Dating : The Holy Ghost

h2>Dating : The Holy Ghost

Theresa Harvard Johnson
African American girl with natural hair completing math problems on an old-school blackboard. Image by Adobe Stock.

My early childhood was immersed in endless church activities — Sunday services, vacation bible school, bible studies, weekly meetings, healing services, fundraisers… and endless tent revivals. All of which seemed to last for ever in the eyes of a 9-year-old.

I learned a great deal about the Bible and the church.

Mama was convinced that only church attendance could rid her of the demons in her head; and the trouble brewing in our home. As far as I could tell, church seemed to make her worse. Many of her “fits” — as Old Lady Catherine called them — ended with her seeing things, hearing voices and thinking everyone around her was plotting her demise. Those voices and apparitions would tell her to do some crazy things.

Once, she painted crosses in all the windows of the house, anointed the windows and doors with oil, and began putting bowls of water outside our room doors. It took daddy days to remove the paint from the windows before the landlord could see. We smelled like turpentine for nearly two weeks! And the bowls of water? Well, she would say they were for washing our sins away.

Unfortunately, a tremendous amount of what I learned about Christ was clouded in her superstitions and mental confusion. Plus, there was this unhealthy preoccupation with and fear of death, hell and the grave that I battled… everytime I sat through mama’s preaching or the vigorous holiness-or-hell Pentecostal teachings from the church we attended.

If God did exist, this ten-year-old was stark-raving afraid him! He also gave mama and the church a list of rules of concerning what my siblings and I could and could not do. I wasn’t allowed to wear pants, go to the movies, play the music I liked or even enjoy watching a card game from my neighbors next door.

One Friday evening, mama was determined to attend the first night of a revival at the family church. My siblings and I — only two of us now since the oldest married a fool (mama said) and moved out. I wanted to stay home because services lasted until well after midnight. We would have to sit in church ALL EVENING without a snack and no money to buy one. So, she give us those embarrassing peanut butter sandwiches and an apple when we had it at home… but most of the time we didn’t.

The children were always directed to sit in one spot and be on their best behavior. To me, four or five hours in a creaky, metal folding chair being threatened by ushers for wiggling, talking, playing tic-tac-toe, and popping gum was too much for anyone.

“Mama, can we stay home?” I pleaded, unloading tears, as she yelled commands to my other siblings to get dressed before the Yellow Cab came. “Mama… you said big sis is old enough to watch me now. I’ll be good!”

There was no answer, just that glare to shut up and let it go.

In one more act of bravery I shouted: “I have homework to do and she can help! Please mama?” Firmly, Mama pointed to the screen door. Like a brigade, my siblings and I followed the sound of the horn blowing from the cab outside. As mama would say, you could see our poked-out lips from five miles down the road. Even worse, she made me bring my school books and homework with me.

Mama was a missionary in the church.

After I finished my home work in the church kitchen (where people were buying plates of food that we couldn’t afford), I was forced to sit between her and another missionary on the front row. This must have been a special night because all the women were wearing white from head to toe — including mama.

My skinny frame barely fit between mama and mean-old Missionary Valerie who was shouting and stumping to the Gospel song, “Jesus On the Mainline,” being played on a rubboard and an old rusty piano by the resident church pianist. Mostly they played the organ, but not tonight.

As I was about to sit down, Missionary Aaron caught the Holy Ghost and began swinging her wide feet, big hips and hands in my direction.

In an attempt to dodge her broad-swings, she bumped me right out “that in-between-space” and onto the floor. I must have been twitching from the pain because without warning, one of the other missionaries yelled, “I think that child just fell out in the Holy Ghost! Jesus! She slayed in the Spirit!”

I cracked open an eye just enough to see what was going on.

At that moment, everybody began to jump around and shout — including mama. All I could do was lay there (masking my pain) as a lap cloth was thrown across me and watch the goings-on out of the corner of my eye in that awkward murder-scene position I remained in on the floor.

I dared not move until the preacher finished talking about how God loves the little children most of all.

At that moment, one of the ushers came over to help me off the floor. Like the old-folk, I came up shouting, flinging my hands and swaying my hips to that classic drum sung known throughout all the African American churches in the south. I saw the other children mimicking the grown folks dancing in the back of the church – taking this an opportunity to get out of those hard, metal folding chairs and finally have some fun.

Me? Well, I could have some fun too even though I really had no idea what was taking place. All I knew was that this was church. Folks said God had touched my heart. Yet, I didn’t feel any different from any other day. I was just tired, ready for bed and disappointed that God had not healed mama or my family — again.

Even though this was a better day, she was still crazy.

On the way home, I remember Mama smiling and gently touching my shoulders as she said, “The Lord was with you tonight child! I’m proud you got the Holy Ghost!”

My siblings were snickering in the background.

What do you think?

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