Tongues of Fire, Part 2

Tongues of Fire, Part 2

“I see the youth sitting over there, our precious, precious young people,” Pastor intoned as he stalked to one side of the stage, reaching out to our youth group with one grasping hand while the other clutched the mic in a chokehold.

“I see them, and God sees them, and—he sees you, young people, did you know that?”

“Mmm-hmm,” we Youth mumbled. God took Special Notice of Us Youth from the pulpit about once every couple months during a Revival week. I knew what was coming.

“I said he SEES you, young people! Do you be-LEEVE that?” Pastor hopped down the short flight of steps from the stage and strode out across the sanctuary, headed straight for Us Youth. I slipped further down in my seat and stared at the hymnal in the pocket on the back of the chair in front of me, at the loops and swirls in the pattern of the carpet, anywhere but into the pastor’s bulging eyes. I needn’t have worried; I was seated in the center of the row—I was safe, probably. Pastor wasn’t going to scootch sideways down a row of gangly legs to grab a sullen teen from the middle; Pastor was on a roll, had to keep the momentum going, and the aisle seats were easy pickin’s.

As much as I wanted that touch from God, to be knocked senseless at the altar by the weight of his Glory and Majesty, I didn’t particularly want to flop around on floor to attain it. I didn’t want to tremble and gyrate, didn’t want to do that swoopy dance shaking a tambourine at the front of the sanctuary like those ladies in long dresses with their hair piled into poofy French braids.

I didn’t even want to lift my hands during the worship service. Maybe because Pastor told us to do it. The pastor at the church we’d finally settled into, after years of church-shopping, had no problem exhorting his congregation. At some point in the service, caught up in the fervor of the worship band’s swelling guitar chords and crashing cymbals, his face red and glistening with sweat, he would bellow: “I want you to all just lift your hands and praise him right now. That’s right; go ahead. Lift your hands! Praise his holy name! HalleLOOyuh! HalleLOOyuh!”

And on command, everyone around me would lift their hands, eyes squeezed shut, and praise God just a little bit harder than they already were, and people would shriek, and there’d be tears, and people would shout in their “personal prayer language” (PPL—another term for speaking in tongues, which of course, I couldn’t do), and all around me there was a cacophony of people experiencing God in all his blinding glory, except glory always seemed to skip my seat.

So, every once in awhile, when I was sure everyone was distracted in their own prayer bubble, or if I was sitting with the youth group and my mom was all the way across the sanctuary and couldn’t possibly see me, I’d try it. I’d close my eyes except for a sliver, force my arms up to my waist where they’d hang, palms upturned, like I was waiting for someone to dump a sandbag into them. My eyes, darting back and forth behind nearly closed lids, peering through my lashes to see if anyone was watching me. And of course they weren’t. They were all cresting their own waves of ecstasy.

Maybe mom had been right years ago. I guess there might’ve been some degree of pride involved. I didn’t want to look like an idiot. Especially if I didn’t feel anything.  Even if the other kids in youth group were dutifully lifting their hands at the pastor’s call, I still thought they’d all take particular notice if I did it. Why? Because, in all their teenaged piety, they’d somehow know I was faking, that the only warmth I felt was the hot flush of embarrassment creeping up the back of my neck. And their imagined smirks only confirmed what I suspected all along, that as spiteful and nasty and haughty as some of these kids were, they had still received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and I hadn’t, so what kind of filthy, dark-hearted wretch was I?

To be continued…