Ma 'Dear's Hands and the Doors of the Church

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The Story

Sundays were exciting times when I was growing up. I was always fond of wearing dresses, but wearing my church clothes felt extremely special. I remember the vivid plaid and floral prints, ruffles, shiny black patent leather shoes, and white-ruffled ankle socks. For some reason or another, my grandmother and aunties would put hems on my dresses to shorten their lengths. I did not like short dresses, so I would take the hem out and try to press out the creases.

It made my heart swell, even as a young child, to see the choir march down the aisle in rhythmic fashion to the stand, located behind a humble pulpit. New Light Baptist Church was your traditional country church. It was, and still is, a small wood-framed building painted white and speckled with colorful stained-glass windows. When I was young, the mesmerizing stained-glass windows captured my attention more than the whooping and hollering of the pastor. The way the sunlight would shine through the red, blue, green, and yellow panes reminded me of rainbows.

My wild imagination would take me outside the confines of the church to a place full of adventure, free from the silence imposed upon us children who were required to sit like soldiers at attention throughout the duration of the service. We sat quietly and observed the extraordinary behavior of robust women screaming, moaning, swaying from side to side, and fainting between the pews, or even in the middle of the aisles when the Holy Ghost came upon them. On many occasions, I pleaded for the Lord “not to let the Holy Ghost come upon me” because I was too shy to parade up and down the church, winding up unconscious in front of everyone. I didn’t want to get carried to the back of the church by the ushers so they could revive me with smelling salts!

The fear of such potential embarrassment, even as a child, prohibited my full engagement in the worship services at the Baptist church. I loved how felt when the choir sang, but my guard was always up to protect my body from being invaded by the Holy Ghost. I was afraid of it controlling me in an embarrassing and totally unnecessary manner, so even when I clapped my hands to my favorite songs, I was always in control, careful not to let my emotions lead to an exuberant outward expression of what I felt inside: joy!

Two of my favorite songs were “Steal Away to Jesus” and “In the Upper Room”. When I close my eyes and remember my past, I can still faintly hear the choir singing and see the expressions on Ma ’Dear’s face while she sang along. Ma ‘Dear was a hardworking, loving, and selfless woman.

Ma ’Dear loved singing “In the Upper Room,” so it became one of my favorites as well. Now, I realize, perhaps the church’s acoustics contributed to what I heard when the choir belted the words to this song; I thought the choir was singing “Indy-Up-Peru.” I did not know what or where Indy-Up-Peru was, but when the choir sang it, I knew it was a special place, and I wish I could have been there. It was decades later while listening to a sermon about Jesus being in the upper room with His disciples that I realized the song was entitled “In the Upper Room”. I chuckled to myself as a smile covered my face, recalling all the Sundays I sang out as loud as I could in unison with the choir, “Indy-Up-Peru.”

“Steal Away to Jesus” was another song that has held much meaning in my life, especially when I was a child. “Steal Away to Jesus,” considered one of many Negro Spirituals, was composed because of the enslaved people’s need to communicate with each in coded language. This ensured their captors wouldn’t understand what they were saying, allowing them to formulate plans to escape and gain their freedom. These songs gave the enslaved peoples an outlet to express yearnings for their native lands, dependency on the Most High God, desire for freedom, and their secret plans to escape from abuses inflicted upon them by their cruel captors.

Although I did not understand everything the preacher whooped about or everything I read in the Bible as a child, I understood enough to realize the importance of trusting in God and his promise to guide you through adverse situations and circumstances. Eventually, I also gained a greater appreciation for the individuals in my village who showered me with their time, love, and resources to make certain I had everything I needed and even some of the things I wanted. It was only recently that I was confronted with the conflict between who I was told I was and who I truly am. All I knew as a youngster was that Jesus loved me, I loved Him, and I was loved by my village. Because of this knowledge, I always looked forward to the warmth of holding Ma ‘Dear’s hand and entering through the doors of the church.

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