Well, this is a little tenuous, I admit, but it's almost bedtime and I've only just sat down with my computer so I'm afraid this offering is a repost of something previously published as 'Joy, Sister'. So to file it under G is a bit of a cheat, really.
But it is about a Gospel choir. It's about Gusto. It's also about God.
Here's a little anecdote. A true story.
New York city, nineteen ninety something. Backpacking with a friend. The Empire State building, the Twin Towers, the Staten Island Ferry and the Statue of Liberty in one weekend and then, before we caught a train somewhere else, Sunday worship at a cavernous and very well known New York church.
It was held in a huge theatre right in the heart of Manhattan. There were thousands of people swaying to music and and the service hadn’t even begun. A vast gospel choir in red and purple robes with big white collars straight out of the Blues Brothers had a band with guitars, keyboards, a five piece rhythm section and more brass than you could shake a stick at. Swirling spotlights played on the congregation as the music got louder.
Then, without warning, a small, bald man with an impossibly shiny head trotted out from the wings, bowed to the assembly and began to convulse. Nobody bat an eyelid; indeed the band started to play - it turned out that he was conducting, and with such energy that it looked as if he’d been electrocuted.
The place erupted. Everyone was on their feet, reaching for the heavens, calling out, and dancing with breathtaking abandon. They were full of the Spirit and He was most certainly bursting out all over. I could only gaze in awe at the uninhibited celebrations all around me – I was overwhelmed by something I’d never seen before (or since, actually); something so wonderful but a galaxy away from church back home. No, further than that.
Worship here was a whole-body experience.
Fingers outstretched, arms waving, hips gyrating, eyes tight shut and expressions of ecstasy or pain – it was hard to tell which.
The aisles were full and so people danced even in the confines of their rows.
For me, trapped mid-row, twenty oblivious, ecstatic bodies between me and the aisle at either side, I felt my personal space somewhat invaded.
Despite being stuck in the middle, I was definitely on the outside looking in. You might say that I was significantly outside my reserved, Anglican comfort zone.
Not knowing the unfamiliar songs I hummed along. I had my hands very firmly in my jeans pockets. I have to admit that I became so carried away with the music that I may or may not have perhaps been tapping my right foot.
They were singing a song about the joy of the Lord. At last! I knew this one! I could remember the words and with what, for me, passes for great gusto, I added my little warble to the beautiful harmonies and counter harmonies that were so effortlessly and energetically offered all around me. I began to enjoy myself.
The very large orange and purple clad lady gyrating to my left nudged me in the ribs with a meaty elbow and leaned over to bellow in my ear:
‘I don’t see that joy, sister!’
I don’t know if she expected me to switch it on like the Oxford Street Christmas Lights, maybe, but what joy there had been – and there had been some, actually, easing nervously out of its hiding place, limbering up for something a bit special - like a bit of swaying from foot to foot, maybe - well, that bit of fledgeling joy panicked, elbowed his way through the crowd and fled the theatre right then.
She didn’t see the joy. Well, I can understand that.
It would take a trained eye.
It was there, though. Honest.