7. The Healing Service
It just so as happens that on Saturday mornings Bethany, has healing services. The focus seems to be physical healing, but I expect they also prayed for emotional healing. My body was tired and somewhat pain riddled. This is perhaps a result of a mixture of too much binge drinking and partying as a kid, and too much rugby, tramping and hard sport. I do not trust the Lithuanian medical system, so I was keen to get some prayer.
Now, we were given verbal instructions on how to find the church. We were told it was a big building on a hill and that we couldn’t miss it. I had mentally told myself that, generally speaking, American churches do not have steeples and that it was all together possible that the church could be far from obvious to us. Indeed, we both were well aware that we should be looking for something resembling a warehouse. Though the problem was that once we got onto the edge of town, everything looked like a warehouse.
We stopped at a gas station and asked for directions. We were under five minutes away from the church and this person did not know where it was or rather, had never heard of the place. This fascinates me. I remember being on the subway in Toronto chatting with some dude. He asked me why I was in Toronto. I told him that I wanted to go to the Toronto Airport Vineyard. He said “What is that?” So I told him that people from all over the world were flying into Toronto, there was a church that was meeting almost seven days a week and there were big long lines to get in. God was moving strongly in powerful ways, people were getting healed, people were discovering God. It was big and exciting. This guy looked at me as if I was a freak and clearly had not heard any of this. And now here I am at the other side of the same continent twelve years later, having the same conversation. Amazing how people travel from all over the world to visit churches that people five minutes away have never heard of. As I said before, Americans love giving instructions and there happened to be another customer in the gas station who said “Oh yeah, I think I know someone who goes there, just get back on the freeway, get off at the next exit, turn left, it is on the hill, you cannot miss it.”
So once again under the very false instructions of ‘you cannot miss it’, we were back on the road. This time from the advantage of the freeway, I noticed some flags flying on a hill. Flags flying in America could mean a lot of things including a political building, a post office, a police station, a warehouse, an office complex, a church, a private home or just about anything else. It does confuse me somewhat why Americans need to fly their flag everywhere and I wonder if the nation would suffer an identity crisis if they pulled them all down. I wonder if during the night, someone ran around America and stole all of the American flags would America wake up in the morning and say, “Why dang! Just who am I?” If they were church goers and the American flags were stolen on a Saturday night, it would be easier. They would wake up go to church, have a look around at the flying flags and say, “Why dang! If I aint an Israeli.” I have never seen another nation that needs to continuously fly its own flag as if to remind itself who it is. Still it’s cute and at least they have a flag of their own which they are proud to fly; not every nation can boast that.
Oh yeah, and a note on the Israeli comment. I have seen quite a few American churches, this one not included, that actually fly an Israeli flag beside the American flag. This really baffles and offends me. I presume it is something to do with the Promised Land or Holy Lands, I don’t really know. But I do live in a formerly-occupied country and I do feel some of the pain that after sixteen or so years of freedom, the people here in Lithuania feel. For the life of me I cannot work out why you would fly the flag of an aggressor and oppressor in your church. Unless it is to remind you to pray for the plight of the Palestinians or for peace in the Middle East. Anyhow, this is a bunny trail.
There just seemed to be something about this particular collection of flags, flying on the hill top, which said, “I am a Mega Church.” So we got off the freeway, turned left and wound our way up this hill. And sure enough, plonked under the flags was a tidy array of buildings and a huge car park. We parked forever away and made the last of the journey to church on foot.
Like so many big churches, the first thing that you see walking in the door is the cafe, bookshop and toilets. I guess they figure that if you don’t actually want to go to a church service, you can drop your family off and still have a truly divine experience, read a good book or indeed The Good Book, drink good coffee, eat a muffin or two and when it all gets to much, well, you can go to the loo(23) and let it all out and start again. This church had a real buzz of excitement about it. A week-long conference had finished the day before, so lots of people were hanging around taking this last chance to get healed up.
Most of the people were milling around one particular dimly-lit corridor where loud music being pumped out through some invisible speakers. It was all rather intimidatingly pentecostal. It became very clear to me that if I wanted healed(24), I was going to have to get through this fear, get through this music and get through this corridor, because God was clearly doing his stuff somewhere down there. But this is America, this was a Mega Church, probably a blessed corporation. I couldn’t get down that corridor and get healed until I had filled out the paper work. God Bless America!
Name, address, telephone number, email, where was I from, what church, what position, what needed healed and the list went on. I hate forms, I hate’em with a passion. I am dyslexic(25) and all those little answer boxes keep moving on me. And you know what, I think I had to fill out less paper work to enter the country than I did to have God heal me. Still I guess no one, or at least no machine, was scanning my eyeballs. I survived the trauma and made a mental note that my first healing needed to be from the trauma of just getting into the healing room.
