Sunday, February 2, 2014

Big Tent Revival

The blue-Christmas light glow of the moon shot him back to the memory of his childhood.  The warm smell of the wet grass and the humid air and the chirping of the locusts.  It reminded him of the big tent revivals he sat through for nearly a decade deep in the heart of Mississippi, revivals full of hell fire, brimstone, "amen's" and "praise Jesus's."

And then the light as he walked towards his car after his third board meeting of the day was the same, the reflection of the moon came down blue making the shadows of the parked cars look like they were glowing.  It was the same blue of the parking lot lights of his grandmother's church glaring through the billowy white folds of the tent, strung up and held high for ten days during the hottest part of July.

When he was young enough for his mother to tell him what to wear, he would sit there, in his starched white collared shirt and pray for nothing more than a breeze.  He tried to think about all of the bad things he had done: pinching his sister, stealing a cookie from his grandmother's jar of Oreo's meant only for his grandfather, or that morning when he had rushed a group of ducks in the pond between his house and their neighbors.  But instead of forgiveness, the only thing that he could think to ask God for was a bit of cool air, some relief from the suffocating heat that seemed to be trapped all around him under that vast tent.

He remembered looking up to the pulpit, watching the preacher sweat through his shirt, the rivers of damp expanding wide on either side of his suspenders.  He couldn't feel any breeze inside of the tent but would sometimes catch constant a beating pulse, hot as the air surrounding him.  It was the church ladies' fans, each with a new scripture printed and handed out every night.  In their hats and white gloves and moist wool dresses, they feverishly pumped the sticky scriptures back and forth in front of their faces so fast it caused the tent to look as if it were inhaling and exhaling, in and out, in and out, the feverish the panting of a hound in heat.

Sometimes the women fainted, the warbling of their high-pitched voices calling out "Oh Jesus!" as they slumped over and down onto their neighbor before dropping onto the flattened grass beneath them.  He knows now that it was the heat, the suffocation of the too-many bodies and the dehydration and the humidity.  But then in that tent in that heat in his ten-year-old mind, he felt the presence of God, moving around like vapor, like a more tangible ghost that touched and swelled and squeezed the hearts of the congregation.  He felt the squeeze in his own small heart when he remembered the Spirit.  He had been taught that it lives in all of them, even in him, even in his sister.  And whenever he thought about the Spirit, that presence that had to be invited in and could never leave, he would feel his heart constrict, tighten, his already quick breathing become even quicker.  He imagined a tiny person in his chest, a small bearded man that would grab onto him and hug and squeeze and flex his tiny muscles around his tiny pumping heart.

It had been a long time since he felt a squeeze on his heart.  He came back to himself, there, walking through the parking lot.  He didn't want to get into his car yet, to be greeted with the reminder to buy gas, listening to the synthesized songs on the radio whose singers voices weren't even their own and their "music" was created by a computer.  He leaned against the car door, remaining there, in that intoxicating nostalgia, that thick as mud memory of his years fearing preachers and Satan and worldly ways, he could avoid thinking about his present, his current distractions, his own adult problems.  He wished he could return to a time when the worst thing he had to endure was a suffocating heat for three hours with the promise of pecan pie and Cool Whip on a paper plate, kicking his feet as he swung on his grandparents' porch, smiling wide in gratitude for the breeze that God gave him as he moved back and forth, back and forth, back and forth on their swing.

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