The year was 1954, and it was the first time I can remember being at the “O’ Zion” Baptist Church in Blue Ridge Georgia. I remember it for a couple of reasons.
First of all, I had apparently at that young age already admired my Grandfather’s ability to get up and wave his hands around while people sang. I had no concept really of what a song leader was. I may have even thought that people wouldn’t sing at all unless Grandpa waved his hands around. It was the magic of the waving of the hands which caused the singing. I wanted to be magic too. I don’t remember whether or not I asked permission to do it, but I do remember being up behind the pulpit in front of the choir with Grandpa and “magically” waving around my hands. People were singing for sure, but they were all also smiling. I didn’t know they were smiling at me. I just knew they were happy and I thought it was the magic of the waving hands that was making it so.
Throughout all the years I continued to visit that church during my trips to visit my Grandparents, there would always be someone I would meet out on the street in town, or at the lake, or at the church who would inevitably tell the story about how tickled they were at the little four year old boy who helped his Grandpa lead the music. At first I was a little bit embarrassed about it, but as the “legend” grew it kind of bolstered my confidence in my musical abilities a little to hear how well I sang that day. It was one of the things which kept me singing over the years, and led to me being a soloist, songwriter and the lover of music that I am. Without the positive reinforcement of these wonderful “country” people I might have gone with my natural tendency to shyness and never have been able to perform in front of a crowd. I really thank them for their kindness and generosity.
The other thing that came to mind during the recent service was the way which the prayer used to be conducted at O’ Zion as they called it.
In an “Old Country” Church, anytime anyone prays; everyone prays. If a preacher starts the prayer, it’s not long until all the other people join in praying out loud, each offering up their own separate praises, requests, and wishes to their creator.
When I was little I thought this cacophony was pure noise. But as I go older, it started to take on a different quality. After a minute or two of listening, all of the voices began to blend together into one. There was no longer the ability to pick out one single voice and listen to it, it was impossible.
However, far from being just noise the prayers started to take on a quality of purity and holiness that I have not often felt since. They were almost musical and lyrical in their quality and there was a cadence to them that spoke of a sincerity it is hard to find in today’s world. You knew that God was hearing this and that he could understand each and every one of these simultaneous pleadings. As the prayers began to stop one by one as the individuals finished their contrition’s, it got to the point where it would come down to three, two and then finally just one voice, the voice of the preacher who would always be the one to begin and end the prayers. It was almost miraculous how they stopped. Never, ever all at once, but in an orderly fashion perhaps in the order of the importance of what they had to say or to ask of God.
I sometimes felt like a wind was moving through that Church. Even during the heat of August you could feel it and it was cooling and comforting. During December it would warm the body and cause the soul to glow with love. Some would call it the Holy Spirit. I won’t dispute their word on that. I don’t know if Churches anywhere still pray that way today. I think sometimes people may think it’s rude to pray out loud at the same time as another person. I don’t think it’s rude at all. It sort of just makes sense because then it’s not just a bunch of individuals weakly projecting their unheard mental thoughts towards the heavens, but a bunch of strong worshipers openly telling God their needs.
It makes a difference.
I know it does.