The church was clearly saving electricity because the healing room was quite dark and the music was even louder and more intense in there. Most of the chairs were taken, but that didn’t worry me, my eyes had zeroed in on something that I liked. Right beside the source of this incredibly loud music and right beside a strange man saying unintelligible things into a microphone was something that I could relate to. At last a comfort zone that I could step into and wait for my emotions and fears to subside, until I worked out how the hang I was to actually get prayer. There were two artists standing in the corner of this bizarre long narrow room. In front of each one of them was an easel with a canvas. There were actually two woman there painting. I am pretty sure they were more of those freaky students, but at least this time they were speaking my language. So I picked my way through the dark, just walked up and stood there right beside them. In hindsight I was probably quite intimidating, but there seemed to be no order in the room, so I figured standing right beside them was cool. Sharon was out in the corridor somewhere, she had taken one look at the room and was gone, but she can tell her own story. Anyhow there was not a lot of space and I was standing behind these two artists just watching. In fact, everything in me was trying not to mentally correct their colour schemes. I would hate someone standing over my shoulder judging my work whilst I was painting and these lassies(26) were doing a good job.
Perhaps I should explain why the loud music and the painting. Um, I can explain the music part, but not the loud music. The band was playing hymns or worship music, the people sitting around had either been prayed for or were waiting to be prayed for and they were just gently sitting there worshipping God. Often in an environment of worship, God’s presence is notably stronger, thus where his presence is strong he is more likely to heal. At least this is my theory, if you called the church they may say something totally different. Maybe the music was so loud that people sitting couldn’t hear what was being prayed. I don’t know. And as for the artists, well there are many mediums that we can use to worship Jesus, music is only one of them. I suspect these artists believed that their creating was actually their worship of God. I don’t have a problem with that.
Anyhow, once my emotions and fears were under control, I walked back out into the corridor and asked the paperwork lady, “How do I get prayed for?” I kind of knew the answer, but just really needed to go back to first base and start over. She told me that usually someone would call my name, but because there were so many people, they would just call sicknesses. This made it kind of hard for me, because I had a list. Never mind, I went in, sat down and started paying attention to that strange man behind the microphone. Well, he called backaches, he called cancers, he called this and he called that, but he never called anything on my list. I don’t think he had read my profile. Then, in my despair, he called anyone who needed a general overhaul. Well, seemingly all at the same time, half the room thought ‘that sounds like me’ and got up and got in line.
So there I was standing in line to enter the adjacent prayer room. This was the room where God was doing his stuff. And God was in the house. From time to time you heard people clapping, cheering and jumping around in celebration of various aliments that had been healed. Things were pretty intense, faith-building and intoxicating. The room was a lot quieter and a lot lighter and that immediately set my mind at ease. The room was also quite typical of prayer rooms. It looked like a war zone. There were people standing, people sitting, others were jumping, others were walking around. Some were praising towards the heavens, others were quietly bowing their heads. There was a kind of chaotic peace about the room. It looked strange, but it felt safe. And I had come to the front of the line.
This Australian-sounding guy looked at me and smiled, he raised his voice and said in the general direction of the prayer room, “Are there any pray-ers free, we have a long line of people waiting?” Some guy limped on over to me and motioned for me to follow him. He led me to a quiet corner and asked if I would be willing to sit and be prayed for. He had some kind of illness that made it hard for him to stand. I didn’t mind sitting on the floor, I am happy when I cannot go lower. I listed my ailments to him, he explained that he also suffered from similar things and quite naturally moved smoothly into prayer. Quite naturally my mind was distracted, why does God always do these things to me? This limping guy who was praying for me was a lot sicker than me. Why doesn’t he invest his time praying for himself or why is he not in line himself getting prayed for? Perhaps he doesn’t like the paper work either. Anyhow I told my mind to shut up. I am well aware that God could use a two year old to heal me if he wanted to, let alone this lovely sick chap who clearly had a love for God and a desire to serve him through praying for the sick and in particular at this moment in time, this sicko(27).
Well, he prayed, then he questioned me, then he prayed some more, questioned some more, prayed some more and then he said those dreadful Christianese(28) words, “Well you just sit here and soak in the Holy Spirit.” Grrrr! I understand the language and I do not particularly like it. Let me translate it into some similar secular English sentences for you. Try this one. A boss speaking to an employee. “Well Johnny, you have been working with us for a long time now, you are one of our best employees, but we are going to have to let you go.” Or try this, girl friend to boy friend. “Well Johnny, I really love you ‘n’ all, we have had a lot of good times together, but I just don’t think that we are meant for each other’”. So do you get the picture? What he was saying was “Well Kel, I have been praying and I have been praying real hard, but for some reason God is just not healing you, I don’t know why. But just maybe if you just sit there and soak in his Holy Spirit, God will do what he wouldn’t do through me and heal you”. I said “Thanks buddy” and got to concentrating on soaking.
