imagined; with both eyes closed.