Ben H. Swett
(email dialogue)


A friend forwarded this to me. Once again it seems to be "the God I fear vs. the God I hope for."

The God I fear condemns for even watching R-rated movies. (What will my adulterous heart bring me with that God, except terrible judgment? What about my non-Christian friends? We're all doomed.) The God I hope for will lead us through our trials and show us the Truth.

The thing that confuses me most is that these things seem to result in good: exorcisms and the like, or even hospitals for the poor (historically).

As I told my friend: "I don't know; I can only pray for God to lead me in my own life, and not make judgments on others' :)"


Dear Rei

This is a fine report. [attached] I have been following reports of this revival for several years, and have read more than a few commentaries, pro and con, concerning what is happening there.

My friend Karen ("Detachment Session, Karen") now lives in Pensacola, and has attended this revival several times. She said the sermons are just crude exhortations, but there is a great change in the atmosphere after the sermon, when they move into their spiritual work. Although she didn't expect it, she was "slain in the spirit" very much as this author reported. It was for her an altered state of consciousness in which she felt peaceful and cleansed and relieved of much that had been bothering her.

She said the people there are at least as aware of evil spirits as she is, and they are prepared and organized to do something about it. She learned this when she saw a man leaving hurriedly, his eyes black with rage. She thought, "Oh, oh! There's a dark one!" -- and noticed that one of the ushers was also watching that man. The usher spoke into a cell-phone or hand-held radio. Two men and two women intercepted the man before he got to the door, and spoke with him. After a bit, he went with them. She asked the usher where those people were going. He said, "To one of the private rooms, to pray for deliverance."

The "turn or burn" sermons are crude but scriptural. The very first word Jesus preached in his public ministry was "Repent" which means re-think, turn, or return. The problem is in their theology, as I said in "Watershed" and elsewhere. They paint a false picture of a condemning, punishing God.

Jesus said God isn't willing that any should perish, but souls do perish contrary to the will of God. Therefore, those who are going toward their own destruction do need to turn around. (And those who are going more-or-less toward the will of God need to continue and refine their steering as they go.)


24 August 2000

NewsBank InfoWeb The Orlando Sentinel May 11, 1997 Author: Michael McLeod, of The Sentinel Staff Section: FLORIDA, Edition: METRO, Page: 6



When first I heard of the people who claimed
The old time religion was real,
I said, I'll go down and take a look at the crowd.
It's just the weak-minded, I feel.
Something got ahold of me.
Something got ahold of me.
I went there to fight
But oh my, that night
Something got ahold of me.
--Old revival song, author unknown

Two years ago, on Fathers Day 1995, the congregation of the Brownsville Assembly Of God in Pensacola convened as usual for Sunday morning services. They filtered through the lobby and into the pews, a devout, conservative mix, nearly 1,800 strong. There were baby boomers and retired military people, sober church deacons and graying charter members. Some had worshipped in the same congregation for decades. Their 5-year-old sanctuary was a stately presence in a working-class side of town, rising up sharply between a barber shop and a bingo parlor.

The service began promptly at 10:20 a.m. that day. One hour later, Brownsville Assembly was on its way to becoming a Panhandle Lourdes. And the pastor, with his dark suit still crisply pressed and his curly black hair impeccably groomed, was flat on his back on the marble floor in the front of the sanctuary, lost in a speechless daze. Several stalwart members of his flock soon keeled over next to him. They were not sick. They were awestruck. For they had been touched, they all believed, by the very hand of God.

That service, now referred to by the faithful as The Fathers Day Outpouring, began with a sermon by a 43-year-old evangelist named Stephen Hill, who had been invited to take the pulpit that Sunday by the Brownsville pastor, James Kilpatrick. The two long-time friends were a study in contrasts. Hill was hard-charging and plain-spoken, a Texas evangelist with a bristly mustache, a low center of gravity and a pride in preaching straightforward turn-or-burn sermons. He had a habit of stamping his feet while up on the platform waiting his turn to preach. Kilpatrick liked to compare him to a bull pawing at the arena gate.

As a young man, Hill had been addicted to drugs, including heroin, and was delivered from the habit when a youth minister converted him. Most of his preaching had been done in the missionary field, seven years of it during a massive revival in Argentina.

Kilpatrick was a small-town Southern preacher who met his wife at Bible school and had never been on an airplane in his life. He had felt the call to become a minister as a quiet teenager growing up in Columbus, Ga. In his 13 years at Brownsville, his congregation had come to respect his homespun, passionate spirituality. But he was restless. He kept saying he didn't want to just play church. He was tired of merely going through the motions of weddings and church picnics and listening to the choir's living Christmas tree at the Cordova shopping mall every year. He wanted to ignite his congregation, wanted his church to be on fire for God. So he started praying for it. He made it a part of his weekly routine. Every Thursday night he asked people to come and pray with him. Often he'd be the only one there. Sometimes he'd be joined by Elmer Melton, an usher and retired Marine drill sergeant, two men praying together for a revival to take hold in Brownsville.