And what is soaking in the holy spirit anyway? That just sounded weird to me, I mean when I soak in the bath, I get clean. When I soak in the sunshine I feel warmth. When I soak in a good view, I feel refreshed and uplifted. And when I soak in the Holy Spirit, I feel what? Again, soaking in the Holy Spirit is all about our faith in an invisible unseen God. We all have faith, the question is what do we place our faith in. Do you place your faith in your wife’s driving, do you place it in the chair that you are about to sit on, do you place it in the value and power of the dollar, do you place it in some kind of religion or do you place it in the invisible, unseen and very real God who though he was healing people all around me, was not healing me? But surely if Holy Spirit is part of our triune God, then we would always be soaking in his presence. Technically yes, but there is something tangibly different about the presence of the Holy Spirit when you are surrounded by prayer and worship. For example, when I am in the supermarket buying deodorant or when I am in the wine shop buying a Sauvignon Blanc, I am aware that God the Holy Spirit is with me, but I do not feel his physical tangible presence. However, when I am home alone praying and worshipping, or when I am in a situation like this one at Bethany, often it feels like that if I was to fall backwards, the Holy Spirit would somehow absorb me, kind of like falling into a big warm peaceful gel. So in places like this, soaking in the Holy Spirit is kind of like soaking in a undiluted, concentrated, manifest presence of the maker of the universe, it is truly both a surreal and spiritual experience. But I wasn’t feeling particularly healed. I sat for a while, but being a doing person, I picked myself up and walked back to the start of the line. I was coming back for seconds, maybe God would do something different this time, like even heal me.
I felt a bit guilty by the time I got back to the front of the line, so I mentioned to the Aussie bloke(29) that this was my second time. He said “I thought I had seen you before” and called a woman over to pray for me. Now if you didn’t understand the soaking part or simply got bored with it, skip the rest of this chapter and start the next, or maybe skip that and start reading again when you see the chapter titled ‘Boise’. Because I do not know how I am going to explain what happened next, other than to say that I have always been very sensitive to the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The woman smiled, everyone smiled here, so I guess it is not really worth mentioning. I will tell you if we meet an angry, grumpy person. So again this woman smiled and walked towards me. She looked a lot more normal than the last guy. I relaxed a little, smiled and walked towards her. She raised her hand as if she expected some divine healing power to flow through it into me. She started saying something like “God bless this man”, when suddenly I was aware that I was flying backwards through the room. I was doing some serious carpet surfing and landed flat on my back on the floor a metre or so behind where I had started. Talk about being blown over by the presence of God. There was no warm peaceful gel here, just flying elbows from the people I collided with and a hard carpeted concrete floor. What was that all about? I do not know what happened next, guess I was doing some more soaking. By the time I had gathered my thoughts long enough to look around and focus on stuff, the woman who had started this whole shemozzle(30) was seemingly half way through praying for someone else. And that person was standing receiving her prayer as stiff as a concrete fence post. Perhaps she had seen what had happened to me. The praying woman noticed my head pop up, and with a stern look on her face, commanded me to stay exactly where I was. Hey, no problem lady, in case you have not noticed, I have just defied gravity by flying backwards across a populated room and now just for kicks, I am not drawing any attention to myself by just lying here on the floor. I guess that was the weird thing. I was not drawing attention to myself. These people had clearly seen this kind of thing before. Other than the people I had collided with, no one had raised an eyebrow. This could have even been construed as normal. Even if I had wanted to make a run for it, this recent case of backwards carpet surfing had zapped my natural energy out of me. I wasn’t about to go anywhere and no one seemed to care, so I just lay there in the confused peace and presence of God. Eventually stern and smiley wandered on over. I sat up, she sat down. She never asked me my name, never said “Good Morning, Sir” or asked me how I was. In fact in hindsight, I wonder if she owned an American flag because she definitely did not know service industry American English. Great, no small talk just for the sake of it. In fact I do not recall her speaking to me at all, she just spoke to God. She sat there and thanked God for me, asked God to speak to me, asked God to heal me, this all took about fifteen minutes and then she simply said “Thanks”. I’m not sure if the thanks was for me or for God, but it didn’t matter, because she got up and walked away. I just sat there, thinking “Well God, what was all that all about?” Another smiley flag owner walked on up to me and said in his best efficient service industry American English, “If you have finished being prayed for, can you please move off to the side? We need the space to pray for more people.” So I got up and walked out of the room, found Sharon and went home.
We went out and visited a lake that afternoon. I may be wrong, but I’m thinking it was called Whiskeytown Lake. The water level was low, which created lots of mud for the kids to play in. It was a beautiful hot autumn day. The trees by the lake were all a sun-intensified flaming red. It was the closing days of October and still warm enough to go for a swim. I went in at the slippery boat ramp, just in front of a couple sitting there reading their bibles. It was freezing and my swim consisted of a long, cold walk out into deep water, a quick freezing dip and kick under the water, followed by a dash to land and warm sunshine. We sat on shore in our deck chairs eating pretzels watching the kids play and talking the breeze with a slight focus on the upcoming election, until the mountain sun went down behind the hills. It was a beautiful lazy afternoon and I think the last day of recovery from our busy European life styles.
To be continued. Next edition we will be talking about just what does happen in those Sunday meetings.
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You may have noticed some bracketed numbers in this chapter. These numbers correspond with explanations and definitions that are in an accompanying glossary. To read the glossary you will need to by the yet to be released book. Sorry 🙁
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