It is a hot, humid, August morning in Lamoni, Iowa. I am sixteen years old. In a huge gym filled with empty bleachers that will soon groan under the weight of 1500 teenagers, I sit on a low riser. Having just rehearsed the song we will be singing, the choir I sit in the midst of is abuzz with anticipation of the worship that will come, what the day holds, and where they will go to escape the heat.
“Excuse me everyone! We need someone to say a prayer in English at the end of today’s service! We have someone praying in Spanish but need someone to pray in English! Any volunteers?”
Silence sharply hits the buzzing choir. No hands go up. My mind races through the four days I have just experienced in this strange, foreign space that is the Midwest of the USA, which each day seemed increasingly far away from my home in Canada. Too many times had I heard prayers that started with “Dear Father…” too many times had I witnessed male-dominated leadership; too many times had I wiggled uncomfortably in my seat with a dissatisfied feeling in my stomach.
“I don’t mind” I hear myself say, as I watch my hand raise.
“Great! Thank-you!” replies the one on the pray-er quest.
I don’t think much of volunteering. Praying in worship is something I have done many times at home in the comforting space of the Pacific Northwest. I’d just have to speak a bit louder, that’s all. Teenagers trickle-in and fill the huge space, and the high-energy worship launches. I prepare myself as I normally would, paying attention to the words of others, listening carefully to what the songs and scriptures are saying in order to echo their words. At the end of the service I confidently step out of the choir and moved forward to wait for the microphone to be passed to me. I take hold of the microphone and look out at the gathered group, the beauty of this diverse gathering, the sense of anticipation and possibility that is so palpable in a group of teenagers, stirs me deeply and fills me to overflowing. I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and begin to pray:
“Loving Mother God…” I feel like I’ve just stepped off a cliff into a great abyss of uncertainty. Falling into the oceanic depths of chaos, the tehom as I would call it now, feels a bit lonely, but not cold or desolate, just uncertain.
The rest of the prayer has disappeared from my memory. I remember looking down at my shirt just after saying ‘amen’ and realizing that I was not anonymous; I had “Pacific Northwest Delegation” emblazoned across my chest. It would not be long, I thought, before I was hunted-down and reprimanded. But a mob of pitch-fork-wielding teenagers never showed up, and the only comment I received before running away from the crowded gym that morning was from the choir director who thanked me. I realized that maybe the tehom was not quite as lonely as I thought.
From the vantage point of my 26-year-old self, everything else in my life seems to radiate out of that point, that moment of truthfulness and prophecy, a time of saying ‘yes’ not just to saying a prayer, but to something much deeper and larger.