As part of his search, Kilpatrick became curious about how the power of prayer was working in a scattering of charismatic churches in Great Britain, Canada and the United States. There were accounts of people routinely and literally being knocked off their feet. One of the international hot spots of the movement was the Toronto Airport Church, where prayer teams would hold their hands over people and entreat the Holy Spirit to enter them. The recipients of such prayer would often laugh uncontrollably, speak in tongues, shake, swoon and emerge from the experience saying that their devotion had been raised to a new level. Worshipers from all walks of life including Catholic priests and proper Anglican vicars had been humbled by the experience and thrown to the floor. Kilpatrick sent his wife and several staffers to Toronto to investigate. They came back enthused.

And now Hill, his guest speaker, was saying that he'd had a similar, transforming experience when he met a charismatic vicar on a recent trip to Brompton, England. When he walked into the church, he'd had to step over worshipers still lying flat on the floor from that day's services. When he addressed the Brownsville congregation on that Fathers Day, Hill spoke of falling to the floor himself when the vicar prayed over him, of feeling the Holy Spirit.

And he offered to share the feeling with them. He asked those who wanted to be prayed for to move to the front of the church. About half the congregation hesitantly came forward. As the choir sang Blessed Be The Name Of The Lord, Hill moved from person to person, holding his hand over their foreheads or chests. Now, Lord! Now! he shouted. More, Lord, more! Some people only stood before him uncertainly, eyes closed, weaving slightly back and forth, waiting for a lightning bolt that never came. Others trembled, wavered and fell to the ground. Kilpatrick followed behind Hill, growing more and more astonished. He rushed to the microphone and shouted, This is it! Get in! Soon afterward, as Hill turned toward him, Kilpatrick reeled back and collapsed on the marble floor.

It was as if a big, heavy blanket fell over me, Kilpatrick remembers. It was like being a youngun again and being tucked in with a quilt. I couldn't move. People would lean over and try to talk to me, and I just didn't care. The chairman of the Assembly Of God congregations could have leaned down in my face and it wouldn't have mattered.

Hazel Johnson, a member of the Brownsville choir, remembers looking out at the scene in astonishment. I saw people I had known for years, reserved, conservative people, deacons and elders, people who were on the board of directors, and there they were, down on the floor. And I was thinking: These are upstanding people. They don't give in to emotional displays. What is happening to them?

One of the people whose collapse so amazed her was a 59-year-old retired Coast Guard officer named Bill Bush. Bush had spent 28 years in the service, retiring as a Coast Guard commander in 1987. I had never experienced anything like that in my life, he says. The first time Steve Hill prayed for me I didn't feel anything. But the second time, I fell to the floor. I could not move my hands and feet. I was probably there for an hour. I said, Lord, if this is really you, do something to let me know this is real. And this is what I felt. I don't know if it was a vision, but it was as real as you and I talking. I sensed, in the distance, a huge brush fire. And I felt something reach inside of me and pull all the bitterness out of my life and put it on that fire. And that fire consumed me. Then it was as if a soothing oil was poured on my body. And I said, Lord, let me feel the joy in my salvation like I have never experienced it before. And I felt more joy and peace and contentment, there on that carpet, than I had ever experienced in my life.

I walked up the steps, and I peeked in the door
And the devil said, Don't you go in.
I said, It won't hurt me. I'll just step inside
And set as far back as I can.
Something got ahold of me
Something got ahold of me
I went there to fight
But oh, my, that night
God really got ahold of me.

The line begins forming at 4:30 a.m. By noon it is a hundred yards long, extending all the way to the bingo parlor. People bring folding chairs and beach umbrellas and sit eight and ten across, slathered in sun screen, reading their Bibles, listening to Christian music, wearing big straw hats against the heat and T-shirts that say: Yes, Lord, We Will Ride and Commit Or Live In The PIT! This is no place for Sunday morning frills. This is no leisurely stroll to a favorite pew. This isn't even the Brownsville Assembly of God any more, not really. This is now the Brownsville Revival.

This is football practice in the middle of the week, with nobody watching, says Stafford Mile, a groundskeeper who has come here with a group of more than 100 people from the Life And Praise Temple in Auburndale. This is total commitment to my Lord and Savior.

Worshipers stand in line for up to 15 hours to get a seat for services that begin, most nights, at 7 p.m. When the service concludes shortly after midnight, they do not go back to their campers and their hotel rooms and collapse for a long night's rest. They shower. They nap. And then, 4 1/2 hours later, they reappear in the parking lot, lined up for the next night's revival.

