As improbable as it may seem, this is another true story...
One early winter I travelled to visit my new friend in Detroit.
We had met the summer before when he stayed at my hostel on Cape Breton.
This young man had experienced a very beautiful...and unexpected...
spiritual awakening there.
It was deep and transformative, revealing a very wise and tender-hearted soul.
He had recently become a Christian. I knew he had a tough road ahead of him.
I wanted to see how he was getting along and, in turn, he had asked me
to help him find a church to attend.
I was always ambivalent about that sort of thing.
I hated to see someone like this young man make a good start
in his spiritual life and then get caught up in a dead church.
Time and time again, once a church got a hold of a new 'convert',
they would misappropriate and ‘educate’ the Life right out of them.
Still, most people would feel the need of the support of a body of believers.
It just helped to show them how to navigate the scene...
My young friend and I would look for a church on Sunday morning.
But this was Saturday night and we opted for a long walk to talk
and get caught up on everything.
We walked for miles, it seemed, lost in conversation, until we found
ourselves on the mean streets of downtown Detroit.
The city was in serious decline by then with boarded-up storefronts
covered in menacing graffiti.
By the time we reached downtown, the sun was going down, the temperature was dropping fast and the atmosphere was anything but welcoming.
It was a long walk back and we needed to get warmed up before we made
the return trip.
We looked for a diner or coffee shop, but every place was closing
and the downtown was rapidly emptying of people.
It was too late to turn back and unwise to go forward.
But, as luck would have it, we eventually chanced upon a building
with an open door and a brightly-lit interior.
We ducked inside, hoping to warm up a bit and rest before the long trek home.
We found ourselves in a stately old building, quite at odds
with its surroundings in the deteriorating downtown area.
Once inside, we were fascinated by the rich architectural details.
We wandered through the halls leading to grand rooms, admiring the old carved staircase, the ornate tiles, intricate designs and marble wall panels.
The place reminded me of a turn-of-the-century Masonic temple.
We headed up the staircase to see what the mezzanine and the balcony held. We had been chattering away excitedly up to that point, but when we reached the balcony and surveyed the auditorium below, we quickly lowered our voices. Down below us, we saw a few elderly black folks entering the building.
They were carrying Bibles under their arms. Apparently the lodge had been turned into a church and we had intruded on their service.
We sat down straightaway and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible.
The handful of people gathering were thinly dispersed around the huge room. A few more arrived. There were perhaps a dozen or so worshippers scattered throughout that grand auditorium. They were mostly older, mostly women. They bowed their heads and prayed quietly or spoke in low tones while they waited for the service to start. Two or three more people joined them and then their prayer service began.
Not a very impressive gathering. No pastor or leader among them.
Just a simple gathering of humble black folks, heads bowed as they prayed quietly.
We sat as still we could, hoping no one would notice our presence.
After a time, a voice was raised...and then another.
The people began to pray out loud.
They prayed informally, each tending to their own concerns.
Before long, everyone had risen to their feet...all of them praying out loud.
It was a bit strange...all these discordant voices.
As they prayed, their prayers grew more fervent, more animated.
Then I heard a woman begin to pray in tongues...glossolalia...other languages.
I'd had some experience of that myself, but I wondered what my young friend would think of it. We had never talked about anything like that.
Soon another worshipper lifted her voice and prayed in tongues.
And another...and another. Soon all joined in.
Before long, there was an embarrassing cacophony of sound.
Then one of the women lifted her voice above the others
and began to sing in tongues.
I had never heard anything like it.
It was an eerie tongue and melody.
Her voice was strong and beautiful...confident and full-throated.
Then the others began to sing in tongues, as well.
The sound was confusing as they each sang different songs
in different languages.
Their voices became louder now and more emphatic.
I was embarrassed, not knowing what to say to my friend.
But then, in the proverbial 'twinkling of an eye,'
the most astonishing thing happened!
Their voices became ONE...
The most glorious song was heard...
It was beautiful beyond words!
Suddenly the entire dome reverberated with many hundreds of voices...
an invisible angelic choir.
The music we heard was incomparably beautiful.
It is so far beyond what can even be imagined here.
There is nothing on earth that it can be compared to.
It lifted us to our feet.
We stood frozen with our hair standing on end, transported
into what can only be described as a heavenly realm.
Tears streamed down our faces.
We were unable to speak.
Our eyes alone confirmed to each other that we were hearing
the same other-worldly performance.
The hall was filled to overflowing with voices singing in majestic tones.
The sound of their voices rose and fell and rose and fell together
for some time.
We stood transfixed in ecstasy...no other world existed.
Just as suddenly as they had begun, their voices rose and fell
one last time and they came to rest as one.
The Silence left us breathless...
Holiness had intermingled with this humble congregation.
A few moments of silence followed.
Then without fanfare or remark, the people quietly gathered their things,
put on their coats and left for home.