I’m waiting for God to show up.
Not like I’ve had a lousy day and feel abandoned, and I’m looking for a miracle of some sort to manifest in order to prove He still exists. One of my cherished signposts, perhaps; a coincidental number sequence or a prayer from a stranger or a feather, falling out of a wingless sky.
No, I’m actually expecting God to make an appearance, and quite confidently at that. And not just because I’ve come to church tonight, for the first time in years.
To begin with, this is no ordinary church.
There are five thousand, one hundred and thirty-eight seats in Overlake Christian Church, and nearly every one of them is occupied tonight. Two massive High-Def video screens float above an arena-worthy stage, guaranteeing even those in the nose-bleed section of the wrap-around balcony will be able to count the pores of whoever is standing in the considerable glare of the spotlight.
The crowd fits the wideness of the venue: Goth teenagers, yuppie couples (yupples?), bikers, grandmothers, pseudo-hippies, young Sears-and-Roebuck families with drowsy toddlers clutching sippy-cups and a fistful of mama’s hair.
These last incite the hover-mother in me; I wonder, where are the earplugs for these babies? My own ears will be ringing long after the night is over, I’m sure of it.
Because this is no ordinary church service.
There is a thin drift of smoke spinning out from the shadows stage right, weaving into a serpentine mist in the blue heat of the spotlights. The origins of the smoke will remain a mystery all night, adding deliciously to the rebellious feel of what’s to come.
A small, unassuming man with a mop of curly hair and dark, soulful eyes walks out, center stage, alone (by the way, I struggled repeatedly when writing this to find a better descriptor than the stereotypical “mop,” but it actually fits perfectly…his hair looked like it didn’t know whether to stand up, lay down, or take off on a dead run across his head); wearing black jeans, a plaid flannel shirt, worn work boots and a Gibson acoustic cradled easily across his torso, not unlike the sleepy toddlers limp and familiar in their mothers’ arms. With the first chord, the guitar proves wide-awake, however, swelling into a vibrant overture of sound more believable from a string quartet than from a single instrument.
And then, Trevor Morgan, the opening act, opens his mouth…and I know, in an instant, exactly why I came here tonight.
This is a Christian rock concert, and God is a mega-fan of the righteous, riotous hallelujah. Guitar-swollen anthems, raw, mythic vocals, all in heart-pumping celebration of Him—there’s no way He would miss this.
Personally, I think some of the greatest voices in rock history can be found in modern Christian music, and I’m pretty sure God planned it that way. And there’s little that gets me more plugged in to glory than the sound of someone’s soul bursting live through a wall of 18-inch JBL subwoofers.
And this voice, from a songwriter-recently-turned-singer, is an astonishment—soulful, huge, purely resonant and at the same time aching with world-weary human passion. Morgan does not make performing look easy; in fact, it looks as if he might be bleeding somewhere, and the words of his songs tell of struggle and doubt and the very real crying out for grace in the life of the everyday human.
For a breathless moment I’m not sure if I’m going to burst into tears or start giggling in startled delight. There’s no question for me that God has arrived. In surround sound no less. I feel Him, as clearly as the heightened pulse in my own throat, imagine Him leaning down from the balcony, stretched out across the front row with His fingers laced behind His head, toes tapping, nodding in grand satisfaction.
We are all on our feet, the five thousand; around me bodies sway and rock, hands lifted to the ceiling, a mass of movement like a bed of sea kelp in a high tide. I don’t notice the others, especially. I feel Mark beside me, close, caught up in God and the music like I am, amazed at the power of what’s being delivered up by a single man in the spotlight; by virtue of voice and heart and brilliant, impassioned poetry, a concert arena is transformed into a cathedral.
The magic is impressive. Morgan only sings three songs, then he’s gone as unobtrusively as he arrived; yet even during the break between acts, with the house lights up and the roadies testing microphones and drum kicks, I stay in The Zone…you know, that perfect place of mystery and connectedness, where the whole child-of-God theory is a bonafide, certified, glorified, flesh-and-blood truth.
And, it’s no wonder. After all, it’s been some 32 years in the making, this God and me thing. I revel in the fact that I can conjure the intimacy at will now, with very little effort, in the most distracting of worldly circumstances, and the is factor remains consistently epic.
Yes, I’m gloating a bit. But then, why shouldn’t I? I’ve worked incredibly hard to cultivate this relationship, and attain this level of faith…faith that feels, in this moment, unshakeable. Like, God and me, we’re tight.
Forty-five minutes later, I am wondering if God even knows who I am.
