by: Greg Burkholder ((Header art by Gypsy Jema.))
Trickery laid bare but not called to task, where the faithful are “healed” by the Spirit of The Lord…
Y’all done forgot. So let me tickle the back of your brains a bit to nudge some of that collective amnesia out of there. You of course remember when the revival was in town, right? The Fires of The Lord circled overhead as people poured into the church. Everybody came. Every last one of you. Even them backsliders, after missing months of services, came bouncing back into the fold, and huddled together in the vestibule while they fought off judgmental glances.
My mom ushered me through the maelstrom of manly handshakes and lipstick. Through the thick scent of hairspray, the chorus lines of “brother and sister, so good to see you”. She led me down the aisle of blood red carpet to our usual pew a few rows back from the front. She plopped a coloring book and pencils in front of me, then leaned over the pew in front of us and whispered to Darlene until the service began.
The lights dimmed and you could sense that the Holy Ghost was there already as the last few stragglers collapsed into their seats and the pastor’s wife began to beat on the organ. A sacred mist permeated the room, portending an abundance of miracles, and my body buzzed. Wait no, it was only a smoke machine. Well, Pentecostals do pull out all the stops for their revival services, don’t they? They even hired a famous pastor for the full five nights to scream the love of Jesus back into the “devoted” souls in attendance.
The pastor parted the smoke and shouted a string of incomprehensible words that, I, if I hadn’t been raised in the Pentecostal Church, would have mistaken for the sound of someone being rather messily murdered. He was echoed from the pews by a slew of Jesus-drunk “Hallelujahs.”
The pastor’s face was already red and throbbing as he walked up to the podium. Usually the preacher’s face doesn’t start going crimson until a half hour in, when his blood really starts to boil with the love of Jesus. Tonight something momentous was afoot. The miracle vibe was everywhere. It clung to Paul’s stained glass ankles. Swung from the chandeliers. Swayed with the choirs gowns. And it was only a few seconds into the first night! What miracles, what blessings, were in store if the first blush with the Almighty was this wondrous?
The pastor grabbed the microphone with both hands. A wooden carving of The Passion of the Christ hung behind him, palms and feet forever bleeding out of the stiff, splintery blood of the world’s sins. The sacred fog dissipated and a pause that felt eternal filled the room. In the silence, if you listened closely, you could hear the thump of the drum beats from beyond the Pearly Gates.
“Jesus!” the pastor shouted. The pew bound prayer warriors repeated the war cry, their voices warbled and weeping and awed.
“I feel a miracle in the house tonight-ah” the pastor said.
“Amens,” filled the room.
“I feel…oh Lord…I feel it in my bones-ah…Jesus!!! Jesus-ah is in the house tonight!”
Another round of “Amens” reverberated throughout the chambered hall.
“Now I, I had a sermon all lined up for y’all but the Lord God is here. The Lord God is here, and the Lord God is good!!”
All across the church prim, hairy, and well manicured hands were flung towards the heavens like they were waiting were for the Lord to give them a high five. The place rumbled with eager voices and prayers.
“What I want to do…mhmm mhmm mhmm,” the pastor said, his body quivering. “Lord, what I want to do is call all of you up to the altar right now for an old fashioned prayer meeting.”
The pews began to empty.
“Everybody! I say everybody, the Lord is calling us tonight. Miracles are in the air! Miracles I say!”
The Pastor turned and whispered to the choir director. She turned to the choir, her face radiant, and raised her hands. Strobe lights fizzled and flashed and the choir rocked back and forth singing “Glory Alleluia.” As they flooded the aisles, the congregation’s tongues were so choked with divine love their Hallelujahs scratched out of their mouths as whispers.
The hem of Jesus’s stained glass robe shook with the sounds of hallowed voices. The choirs sung so loud they even shook the halls of Heaven and made the dead, as they walked the gilt streets, whip their heads around to see where the party was. But it was only us down here, yelling, in garbled voices, for the miracle that we knew was going to happen.
I looked up at my mom. She was weeping in the arms of another woman. Everything was okay though. People always weep during revivals. The pastor moved through the crush of bodies, searching for his miracle. I saw him lay eyes on me once, and panic shot through my body as his eyes were raging. Through the strobe light flashes and smoke machines I couldn’t tell whether he was man, angel or demon. He turned his head and lifted a tiny bottle of holy water.
“Come come!” he said as he flicked the water onto an old man’s forehead. The older gentlemen shuddered and then fell. The pastor laid his large, meaty hands on a tiny woman and she too, collapsed. People in the front pew ran to lay blankets on the people that were slain by the Spirit of The Lord. A large supply of blankets were kept under the front pew just for the purpose of covering up those in the throes of the Holy Ghost, but there were so many Godstruck people that they ran out of blankets. The congregation began stripping off their coats and laying them on the people as they babbled by the pearly gates.
Then the crowd parted. Jesus looked up from his cross. He knew this was the moment everyone had gathered here to see. This was why the pastor had abandoned his copious sermon notes in favor of bawling prayers and splashing liquid drops of Heaven of people heads. The miracle approached.
Linda Davies led her mother by the arm through the crowd. Everyone knew her and her mother, Shirley, for they had been faithful patrons of the church for their entire lives. Everyone also knew that Shirley had been going utterly blind for the past few years. The Holy Spirit that had pervaded everyone retreated to the walls to watch the divine unfold. The people lying on the ground started to come back into their bodies as the film of Heaven peeled back from their eyes. All turned to watch Linda and her mother. The choir softly hummed “The Old Rugged Cross.”
“This is the woman the Lord has called on me to heal tonight,” the pastor said. Shirley leaned on her white cane. He closed his eyes and took a deep whiff of the miraculous stench. His nostrils flared.
“She is blind” he bellowed.
“Yes” Linda said. “She has been for many years.”
“Brothers and sisters! Let us pray over this poor woman that she will not be shackled with blindness anymore!”
All the hands in the building stretched toward her. The murmur of prayers filled the place and the choir stopped humming so they too could pray. The pastor’s voice rang out above them all, casting out the demons from her corneas in the name of Jesus.
“I cast thee out Satan!”
The voices collided with each other. Then the pastor stepped back and lowered his hands to his sides.
“Look at me Shirley.” Nobody had told the pastor the woman’s name.
Shirley raised her gaze and stared at the pastor for a full minute. Then tears began to bleed from her thick sunglasses. Tears ran down Linda’s face as well.
“I can see!” Shirley roared. She tossed her sunglasses into the air and the congregation exploded into an orgy of praise, worshipping the mysterious ways of the Lord Almighty and the people’s’ wilted faith were restored to a full, pink bloom.
The following Sunday and the Sunday after that, when Linda led Shirley into the church vestibule by the arm, Shirley’s white cane clacking against the ground as she stared through her big, thick sunglasses and mistook the coat rack for Jerry, nobody said a word. You asked her about her nephews, her grandkids. You invited her to the potluck. You said she was in your prayers, and asked about her health troubles. Y’all forgot she was healed.
Greg Burkholder has a rare facial disorder called Treacher Collins which he enjoys showing off. His hearing aid is currently broken, though. His work can be found on The Mighty, Tuck Magazine and his blog, which he’s still trying to figure out how to operate.