Saturday, October 27, 2007

Becoming Churched

While mother was sick, I went to Church each Sunday with my dad. Dad was a counselor in the bishopric and so we went early and entered a quiet, almost empty chapel. Dad had business to attend to before the meetings and I’d find “my” bench, the second brown, wooden bench in the center section, sit down, and fight the feelings of aloneness and detachment that began to swell in me like seasickness. Being alone is uncomfortable. Being small and alone is terrifying. To my right, metal trays clanked as priests prepared for the sacrament. To my left, people slowly trickled in through large double doors. As the minutes went by, more and more people came, towering over me, moving, talking, smiling, but not at me. I was invisible. However, about the time the feelings worked their way into my eyes where they threatened to spill out in tears, the organ began to play. Organ music is unlike any other–especially when playing hymns. Most music communicates directly to the ears. Organ music communicates deep into the marrow of the bones and then quivers its way through every cell until at last it reaches the ears. Felt before it is heard, organ music has a tangible element that wrapped me in its goodness and began to comfort away my fears.
Dad sat on the stand with Bishop Duncan and from where I sat in the huge sea of the congregation all I could see over the podium was Bishop Duncan’s snow white hair and Dad’s brown, spiky crew-cut. It was a strange feeling being among so many people and yet feeling so alone. The beauty was that once the meeting started the feeling of aloneness vanished. I forgot all about me and was suddenly part of something more–I never understood what, but I could feel it, and I knew it was real.
This particular day Dad was conducting. His familiar voice sent extra comfort into my heart as he gave the announcements. Then came more organ music and all those people joined in for the opening song. By that time–just minutes into the meeting–more than just comfort filled me. Utter joy enveloped me. I can’t sing. As Dad used to say, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket!” but I loved the hymns so I’d open the hymn book and sing with my heart letting everyone else’s voices wrap around mine to disguise it.
After the singing, came the quiet moments of the Sacrament. I’m not sure how old I was. I know I hadn’t been baptized yet and didn’t fully understand the Sacrament, but what I felt means more to me now than all the understanding I’ve since gained. A quiet, transcendental feeling lifted me, instructing me without words and filling me with awe at the paradox of ordinary bread and water representing the most crucial moment in the history of the world.
I realize now that sitting alone made me more perceptive to what was going on. When I was sitting with Mother the borders of my awareness extended only to her. Like a satellite my world rotated around her going where she went, doing what she told me to do, not thinking or experiencing anything but her. When she was there to care for me, I was oblivious to most everything else. But being alone I had to care for myself and that meant being aware. Thus my borders expanded to the very walls of the chapel. I saw things and felt things that I would never have experienced had she been there.
After the Sacrament, Fast and Testimony meeting began. My tall, handsome father stood, bore his testimony, and invited the congregation to share theirs. I knew Dad was speaking to everyone, but for some reason that day I felt like the invitation was especially for me. I had never had that feeling before–had never born my testimony. But I’d been to testimony meetings every month of my life and so I knew how it was done. There were no microphones in those days, people just stood where they were and began to speak. Usually I loved to hear the many different ways of saying the same thing–the gospel is true!–but that day I didn’t hear a word. All I kept hearing was Dad’s invitation and the words bubbling up from my overflowing heart.
As each person sat down, I’d command myself to stand up. But despite the desire, fear cemented me to the wooden bench. Faster than ever the hour passed until I realized that if I didn’t stand next I wouldn’t get to. That thought pushed me up, and I stood to bear my simple testimony. I don’t remember how I began, but I know that I was saying, “I am thankful for my parents,” when my Dad stood and thanked the congregation for their testimonies. Startled, I stared at him hoping he’d see me and invite me to go on. Instead he announced the closing hymn and the person who would give the benediction. My face burned in what I was sure was real fire as I sank to the bench without an amen.
I didn’t sing the closing hymn, nor did I feel the organ music surge through me. Instead I battled the feelings tearing at my heart. The prayer said, I ran from the chapel and didn’t stop till I reached home. Mother tried to tell me it was all right, and when Dad got home he apologized. I could tell he felt almost as badly as I did. He explained that it was only after the meeting when people told him what he’d done that he knew he’d interrupted.
It was five years before I attempted to bear my testimony again. I had one and I knew I had one. Even though my first attempt at bearing it was a disaster, the feelings that had prompted me continued to grow in proportion to the fear that kept me from doing so until one Sunday the feelings overpowered the fear, the legs stood firm, and the words came. It was then I learned how much stronger faith is than fear. Faith fed by years of organ music, congregations singing, people doing what’s right, people making mistakes yet trying hard to do what is right, talks and lessons accompanied by the warmth of the Holy Ghost, and especially the spiritual banquet of the sacrament slowly healed my fear.
I think that’s one of the reasons why I still love Sacrament meetings. They heal.


David Wall said...

I've never thought about organ music this way, but you are right. Pondering now, i see the spirit in it. Thank you for your testimony Sis. Johnson. Each time you bear it, no matter what you are bearing testimony of, the spirit is there. It is wonderful to feel the spirit so often in your class, thanks again.

The Edwards Family said...

hmmm wish I was in your class...wonderful, touching story~ thanks for sharing.

Renee` Montgomery said...

Whatever this sacrament ritual is, it must be remarkable.

Amy Gordon said...

That was beautiful. Thank you.

Sherrie Mills Johnson said...

Renee', It is remarkable!

Megan H. said...

Sister Johnson,
You are so inspiring! I love listening to you teach and reading your essays! They are so sincere and spiritual and help me so much! You state things so well. I'm glad that you decided to share your testimony with others through your blog!

Sherrie Mills Johnson said...

Megan, Thank you! You are so kind.