The headliners, Third Day, have stormed the palace with good ol’ Southern boy rock exuberance—more tales of a modern-day relatable religion, told with scorching guitar licks and another amazing set of pipes in lead singer Mac Powell. These are songs I love, songs Mark and I sing along with, along with the rest of the crowd; I, with a fleeting but urgent thought flung to the mothers in the hope that they have thought to cup hands over tiny ears against this relentless explosion of joyous noise.
About halfway through the show, the intro to a particular song inspires several minutes of prerequisite proselytizing by the band’s front man (this is a Christian concert, in a Christian church, after all), complete with quotes from the Bible and a mini sermon on The Only Way To God, the importance of the church, etc., served up with authoritative fervor on a wicked back beat.
Amazing how a few minutes of dogma can send me plunging headlong into the sea of others around me, made instantly and acutely aware of the rapt, dreamy attention being offered up to this impromptu yet expected electric catechism. One woman in particular, having left her seat in a kind of trance, is swaying in the aisle next to me with her eyes closed, hands raised to heaven, tears streaming down her face, mouthing amen, amen in fervent, nodding agreement to every imperious word.
It’s a scene straight from a Tennessee backwoods tent revival (albeit one with a soundtrack in full THX) and I suddenly feel as if I want to climb out of my own skin and run straight for the nearest emergency exit.
What difference should it make to me how others celebrate and relate to God? My beliefs are personal, and they remain intact and sacred regardless of external variables. The woman beside me isn’t dragging me out into the aisle, insisting I join her in her trance dance. The five thousand haven’t turned on me, demanding to know why I’m not waving at the ceiling with them or why my eyes aren’t shut tight in prayer. So why should I be disturbed by their particular expression of devotion?
Because it makes me question my own.
That is the uncomfortable and unapologetic truth. Uncomfortable, because I rail against the ease with which 32 years of a consciously cultivated certainty can be rendered instantly suspect in my own psyche. Unapologetic, because I am unapologetically human, and therefore subject, like all of us, to that most primal of human instincts: I must be loved/accepted/validated by the pack, or I surely won’t survive.
A part of me wonders, if God and I are indeed such intimate friends, what does it say about me that I’m not also swaying in the aisle in the grips of a virtuous swoon? If my hands aren’t in the air, won’t God overlook me in this vast ocean of ecclesiastic reaction? Does my eclectic take on Jesus and the Bible really count? What if I’m doing it wrong, Goddammit??
My angel husband is a Virgo to the core—thoughtful, pragmatic, impeccably organized. He also totally gets me. At his timely suggestion we decide to leave just prior to Third Day’s inevitable and wildly deserved encore, in order to beat the flood tide of cars attempting to exit the parking lot when the concert is over. I feel as if I’ve just been given a hall pass by a wise and empathetic teacher.
Out again into the cool, quiet night. My ears feel as though they have detached themselves and are hovering about six inches away from my head. Mark’s hand is strong and reassuring in mine, the noble grip of a best friend, and as we make the pilgrimage back to the car (this is an appropriately HUGE parking lot) we talk about the show, the songs, the feelings…and I find the world settling back into place around me.
God did show up. He always does. The magic is real—every bit as real for me as it is for the woman weeping and dancing in the aisle. Our beliefs, our ideas about faith and heaven and God and the paths we chose to get to that moment where He so clearly surrounded us, might be worlds apart, yet there can be no coincidence that we ended up side by side in the experience.
I needn’t question my relationship with God because of someone else’s, but I will, because I’m human—and the pack is represented not only by the family of origin, but by any group with a common purpose that any of us happen to belong to in any given moment. The neighbors. The Friday night book club. The people in line at the grocery store. Or five thousand Christian concertgoers, waiting to see God.
And the gift inherent in the questioning is the potential to go deeper, a motivation to pull God even closer than before and make sure we take all the human actions we can to strengthen and honor that relationship.
So I will continue to cultivate my magical, maddening, cherished love affair with God, in all the ways that have come to be mine. I will doubt, I will fear, I will question, I will grow. I will, at the end of the day, know the truth of my connection and feel whole.
And I will, without question, go to other Christian concerts, and probably find myself in church every now and again. Who knows…I might even end up dancing in the aisle with my hands in the air.
* * * * * * * * * *
The other struggle I had in writing this post, was finding a recording or a video of Trevor Morgan to link to that remotely does him justice as a singer. Even his recent CD, which is good, doesn’t begin to showcase THE VOICE we heard that night. And Mark and I weren’t the only ones who were devastated by him…it was obvious, in the immediate response from the crowd, that we were all witnessing something truly extraordinary. Personally, I think it was You-Know-Who, channeling bright and unhindered through Mr. Morgan’s considerable talents…and I can’t wait to hear more from both of them. In the meantime, here’s a small taste of the magic.
And Third Day? Consistently amazing…recorded and on stage. Always.