“You. Were you in church on Sunday?” I shook my head no, for I certainly was not at this church. “What did you come to church tonight for?” I didn’t understand the question. I turned to the friend who had invited me and, glad to not be the person Prophet-man was picking on, his eyebrows reached up for his hairline and he moved his head out of my way to give me a better view of my questioner. Peter, peter why did you deny me?
Prophet re-phrased his question. “How do you want the Lord to bless you tonight?”
Stalling, I said “I haven’t thought about it.” I mean, how can one think with all your jumping around and rebuking?! No. Of course I didn’t say that part.
“Think about it.”
And he waited.
Seeing he wasn’t going away I capitulated. “I’d like some rest.” Incredulity hit his face and he looked at the rest of the church over his wire-rimmed glasses. But no, Prophet-man wasn’t getting into any more of my business than that. “Yes. Rest. That’s a big deal you know!”
“Stand my sister and receive your blessing”. So I stood. I was told to close my eyes and raise my hands “to receive my blessing of rest.” The man said “I see you need a vacation.”
I said “Yes. I leave on vacation tomorrow.”
“Where are you going?”
“Where in Jamaica? Trelawny?”
Bahahahahahaha (inside of course) “No. St. Elizabeth.”
“You going to look about some land?”
“Do you have land there?”
“No.” Not until my parents die and Lord I sure as hell don’t want to inherit anything today. Who knows? This Prophet man with an interest in my land might well and engineer it.
“Do you need land?”
“No. I have everything I need.” At this point I had opened my eyes and sat down, feeling like a fool standing with eyes closed and this man trying to pick my information out of my mouth. “Well my sister, you are about to receive some land. Since you don’t need it you should sell it and give the money to the church.” Resounding amens.
Swiftly moving on from my uncooperative rebellion, and before his failure to crack me gained much notice and put a spoke in his wheel of momentum, he called out “Who has a headache?” (Classic.) Closing his eyes, reaching out his hand like Moses parting the sea, and making his face the picture of concentration he called out “Stand up! I feel your pain my sisters. Two of you have headaches!” (What are the odds?!) Two women stood up. (Of course.)
He held out his hand to the head of the one nearest to the front, gesturing for someone to stand behind her. And blowing wind into the microphone he pressed one finger into her forehead and down she went. She was so overcome that he left her to the care of her neighbour who fanned her face with a sheet of paper. Leaving her he twisted snakelike to headache number 2 and said “Sister does your head still hurt?” She shook her head a quick no and sat down. “See? GODDDD does not WAIT for man to do his work!” he bellowed triumphantly.
Hell. I woulda said no too! My friend brought his mouth to my ear and whispered “I know you’re ready to go.” I nodded “A half-hour ago. Wait till the time is right.”
When we turned our attention back to the front he had drawn information out of other members, one lady in a custody battle for her child, another praying for a family, and turned to target a woman in the back by the door. “Come up here Mama. I see your pain and it hurts me too. The Spirit has told me of your secret sickness.” She came, all two hundred pounds and five feet of her frame, labouring to walk to the front, swaying with the spirit like the Okonkwo of Chinua Achebe. Her unnamed illness was targeted as the Prophet put his finger on her forehead, calling out the demon in her, and pushing her down determinedly with one finger while looking over his glasses. The whole thing happened right before me in the aisle between our row of chairs and the pews across. She fell into the arms of another member, missing my swiftly drawn-in legs by a hair’s breath. His face was a fury as he focused all his strength into one finger and I could feel the tension of his arm and of his concentration as he struggled to make it look spiritual. Oh… and also… he blew tongues and holy wind all throughout into the microphone. “Shambalaambalusha.”
She then began to shake and convulse, her hair braided in rows close to her round scalp falling heavy on the person behind her, bawling out in tongues – once again a line of unintelligible sounds repeated over and over – at my feet. They brought out a sheet to cover her legs (clearly this church was prepared) so that she wouldn’t expose herself in the Spirit. My eyes were glued with morbid and removed curiosity at the woman twitching like a murdered calf on the floor when another lady stood to the front. As the new woman started to sway the woman at my feet quickly scrambled up to the chair next to me given up for her, her performance briefly forgotten, and resumed bellowing and wheezing out her tongues, shaking her hands and shoulders out to each side and pushing me into my friend. As the new woman getting her “healing” came down, her hand swept my friend’s face pushing him into me. And so we were pinned between two babblers, convulsing without care for their neighbours, proving themselves to be deeply spiritual indeed.
“Yo bredrin, this church is a contact sport!” No one would have noticed my even voice with all the high volume nonsense words flying about and so I said it out loud this time, looking my friend full in the face. He turned his head and his shoulders shook against me as he bit his lip against the pending flood, and we both looked up to see another woman on her way down. At the sight of the last remaining escape route about to be blocked off, I picked up both our Bibles, my handbag, my keys and his keys and said “Let’s GO.” Climbing over three bodies laid out on the floor (they had run out of sheets by now) I made it to the door not caring to see if he was behind me. I half-gasped, half-guffawed goodnight to the ladies at the door and ran through the blissfully quiet night air to the car before the body count got any higher. Two steps out the door the laugh bubbled up and tumbled out in peels like sheets of rain. He was five steps behind me and as we clambered into the car he laughed out “Speak your mind! I’d love to hear what you think.”
Tears came out as uncontrollable laughter shook my whole self. “Take me home bro. In order to sleep tonight, I have a bottle of wine I have to finish!”
Now ladies and gentlemen, forgive me if I misunderstand. I do not dare to claim perfection or complete understanding and risk being rebuked like Job. But I believe deep in my soul that my God doesn’t destroy people, doesn’t demand that they not feed their families, doesn’t get up in their business or rebuke them for using their gifts, isn’t rude and would not have someone wait to apologize for an offense. The God I serve doesn’t expect me to behave possessed like a voodoo priestess, He praises self-control and consideration, good stewardship and offers grace and not judgment. He doesn’t demand I tell all my business to every man who calls himself a prophet. In fact He Himself stands at the door and knocks and waits for us to open it, doesn’t kick down the door and go through the drawers for the cash we have hidden in the sock drawer.
As for Prophet-man, something my God told me Himself “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? See, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
These are the fruits all Prophets in the Holy Spirit should have: