This week, I challenged Karla at Tot Thoughts with the prompt, "I'm not afraid to die."
I was challenged by Alyssa Goes Bang. Her prompt was:
Ah! The misguided youth!
Here's my response.
"Close your eyes and start making sounds," the pastor told us. "Don't worry about what it sounds like. Start by saying bah bah bah."
The youth group met in the basement of the church, in a room in the back with a closed door. They taught us a lot of things in that windowless space; things about sex and death and demons. Today we were inviting the Holy Spirit to possess us. If we were earnest and pure, if we concentrated and believed with every tender fiber of our beings, we might be visited upon and finally granted our "prayer language."
My father's prayer language had been confirmed by a traveled and well respected missionary who had only just returned to the Americas. He recognized my father's breathy, "Ahh- sha- dah dah dah" as being part of the native tongue of a remote African Tribe. It wouldn't come to you so complete, though. You had to move your mouth and work your throat and invite the Lord into you, to fill you and use you. It was sort of a right of passage in the church to gain the skill of speaking in tongues.
I knelt next to the other kids, my knee resting obviously against Jeremy's thigh. We all lined up next to one another and squeezed our hands in front of us, pressed our bodies into the ground, splayed and prone in invitation to God the Spirit. Jeremy was a boy who didn't have a dad. He suffered from a hyper activity disorder that made him edgy and unhappy most of the time. He didn't like to talk about things, and I liked talking to him.
"Bah, bah, bah, sha, bah," I uttered a long string of hopeful syllables. "Enter me, oh Lord. Use me, oh Lord. Use me, use me, use me."
Sometimes I'd feel Him, at the base of my spine, creeping upward, warming me and washing me, inside. I could feel Him on my tongue. I didn't have my prayer language yet, but I was close. The Holy Spirit was elusive. He was seductive. He would only come upon me when I deserved him.
Jeremy nudged me with his elbow and made a little motion at me with his tongue. I felt God in my thighs. Last week, after Wednesday night service, I was dizzy from the effort of begging Him, of seeing Him, of knowing Him. Jeremy asked me to take a walk and he led me to the narrow alleyway behind the church.
"I like you," he said.
Warnings rang in my head. Sunday morning's lesson had been about resisting the temptation to allow dating and heavy petting to get in the way of our walk with the Lord.
"It's cold," he said. "Give me your hands." He pulled at the sleeves of his shirt until they covered his hands. I slipped mine inside, my fingers probing his cotton warmth. "I want you to like me, too."
The truth was that I did like him. When I thought about him in bed at night, I was hot and confused and slept fitfully, dreaming of pale pink softness and eternal damnation. I turned my back to the cold wall next to my bed and pressed my body against it, grounding me, bringing me back into the lap of The Father.
Jeremy's hands were warm. He was standing so near that I could smell his peppermint gum. The light from a lonely streetlamp glinted off of his braces. I shivered against the October air.
"You're shaking," he said. "Come here."
I knew I shouldn't. I stepped closer to him. There was a tight knot of excitement in my stomach. He wrapped his long boy's arms around me and before I could think about what I was doing, I raised my face to him. I let him part my lips with his slippery tongue. A floodgate opened and I was drowned in an exquisite kind of guilt, so that my body vibrated and my clothing was suddenly scratchy against my skin.
Now, we were kneeling together on the patchy, worn carpeting of the Youth Group room in the corner of the basement. The air was alive and electric. I could feel him on my tongue. I opened my mouth, pressed lower to the cold concrete that waited under everything and gave myself over to a new language.
photo by Michael Swan