Over the past two years, more than a million and a half people from all over the world have come to the Brownsville church to attend revival services that are now held five times a week. Many believe that the revival is a move of the Holy Spirit, a sign that the second coming of Jesus Christ is close at hand. So they come from Auckland, New Zealand, and Ludenshied, Germany, from Victory Fellowship in Raleigh, N.C., and the Christian Center in Fort Stockton, Texas. Many are pastors who want to recapture faded zeal. Most are born-again Christians who want to deepen their faith. All of them hope to be touched by God in some way, as they believe the people who took part in that initial Fathers Day Outpouring were touched.

And it happens. At least, something happens. For night after night, by the end of a revival service, dozens of dazed worshipers are stretched out on the floor of the Brownsville Assembly sanctuary. Some refer to this spiritual reverie as being slain in the spirit. Others use a more casual Brownsville coinage: They call it carpet time. Ushers keep a store of wheelchairs on hand so that people who cannot rouse themselves at the end of services can be wheeled out to their cars. Designated drivers are strongly recommended.

And John Kilpatrick has the revival he prayed for. I wake up every morning trembling because I know I am going to be in the presence of the Lord, he says. I love this revival. I don't know what I will do when it ends. There is no telling when that will be. Already it is the longest running revival in this country in 90 years, and it shows no signs of abating.

Kilpatrick insists that the point of the revival is not to knock people senseless but to save their souls. This may or may not involve an encounter with Brownsville's plush mauve pile. Those for whom nothing dramatic happens are no less spiritual than those who have an experience of some sort, says the Rev. Thomas Trask, general supervisor of the Assemblies Of God Congregation, headquartered in Springfield, Mo. Being slain in the spirit is not something new. It is a part of our denomination's history. It's why some people used to call us holy rollers.

And it's part of the reason for the success of this odd wedding, a conservative Southern church, circa 1997, a counter-culture phenomenon, circa 1969. Modern charismatics began appearing as part of the Jesus movement of the hippie era and have flickered in and out of several American congregations ever since. Interest in charismatic worship began accelerating globally about five years ago, partly due to the influence of televangelists Benny Hinn and Rodney Howard-Browne. The essence of charismatic worshipping is the belief that miracles still happen: Devout Christians can prophesy, heal, speak in tongues. They can also be caught up in an emotional, unpredictable and sometimes extremely physical encounter with the Holy Spirit.

Margaret Poloma, a sociologist at the University Of Akron, is writing a book about the movement. She did a survey of 900 worshipers at Toronto, 386 men and 523 women from 20 countries. Most said they had experienced some sort of physical reaction during the course of worship services, from being woozy or drunk in the spirit, to shaking violently, to slipping quietly to the floor. Seventy percent reported, as a result of their experience, increases in personal spiritual refreshment, holiness and healing. Poloma says this kind of worship gives people a chance to experience catharsis, a transforming emotional outpouring that can help them break free of old habits or reach a new level of awareness, or both. She sees Toronto and Pensacola as a sign that Protestantism is trying to re-invent itself, finally breaking out of the pious old lock step that says the mind is good and the body is evil, that worship is mental, not physical. When we go to church, we've been denying a considerable part of our humanity, namely our bodies, she says. What I find coming out of this movement is a genuine post-modern phenomenon, a chance for worshipers to have a fuller, more physical expression in church.

Both Kilpatrick and Hill prefer to see what is happening in more traditional terms. They call it a plain old-fashioned revival. Kilpatrick is a student of the great Cane Ridge Revival, which took place in Kentucky in the early 1800s and stirred such fervor that men bayed like animals while women snapped their heads back and forth so rapidly that their hair was said to crack in the air like bullwhips. Madness, said the social critics of the day. But like other great American revivals, Cane Ridge inspired people to go out, once they stopped shaking, and do good. The meetings resulted in broad-based social change, including the building of churches, orphanages and hospitals for the poor.

They may be the leaders of this revival, but both Kilpatrick and Hill have been careful to maintain low profiles. Once, when the two men were greeted by a standing ovation, they rebuked the crowd for giving them credit due only to God. I didn't have nothin' to do with it, says Kilpatrick. I was flat on my back. Asked how he feels when he moves through the Brownsville crowd at evenings end, praying for the hoards who encircle him, Hill responds tersely: Tired.

Assembly of God congregations have had their problems with flashy, high-profile evangelists (see Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker). This church and its national office want to avoid any controversies, moral, monetary or otherwise. Though Brownsville services are televised, the broadcasts are cut off before carpet time. There is no star-struck spectacle in front of the cameras.

