A moment of sunlight in Captiva, Florida
When I was 3 or 4 years old, I attended an evening church service with my parents. The service went long, as most Pentecostal services do. I fell asleep on the pew during the sermon despite the loudness of the preaching. I woke up during the post-sermon music, still drowsing as people made their way forward down the aisles to get prayer for healing or for other things in their lives. I listened to their cries of praise and travail, all blended into one. The praise music continued throughout and I took it all in from within my half-asleep, half-awake state.
Something happened, however, when the music leader stepped up to the microphone and invited the crowd to join him and the other vocalists in singing a song called "He Touched Me." It's a well-known praise song in charismatic and Pentecostal circles. The lyrics are: He touched me, oh He touched me. And oh the joy that floods my soul. Something happened, and now I know. He touched me, and made me whole.
I was wide awake. I sat up in the pew and watched the musicians and singers perform the song's chorus several times. People in the healing line at the altar lifted their faces to heaven, their eyes closed and streaming tears, their hands raised in surrender and longing. The music filled the room and I felt myself being lifted from the inside--as if the very center of my body, deep within me, were being lifted up through my stomach and into my chest, up into my throat and mouth, pushing to come out through my eyes and the top of my head. I could hardly breathe.
On the drive home, I asked my mother if she knew that song. She said she did, and I asked her to sing it for me. I sat in the back seat in the darkness, listening to my mother's thin soprano voice, and felt the gentle tug on my insides again.
This memory has never left me, but it came flooding back not long ago as I sat on the living room floor with our 7-month old son. He stretched alongside me, laying on his back. He would smile up at me and then become distracted by the ceiling fan or by the cat passing by. I thumbed through a magazine, reading various passages aloud to him and showing him pictures. After a few moments, I lifted the magazine to show him something and saw that his back was arched and he was holding his arms out and aloft. His gaze was fixed at the ceiling and his mouth was open. I set the magazine aside and leaned forward to bend over him. His eyes darted back and forth, his gaze directed at the ceiling.
He's having a seizure or an allergic reaction, I thought. Just as I was about to touch his chest and grab my phone to call for help, his face burst into a smile and his back relaxed a bit. He laughed once and took a big breath. He held his breath, arched his back again, and held perfectly still, staring intently at the ceiling, his eyes darting again, his mouth open, his arms lifted and aloft. He sucked in air again, held it and kept his body arched for what seemed like half a minute, then relaxed for a few seconds before it all began again.
I placed my head near to him and looked back up toward the ceiling, trying to find his line of vision to see exactly what he was seeing. I saw nothing but white ceiling. Not even the ceiling fan was in his line of vision. Just plain, white ceiling.
I sat back and watched him: his little chest going up and down, his back arching and relaxing, his fingers curling slightly as he held his arms suspended and still. His eyes were bright and I saw the vein in his neck bulge slightly with the beat of his heart.
He touched me, oh he touched me. And oh the joy that floods my soul . . . .
I don't know what touched my little boy that afternoon, but something did. Whatever it was caught him up and held him transfixed for several minutes. I watched the wonder and joy speed across his face and breast. I watched the whole experience leave him breathless.
He's so young, I don't know if he'll remember it. But I'll remember it for him, and hope that he has many more such experiences. I think my job as a parent, in addition to loving him and making sure his basic needs are met, is to create a life for us, and for him, that is alive with the possibility of transcendant experiences. And then to step back and honor the inward, private nature of those experiences when they come.
My parents did that for me. I'll do it for him.