I went to church for the first time recently. Not the first time I’d ever been inside a church, obviously, but it was the first time I’d ever actually taken myself to church. No wedding or funeral or quinceañera. No family or friends. Just me. Going to church.
I wanted to hear the choir.
Of course, there was a little more to it than that, as there usually is. A conversation, a choice, a circumstance, but when the pieces fell, I really just wanted to hear the choir.
My parents rarely took me to church as a child, but they did take me to the gospel tent at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. And the music in that tent would fill me. It would give me this feeling I have no name for, this resonance in my bones.
I wanted that feeling. So I decided I should take myself to church in search of a choir that could make me feel it. I asked around and ended up at a Baptist church in a historically black neighborhood.
And for a moment, from my pew in the back, I sensed it, that feeling. Unfortunately, on this particular Sunday the resident choir was cut short, as there was a guest artist who performed, and I’ll suffice it to say that his brand of praise music was not my thing. But I did experience a moment, and it was a moment of joy, and that is all I can ask for these days.
And though it wasn’t what I went for, I did appreciate the sermon as well, on forgiveness, loving thy enemy, and praying for those who have wronged you. We’ve all been wronged. We all have something to hear in that.
The pastor was out of town, so the sermon was delivered by a guest reverend. In speaking about forgiveness, she brought up the lure of revenge and how Hollywood loves a revenge story. One example she used was the movie Waiting to Exhale. From the congregation’s immediate response upon hearing the title, it was clear that many had seen this movie and were familiar with the plot-line of a woman whose husband is leaving her for someone else.
The reverend elaborated. Not only does she find out that her husband…of eleven years!…is leaving her for another woman…but he is leaving her for a WHITE woman!… To which the crowd responded with several more calls of affirmation. People were feeling this example.
I was the only white person in the room. The aforementioned white woman. I could feel eyes all on me, real or imagined, and I did my best to keep a poker face, figuring that any of my potential responses could be construed as inappropriate.
The reverend backpedaled. Now, I don’t know why that made it worse, but somehow in the movie, that made her feel worse…
I’m curious if the reverend would have included this disclaimer had I not been present that Sunday, but of course I’ll never know, and ultimately it’s not important.
Either way, her words did not deter the young man sitting next to me from slipping me his number while we held hands during the closing prayer.
Really, I was just there to hear the choir.
Though really, I shouldn’t have to explain why I was there, or what brought me to that particular church on that particular Sunday, or why I love live gospel music, or any of it. I shouldn’t have to, and in fact, I don’t have to, and I know that, at least on some base level.
But over the last several months, I have felt judged for both not going and going to church. I’ve felt I had to defend myself on both ends. And that, in a word, sucks, though it is neither new nor surprising. Part of it is that perhaps I care more about what other people think than I thought I did. I’d like to pretend I’m over it, when the truth is, I’m still knee-deep.
And I have just begun my Jesus year, as some say, which I find both more amusing and more appropriate now then I would have ever before. It’s possible I could use a resurrection metaphor right about now.
However, I’m not anticipating enlightenment or a rise to the messiah this year. But I can still aim for more of that feeling. Resonance. And joy. Whether it comes from a gospel choir, or finally forgiving, or the weight of my own exhale.