This seemed appropriate for Pascha.
How I found myself standing in the Holiness Church of Deliverance during a Wednesday night prayer meeting pointing a loaded pistol at Bob is a short story with long-term consequences. It started the week prior when Bob asked me to come to church. Bob is Pentecostal and I am strictly part-time high church so that puts us at odds theologically speaking, he’s dancing in the basement and I’m sleeping in the attic. In his own not so subtle way I know he is trying to proselytize me (I am long since immune), but we grew up together and he has been a good if somewhat too enthusiastic friend. So I agreed.
I found the pistol in Bob’s car on the way to the service. Small and compact it easily disappeared when I closed my fist. Without being too consciously aware of it, I slipped the pistol into my coat pocket.
As Pastor Wayne Mueller pulled the service along to it’s crescendo I felt the pistol warming in my hand. It was not premeditated, but during the altar call, with every head bowed and every eye closed (except mine) I discretely took aim directly at Bob. I unlocked and unloaded and in the last microsecond, I swear the water was en route, he leaned back and threw his arms up like a funnel to catch the Holy Ghost. Problem was, he ruined my shot.
The squirt went between Bob’s right arm and his head, through the Holy Ghost and hit a small, elderly woman whom I did not recognize more or less between the eyes. She fell/dropped like one of the little plastic parachute men children get out of the quarter vending machines at the entrances to restaurants. This was not a choreographed collapse like you see on TV when the so-called faith healer slaps people between the eyes with the palm of his hand and yells out, “In the name of Jesus be healed,” and the so-called healee falls gracefully into the arms of a waiting usher. This was a genuine, honest to God collapse. Slowly, first forward, then back, she threw over her aluminum walker, succumbed to gravity and crumpled to the carpet with her white beehive coiffeur still intact, water running out of her left eye like a dirty tear.
When she hit the ground it started a ruckus that I thought would never end, I’m not so sure it has, at least for me, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Her husband knelt beside her calling, “Grace, Grace” as he lightly chafed her cheek. Needless to say I did not ‘fess up. The last thing I wanted was to be known/thought of as a man who would engage in such tomfoolery during a Holy Ghost meeting. Everyone in the place congregated in a large circle around Grace gawking, unsure if she was dead or just dying. Even for a Pentecostal meeting this was something to see.
Pastor Mueller began braying, telling everyone to step back, to give the woman some air. Grace opened her eyes and looked straight at me. Or more accurately she looked through me or maybe didn’t even see me. Our eyes locked but there was no acknowledgement on her part, we were on different frequencies.
Just then the paramedics arrived, bundled Grace up and took her away, her frightened husband in tow. While waiting to clear out with Bob and bring this nightmare to an end, I heard several people say Grace was in the very last stage of inoperable, incurable cancer. The consensus seemed to be that at least she died in church.
Now I was really feeling poorly. I had scared an old woman to death, pushed her down the stairs of life. Outside, in the cool Arkansas evening while Bob smoked and talked tractor repair with one of his business/church cronies I dropped the pistol into the unshorn grass and ground it underfoot.
Bob was strangely quiet on the drive home. I thought for sure I was busted. He seemed to be struggling with something he couldn’t name.
“I just cain’t believe she died in church,” he finally said.
Despite my best efforts the truth was knocking hard, pressing to be let out. I started to mutter.
“I just cain’t believe she died in church,” Bob said again, relieving me of the burden. “I know you don’t know her but she is one of the sweetest souls you could ever meet. Would do anything in the world for ya. Her only daughter died a year ago in a car wreck, then about six months ago she found out she was eat up with the cancer. We were surprised she lasted this long. Wow. Dying in church. Now I seen it all.”
Bob reverted back to his reverie, aiming the car toward home, the headlights parting the curtain of darkness that cascaded shut in our wake.
I told no one and for a few days my life continued unabated on its long slow slide to senility. But ours is a nosy newspaper, rife with gossip and not immune to innuendo, to flights of fancy and spells of speculation. True to form there was the headline: Holy Healing At Holiness.
Halleluiah, I was off the hook. Hot damn. The story said the old woman did not die but rose from her bed, claiming to have been healed in church. She would tell what happened from the pulpit Sunday morning.
I called Bob.
“She didn’t die?”
“Naw man, she just got the Holy Ghost. Ain’t that great. We have witnessed us a genuine miracle.”
Bob and I were back at Holiness Church of Deliverance Sunday morning. It was as crowded as Easter Sunday when all the backsliders slink in. Nothing like a miracle to titillate the masses. Only it wasn’t. It was just me and a squirt gun.
The old woman, there was no frailty in her, ascended to the pulpit.
“I feel led to talk this morning because of what God has done done in my life. Most of ya’ll knows I been real sick, ate up with the cancer. Most of ya’ll also know I fell out during the Wednesday night meeting. I’m truly sorry for causing so much commotion. But what ya’ll don’t know is that right before I passed out, while Pastor was praying for the Holy Ghost, I felt the Spirit come upon me. It felt like warm water on my face, then I was taken up into the heavenly places.”
Grace stopped to wipe the tears of joy from her face.
“Lord it was purdy, shining so bright and I didn’t never want to leave. I saw Jesus and he looks just like His picture. He told me I was healed.”
He was telling me I was a heel for letting this go on. It was time for confession, time to set the record straight.
“That’s not right. She doesn’t know what really happened.”
I found myself standing amidst the stupefied stares. Grace stood stunned, my words had pierced like an accusation.
“Continue, Brother,” said Pastor Mueller. “Give us the word of the Lord.”
“I know what happened.”
For the second time I met Grace’s eyes. This time she was not looking through me, but in me. Expectantly. Trying to find my frequency.
Bob nudged me out into the aisle.
“What you think happened is not what really happened. It was me. I had a squirt gun in my pocket. I aimed it at Bob. I was messin’ with him during the prayer. Lord knows I know it was wrong and I never meant for any of this to happen. I had no intention of hurting anyone, especially you Grace. I mean, you seem like a decent woman and I know you think you’re healed, but it was just water.”
I stood, ashamed.
“Brothers and sisters,” Pastor Wayne said, “This man is a healer sent into our midst by a providential God, the God of Abraham and Isaac.”
“God has taken this unbeliever unto Himself and through him has revealed Himself to us.”
“We are all instruments of grace in the hands of the Lord.”
Lord no. No.
“Brothers and sisters the Lord is telling me that we need to lay hands on this young man, to share in his power.”
I fell into the dark embrace.
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