I awoke around 7am, my stiffened neck refusing to rise an inch after yesterday’s three-hour drive in a 4×4 truck, the cold morning pushing me deeper into soft cotton blankets, the sunshine bending its way through the beige folds of my apartment window blinds. I knew the moment I awoke that a glorious Sabbath was on its way, despite the butterflies bouncing around in my stomach.
‘More rest, need more rest!’
It was all my mind could conjure up. I turned on my side and snuggled deeper into the folds of the blankets, wondering if the dream was true.
I had never dreamt of the president before, even though I’ve said many prayers on his behalf and for our country.
For an instant, I passed over him. He was sitting in what seemed like the front of a classroom. His thoughts became apparent to me: “I can’t take this anymore. I don’t even know how she’s doing.”
What did it mean? I couldn’t help thinking about what kind of pressures the president must be working under, 16 hour days and probably barely able to keep up with family as the father he’d hoped to be. Was it Sasha? Was he wondering how she was doing in her schoolwork?
After snoozing for another hour I finally clambered out of my cotton nest, the excitement of the day stronger than the cold stale air of my apartment, air that lingered with the foul aroma of yesterday’s garbage, garbage that should have been taken out before leaving for work, work that left me an hour short of rest and in a hurry.
Out and into the kitchen I sauntered, wandering from there to my office, debating whether to start my computer and read email or find something to eat, slumping down into my black ergonomic chair then standing up again and heading for the kitchen, the desire to eat eventually outweighing all other concerns. With eyes still puffy I reached into the pantry closet digging for an orange box of high fiber almond-cluster cereal, delicious and healthy. It was baked in sugar and packed with crunch, a crunch that could only be softened by cold and creamy milk, whether hazelnut, almond, soy or dairy.
I sauntered back into my office. Picking up the choir music I sat down in front of my computer and crunched away, reading the words for today’s performance, “Wade in the water. Wade in the water. Wade in the water.”
I started my computer and launched my Facebook account, inspired by a new activity post, “God’s gonna trouble the wadda ya’ll!” Crunch, crunch, crunch.
It wasn’t until later in the day I realized just how literally the water had been troubled, though this time, not in a good way and probably not by God –the seventh largest earthquake in quake history had affected Chili and already taken at least 200 lives.
Spending a good 50 minutes rehearsing I finally convinced myself it’d be better to show up and sing imperfectly than to not show up at all. My friends apparently agreed, showing up one by one and piling into the couch room of the rustic brick church. We barely had time to run through all three songs: “Were you there?” “Wade in the Water,” and “Dry Bones.”
The jitters seized us, our warm-up went terribly. We were off key, out of tune, too high, too low, the wrong beat, the wrong time… close to a total disaster and far from encouraging. The only thing that seemed to go right was the closing prayer. It was a fitting prayer, fitting because it testified not only to the unknown moments that lie ahead through our tenuous voices, but to the theme of our music selections, the theme of black history month. No matter how hard the struggles we face, through thick and thin, highs and lows, freedom and slavery, slavery that once stained a nation before its civil war and its Martin Luther King, slavery that still exists today in our ‘modern’ times, whether behind closed doors, nearby or across oceans, we will shine, shine for Him.
It was ten-till-eleven when we marched confidently from the couch room into the brightly lit sanctuary, our heads held high, our smiling red lips and bright shining eyes complementing our neatly pressed red, white and black outfits. First were the announcements then beautiful hymnal praises followed by baby dedications, children’s stories, garden prayers, tithes and offerings, special music performances, prayers for evangelism as well as upcoming conferences. Then there more beautiful hymns and at last, introductions to our first performance.
The tensions swelled, our small talk and whispers to each other seemed punctuated by clandestine bursts of excitement as though we were newlyweds about to spend our first romantic evening together.
We climbed to the top of the stage, uncoordinated, each from a nearly different direction. As we took our places the sanctuary fell completely silent. Our breathing was the only sound, breaths that hoped to keep up with our racing hearts and still have enough left over to sing.
Our eyes fixated on our conductor, her face overflowing with amazement, confidence and a bit of fear, fear as though last night’s nightmare was about to become a reality –a swoop of her hand and we break into the wrong song!
One, two, swoop… ‘Werrrre Youuuu Therrrrre?’
We broke out triumphantly, on key and resounding. The flood of our harmony filled every part of the sanctuary like a raging river bursting over its banks, swelled from torrential rains over mountains and valleys. Sweet to the last drop we carried on with jovial expressions, swaying back and forth, our hands open and raised proudly at chest level as they held the precious words and notes of our first song.
“Were you there? Were you there?”
We finished feeling confident and secure, impressed that our hard work and dedication paid off so handsomely. We exited the stage and took our seats.
Our first song was followed by one of the most eloquent and symbolic speeches I’ve ever heard, every word rang out triumphantly, blooming with simple truth and beauty like a gorgeous lily in a fertile earthen field.
Joyful exclamations sprang from the audience like hungry hands across a banquet table filled with colorful, decadent foods. Even the birds outside seemed tuned in as they broke forth with songs of their own, complementing various dishes along the way… ‘Freedom! Freedom through Christ!’ they seemed to chirp.
Once again we took our places on stage. Thankfully, the beauty of our voices as we sang ‘Wade in the Water’ was no less magnificent than its flowery introduction. Though a difficult piece with a few strenuous moments to the summit, it proved a surmountable mountain. And yet, with only a second or two away from the apex, our voices fell out of tune.
Our blunder so near the end shook our audience with surprise, upsetting the gleeful ambience. Alas, after a coordinated ascent marked with pulsating staccatos like properly spaced pegs guiding us further upward, snapping rhythmically into place, supporting our bodies as they cleaved to the rocks and each other should the arduous climb prove too difficult, we reached the pinnacle, out of sync but safe at last. Our ears were left feeling hungry, a hunger as though the last bite of a delicious meal had been swiped-away by an amateur waiter.
