The events of last night changed my life. But what I now feel in my heart, has not completely found itself in words. My friend whom I am so enamored of, asked me if he could go. Jonah doesn’t drive. So I happily drove down to Ocean County to pick him up. I couldn’t believe he wanted to go to the choir practice in Ocean Grove with me. I wasn’t sure I would like it. “I don’t know that the seats won’t smell old” I told Jonah, who understands my overly-analytic mind more than anyone on this earth. At odds with the current teaching of my own church that discourages selfishness in all its forms, I told Jonah that we were being extremely selfish by going to such a Holy church function on a Friday night. I had explained my theory to him and he knew well what I meant by selfishness. As Christians on this earth, securing the very best of everything, in this life and the life to come, we were, I theorized, the most selfish beings ever and therefore should continue in good works for this reason- the joy it brings to God and to others, and therefore ourselves.
Ocean Grove, a beautiful mile long ocean front town dedicated to Christian respite, has been around for over a hundred years. Much of it still looks exactly the same as it did when some of the most famous hymns in the world were written there. In short, it is magical. I entered the back of the Great Auditorium with Jonah, to go up to the choir loft. Still a little disoriented, this being my first time entering a system which had been in place for several decades, I inquired as to how I could get music, and was handed a folder to borrow. Jonah insisted he would sit out in the audience, and not accompany the hundred or so choir members in the loft. I didn’t mind, I was so happy he was there. I couldn’t believe he was sharing something so important with me. I chose the soprano section, because I knew I could most easily find the notes, which turned out to be much more complicated than I had expected. The songs also went incredibly high at times, in so much that I reminded myself I must bring cough drops next time. Being dark in the loft, and my having aged since about 7 years ago since I was last in a choir, I suddenly realized I could not see the words or notes, but fortunately had a pair of dollar store reading glasses I had tossed in my purse to assist me at my Bible study group the night before.
The music was mesmerizing, as were the top notch conductors. They cared. They knew what we were doing was important in heaven and on earth. We were in eternity together for a moment, all of us, including those in the audience. No one was excluded. My voice was there in heaven among the others, and through it I blended in with them, though I knew no one. They were my best friends now. I loved them all. Having been in a church with a worship team which I was not allowed, for some unknown reason to even audition for, the distance between heaven and hell for me was palpable. I was home. I reflected on the book I had thought strongly of writing about my current church, which I would have titled, “The Music is What’s Missing.”
That church forbade me to play guitar and worship God from my heart in any area where I had suggested it. I suppose it was assumed that my heart was too wicked to even praise God in their assembly. But this church, encompassed by so great a cloud of witnesses no doubt, loved my heart, having not even known it yet. There was no commitment required. However, how could I stay away? And how could I not go home and practice to give my all as a contribution to something which embraced my weary heart, and allowed me to need them. Jonah later told me that even he had been in tears when he heard the beautiful songs from the audience seats where he listened, entranced by the moment, as I was.
Jonah and I walked through neighboring Asbury Park and talked afterward, and found street musicians there which filled the night with majesty, and sang along as they played our requests for “Amazing Grace” and “Lean on Me.” We discovered a bonfire on the beach which all were welcome to. We could hear the loud music coming from a nearby bar, and reflected on that wretched life we had been delivered from. A mid June night, it was the most wonderful time to be anywhere on the Jersey Shore. But this night and this space in time was special. I knew I would always remember it. And I knew that it had changed me. When we returned to Ocean Grove from our walk to Asbury Park, we could sense the difference in spirit. The men who arranged for the different musical acts to play under the pavilion for the summer, talked about the spiritual warfare between the two locales. Rumors abounded through neighboring churches on how the “gays” were trying to infiltrate Ocean Grove, and the gentlemen under the pavilion talked about zombie marches which had broken through the spiritual barriers between the 2 famous towns.
When we arrived back to my car, Jonah and I stood in front of the tents situated right beside the Great Auditorium. Usually placid and tranquil, they were now permeated with the sound from those same Asbury Park bars. My heart sank on their behalf. I asked Jonah what he thought the people in the tents thought of this. As the last days we apparently now stood in slowly barraged the beautiful and godly town, like a thick storm cloud moving in to take over the night, we both felt we had somehow found our calling for this summer at least.