ACW

ACW

Friday, 23 September 2016

I don't see that joy, sister! - by Helen Murray

Here's a little anecdote. A true story. 

New York city, nineteen ninety something. Backpacking with a friend. The Empire State building, the Twin Towers, the Staten Island Ferry and the Statue of Liberty in one weekend and then, before we caught a train somewhere else, Sunday worship at a cavernous New York church.

It was held in a huge theatre right in the heart of Manhattan. There were thousands of people swaying to music and and the service hadn’t even begun.  A vast gospel choir in red and purple robes with big white collars straight out of the Blues Brothers had a band with guitars, keyboards, a five piece rhythm section and more brass than you could shake a stick at. Swirling spotlights played on the congregation as the music got louder.

Then, without warning, a small, bald man with an impossibly shiny head trotted out from the wings, bowed to the assembly and began to convulse. Nobody bat an eyelid; indeed the band started to play - it turned out that he was conducting, and with such energy that it looked as if he’d been electrocuted.

The place erupted. Everyone was on their feet, reaching for the heavens, calling out, and dancing with abandon. They were full of the Spirit and He was bursting out all over. I could only gaze in awe at the uninhibited celebrations all around me  – I was overwhelmed by something I’d never seen before (or since, actually); something so wonderful but a world away from church back home. No, further than that.


Worship here was a whole-body experience. Fingers outstretched, arms waving, hips gyrating, eyes tight shut and expressions of ecstasy or pain – it was hard to tell which. The aisles were full and so people danced even in the confines of their rows. 

For me, trapped mid-row, twenty oblivious cavorting bodies between me and the aisle at either side, I felt my personal space somewhat invaded.  

Despite being stuck in the middle, I was definitely on the outside looking in. You might say that I was significantly outside my reserved, Anglican comfort zone.

Not knowing the unfamiliar songs I hummed along. I had my hands very firmly in my jeans pockets. I have to admit that I became so carried away with the music that I may or may not have perhaps been tapping my right foot.

They were singing a song about the joy of the Lord. At last! I knew this one! I could remember the words and with what, for me, passes for great gusto, I added my little warble to the beautiful harmonies and counter harmonies that were so effortlessly and energetically offered all around me. I began to enjoy myself.

Until.

The very large orange and purple clad lady gyrating to my left nudged me in the ribs with a meaty elbow and leaned over to bellow in my ear:

‘I don’t see that joy, sister!’

Well.

I don’t know if she expected me to switch it on like the Oxford Street Christmas Lights, maybe, but what joy there had been – and there had been some, actually, easing nervously out of its hiding place,  limbering up for something a bit special - like a bit of swaying from foot to foot, maybe - well, that bit of fledgeling joy panicked, elbowed his way through the crowd and fled the theatre right then.

She didn’t see the joy. Well, I can understand that.

It would take a trained eye.

It was there, though. Honest. 



Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

Having spent time as a researcher, church worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently supposed to be working on her first novel. Or at least working on something. 

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack thereof. It's been a while since there was anything to report, but she hasn't given up.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01





13 comments:

  1. We have to be so careful what we say, don't we? Father God saw your joy and that is who matters. Sounds like an incredible church. Slightly different from my own...

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    1. It was an incredible experience. I was really enjoying it until that point! I think I am among the most inhibited people I know, however.

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  2. Yes, I know that feeling! There's something about church culture and types of spirituality here. I've been in situations where those who aren't the same spirituality as most other people are judged. It ain't good!! It's also about 'why'? All this jumping up and down is great ... but does it lead to spreading God's Kingdom? The joy of the Spirit is, after all, given to us for a purpose ... not just to have lots of fun.

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    1. Well, I don't know. There was a very real sense of the Holy Spirit; the people were genuine in their extravagant worship and the lady next to me was baffled as to why I wasn't joining in. I suppose she couldn't understand how I could sing about joy but not be expressing it (in the way she understood an expression of joy).
      Interesting point about the joy of the Spirit, though. I'm not sure I agree that it is 'for a purpose' other than to have fun. I think joy is a by product of our relationship with God, which is our entire reason to be - the lady with the elbow and I just expressed that joy in very different ways!
      Thanks so much for your 'me too'!

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  3. You told this story very well! I could just see it all. I think you should have said, 'You may not see joy, but you can clearly see this big bruise I've got now from your meaty elbow.'

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    1. Ah, Fran, that's what I should have said! I think I muttered something like, 'Sorry. I'm English.' and then shrivelled up.

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  4. Aw bless you Helen, loved this story. Brilliant description of the little bald man with the 'impossibly shiny head'. Thanks for sharing :) :)

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    1. Thanks, Mandy. You'd have been right at home! ;-)

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  5. Haha! Sorry I'm English! That's what I would have did while wanting to say, I beg your pardon? It's God who sees it whether you do or not. Great story. I winced with you 😉

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    1. Thanks Deborah! Wonderful to behold, buttock-clenchingly awful to be part of. But a great story; certainly one I'll never forget!

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  6. With strangers, fine, me. It's the problem of arm-waving around people who think they know you and who you are ... like what's the somewhat sceptical academic type doing dancing to the worship songs? :-)

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  7. With strangers, fine, me. It's the problem of arm-waving around people who think they know you and who you are ... like what's the somewhat sceptical academic type doing dancing to the worship songs? :-)

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    1. I think it's a good thing that God can see our hearts, don't you? What happens on the outside isn't always a good indicator of what's happening on the inside. Thanks, Mari.

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