Alas, spirits quickly brightened as dessert was on the way!
Following a candid and insightful preparatory speech by a fellow choir member, the vanguard of our young adult ministry, we took our places on stage for the last time. Once again, the sanctuary fell silent. Our eyes fixated exclusively on our conductor as we waited for the signal, the signal that was going to initiate the story of Ezekiel’s summon by the spirit of the Lord to bring life to dry bones, bones that formed the very body of Israel during a time of false worship and confusion, confusion over how it all began and who was responsible for this thing called life, life that in its finest image formed the reflection of its own creator, life that had left the body leaving nothing behind except dry bones.
The shadow of death had vanished from the valley, our song lifted splendidly to our Creator, our hearts pouring out every ounce of feeling we could put into it, the audience answering with applause and “Amen!” “Amen!”
Life filled the body.
We’d done it! We’d completed our program and achieved personal bests! We stuck together over the preceding weeks, setting aside time to rehearse and rehearse, laughing until our sides hurt on several occasions, arguing over sequence and tempo, colors and locations, pulling through, sometimes few in number, sometimes dry, wading and wading, constantly lifted by His grace and kindness as we crossed the finish line.
Oh how wonderful were the hours that followed, filled with feasting, laughter and prayer! There were meatballs made with nuts, oats and parsley and covered in creamy mushroom gravies, spicy pastas accentuated by textured soy-protein chicken pieces, fresh salads, veggie burgers, cheddar creamy potatoes twice baked, mini chocolate and vanilla lemon cheese cakes, rice pudding with toasted coconut and even caramel chocolate chip cookies that somehow survived the rehearsal and Bible study the night before. There were naps and snores followed by strolling around fields burgeoning with dark green shades of alfalfa, our laughter combining with the sun’s golden rays through a gentle breeze. Finally, we closed the Sabbath together with more laughter, music and prayer.
And yet, this Sabbath-rooted stream of consciousness wasn’t over yet. To finish things off we headed to a bonfire where we’d enjoy veggie dogs, chili, jalapeño cornbread, freshly baked cookies and brownies topped thickly with chocolate fudge icing.
The flames danced high into the night. Embers broke free with a crackle, sending redish-orange trajectories to and fro. The full moon seemed to carry them even higher as it crept in and out behind feathery clouds that at one point seemed to form finger bones, finger bones connected to a hand bone. Then the weary hand stretched outward in a curved motion as though backhanding the moon, pushing her aside as though saying ‘You’re not worthy of worship!’
Slowly the nimbus-like fingers and hands formed arms and a torso, the torso connected to a waist and hips, hips connected to legs and feet and before long this creature spoke. At first it was just a whisper as sprinkles dotted our freshly combed and curled strands of hair, sliding down our necks and raising the hairs on our arms. We didn’t listen, carrying on with laughter and conversation.
Eventually the old man stopped whispering and fell asleep, snoring loudly. Sprinkles turned to drops that seemed to fall faster and faster. Coats and vests became saturated. Curls went flat and freshly combed hair went wild as disheveled strands fell left and right. The old man turned out to be a blessing as we clambered into the warm house.
Embers in the fireplace seemed to smile sinisterly, their sparkling orange colors now the only supply capable of satisfying the demands of thirsty eyes, as though they knew their outdoor competition was being snuffed out, smothered by the old man.
Conversations quickly ebbed and flowed and rumors of games floated from one side of the room to the other. Much to the chagrin of many weary hands, a clearing was made near the fireplace for a game of Slapjack. The children, uncontained with enthusiasm, quickly slid between the cracks of adult knees and hips, finding themselves perched at the card table, starring back into each other’s smiling faces as the adults looked around with amazement and expressions of ‘What just happened to our game?’ Laughter poured out in all directions. Before long a separate game of Attack Uno was set-up for the youngsters who were no less enthused and bewildered as colorful cards were laid out in front of them. Although the laughter of the adults poured out at various times much louder than that of the kiddos, their little faces teemed with just as much joy and excitement.
The minutes rolled away, forming a mist that seemed to hover over the close of the evening. One game finished, another started. Conversations ebbed and flowed and before long groans of laughter turned to yawns and weary eyes. Soon came cordial goodbyes, followed by hugs, smiles and waves.
An effervescent Sabbath had taken its course, wadding through waters brimming with love and hope, atop mountains that had once looked way too daunting, through valleys reminiscent of darker days, yet with wayward paths over the horizon. It was a truly amazing day, bubbling like a spring that tickled our hearts and souls, encouraging our minds yet leaving us satisfied. It was a hallowed day, foreshadowing a way to deeper and deeper intimacy with our Creator through appreciating His creation, a preordained day, restful and shared, equally and alike.
My country tis of thee,
God blessed us joyfully,
may He bless our president,
and all those,
great and small,
forever yearning to bring us,
closer and closer,
higher and higher!
May He bless all nations joined together against tyranny, abuse and oppression! May voices and flags representing freedom and respect for basic human rights rise higher and higher and fly forevermore!
May He bless those being affected by earthquakes and tsunami’s, those who have lost or are now losing loved ones, and especially, those who have yet to know Him and be welcomed into His loving arms!
All glory be to His holy name. Amen.
Great Negro Spiritual by Whitney Phipps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNuQbJst4Lk
[i] Published June 8 2011 at 340 x 498 in Famous Fathers. President Obama with his daughters, Malia and Sasha. Uptown: Luxury, Lifestyle & Living. Online. http://uptownmagazine.com/2011/06/famous-fathers/u-s-presidential-candidate-obama-shares-a-moment-with-his-daughters-during-a-picnic-in-fort-wayne-2/