After a person does certain things long enough, they become mindless. As a Pinkerton security guard in Bethlehem, PA, I worked the graveyard shift at a Champion Spark Plug factory. Combine the routine of rounds every half hour with the cloudiness of a mind that needed rest and one would have to wonder how secure the factory really was … at least on my watch. Often I returned from my rounds, uncertain if I had just completed them.
We all have routines that require little more than showing up …
I have them today as well.
As I pressed the green, mushroom shaped plunger-button on the outside of the double metal doors, there was a barely audible buzz, and I knew there was just enough time for Martin and I to gain entrance before the locks re-engaged.
Martin was my thirty-three year old guitar.
People were beginning to assemble in the common room. Normally I would look for 15-20 people plus “helpers”. This week there were no “plusses” … just me, my guitar and the regular group of Alzheimer’s patients who normally attended the half-hour church service that I was there to conduct.
The routine began when I was actively pastoring a nearby church. I would take “my turn”. It became a once-a-month experience for me. Honestly, there were many weeks when I left with questions.
Was I there because I was paid to be and the exercise would make me look good to my parishioners?
What possible good could there be for the people who came and sat … they would never remember the experience when it was done. My cynical self suggested that Sunday morning services were the same for most or far too many people.
Thirteen months after retiring from vocational ministry, with no one to impress, I was still there … by choice. It was a delight to discover that ministry was still my heart even though its vocational expression was not.
Now what … no helpers to distribute the hymn/chorus books and help the folks find the right pages.
Answer … I’d sing songs so over sung that the patients would remember some of the lyrics at least. I have a dear friend who observes in her Mother’s journey, that “Alzheimer’s patients remember with their hearts, not their heads.”.
I love that.
So they sat there as the “service” began … some confined and restrained to wheelchairs. One lady walked about and chattered incessantly … she did it every time I came … at times grossly invading my personal space. Today was no exception.
I began to strum and sing “Victory in Jesus” with all the gusto that I could find … it was mostly a solo.
The lady across the room began to smile. She was new. The smile was wonderful. In the tradition of churches that I pastored, we would never have allowed people in their right minds to do what this dear lady began to do.
Barely a couple lines into the song she stood and began to dance … an awkwardly elegant dance with just a hint of the Twist … it looked a bit dangerous for an elderly person to attempt. If this had happened in my past life there would have been religious repercussions for days to follow … but that was then and no one here would remember for long.
Something incredibly special was stirring here. I looked around the room. Everyone … I mean EVERYONE was smiling.
I had a flashback to a Sunday morning service when one of our religiously rigid, right-minded seniors visibly objected to a song that we were singing by holding her hands over her ears and closed her forehead over her eyes like an English bulldog. I shuddered and shook that off.
Second verse. She twisted across the floor and grabbed the hands of another smiling senior. A little tug and they were both on the dance floor. The smiles were bigger.
I wasn’t sure what was taking place but I knew that as long as people were dancing, we were singing … no announcements … no offering … just the dance.
Third verse. Half a dozen people were at the spiritual sock-hop. The nurses began to pass by. Some stopped. They joined the dance.
We danced for thirty minutes. A dance that might never happen again. I was a one man band, barely necessary as the Spirit stirred people who had lost their minds and found their hearts. I have never been in a worship service that impacted me like this gathering.
Sometimes that has to happen. Faith is meant to be hearty, not heady.
David danced a hearty dance. Michal gave a heady rebuke at the lack of dignity from a man who was a King. David never stopped being a shepherd, a musician, poet, Psalm writer.
I am at a hungry point in my life.
Religion leaves me empty … more hungry.
And I see God moving in unexpected ways, at unexpected times, in unexpected places among unlikely people. Wherever He is moving … whatever He is doing … that’s where I want to be.
I think God wants to reintroduce Himself to those of us who wrongfully concluded a long time ago that we had Him figured out. Wouldn’t you like to get reacquainted with a forgotten God?