And for all the attention it has received, Brownsville Assembly is still a fusty old Southern church. Rose Compton, the office manager, still runs the church with a brittle efficiency, jealously guarding the pastor's free time and worrying about the bills. Since the revival started, the utility bill has quadrupled to $15,000 a month; child care is running $50,000 a year. A board has been established to oversee the finances of the revival, which takes in roughly $12,500 each night. Most of the money is going to improvements and expenses made necessary by the revival. Volunteers, many of them the original members of the congregation, now work long hours to keep services running and give up their own seats in the church so that pilgrims can attend. Bill Bush, the Coast Guard officer, is still the head usher. Elmer Melton, the former drill sergeant, is one of his assistants. How weird can a church be, after all, if the Marines and the Coast Guard are on duty?

The answer is: pretty weird. Once, a 9-year-old girl fell to the carpet during one of the Brownsville services and began making dreamy, repetitive motions, like a lazy gardener weeding a flower patch. Later, the girl was brought in front of the congregation to explain what she had been doing. I was pulling lost souls out of hell, she said. Then I was sending them to heaven. And not a moment too soon.

The spirit that rules over Brownsville is in a hurry. This is no time for theological subtleties, no place for long, contemplative walks with God. This is religion in black and white, immediate and operatic, filled with steep angles and sharp turns and shrill sound bites. Now, Lord! is the call. More, Lord! is the slogan. It's on all the T-shirts. It's in the driving lyrics of the contemporary, soft-rock hymns that start off every worship service. It's what Steve Hill and James Kilpatrick say when they pray over people. And it's in the stories that are offered up as examples of the dramatic turnarounds that have overtaken people who have come here.

JoAnn Lowell was a senior director with Mary Kay cosmetics. She drove a pink Mary Kay Cadillac. Her husband owned a successful credit bureau in Atlanta. Outwardly, she appeared to be extremely successful. But she was only involved in Mary Kay out of sheer loneliness. Her husband was a dictatorial alcoholic. She had heard people talking about Brownsville in her own church, and one day, en route to a regional sales meeting, she and another Mary Kay director made an impulsive detour. They found themselves nosing the pink Cadillac into the Brownsville parking lot. Once inside, the women were swept away by the fervor. JoAnn found herself stretching out her arms and dancing in church. Both she and her friend hit the carpet more than once that night. I never felt such freedom, she says. I felt I had crossed over the line and God now had total control. On the way back to Atlanta, they played a tape they had bought in the church lobby, a tape filled with the revivals throbbing, soft-rock music. When they slipped it into the Cadillac's tape deck, just the sound of the music was enough to put them under the spell of the Spirit all over again. Fortunately, JoAnn adds, The Holy Spirit only fell on the person sitting on the passenger's side. Eventually she talked her husband, Robert, into going to the revival. Midway through the service he tried to leave. Steve Hill came up to him. I turned, and when he just barely touched me it knocked me back five feet and up against a wall, says Lowell. It knocked some sense into him, shaking him loose from the shell of his old, driven self. In the year since then he has lost 20 pounds. He no longer drinks or smokes. His relationship with his wife has been transformed. The Lowells say they frequently commute to Pensacola so they can work as volunteers at the revival.

Patrick Waters was a 23-year-old bouncer and drug dealer at a Destin bar. He weighed 300 pounds and made it a point to grow a goatee and a pony tail to look even more intimidating. He especially liked getting into fights and punching people in the temple, because he thought it was funny to watch their eyes roll back in their heads. His father, a Baptist minister, finally talked him into going to the revival. Waters went as a lark and sat in the balcony to gawk at the spectacle below. But the music got to him, and so did the sermon. There were tears in his eyes when the time came for the altar call, when people are asked to come forward and ask Jesus to forgive them and come into their lives. When his stepmother pulled Patrick by the elbow and said, Time to go, big fella, he went. I was crying so hard, he says. First time I ever cried since my grandmother died. And I didn't know how to pray. So I just said, God, it's me. Here I am. I don't claim to be a fruitcake, or nothing like that, but I heard God's voice. And it wasn't like James Earl Jones or nothing, but the voice just said: Buddy, you don't know how many times I've saved you. And then it was like one of those Poltergeist movies, when all the evil spirits come flying out of somebody's chest. All the evil just came out of me, and I felt this awesome peace. I've got the joy, man. I'm happy. Even when I'm not happy, I'm happy. Happy people make lousy bouncers. Waters has cut the hair, shaved off the goatee and found a new vocation: He is enrolled in the school of ministry at Brownsville Assembly.

There are hundreds of stories of people who have been restored at Brownsville. But there are also tales of disillusionment. Not everyone who was present at the original Fathers Day Outpouring was awestruck. The church lost roughly 200 members when the revival began. Some simply wanted to worship in quieter surroundings. Others had stronger reservations. A half-dozen former members, all of whom are now worshipping at Southern Baptist churches, say that they are bitter about what happened to their church. All requested anonymity, saying they didn't want to further distance themselves from friends who remain active at Brownsville. And all of them have a strong belief that the physical manifestations at the church are inappropriate. All believe that the Bible offers no support for that sort of worship. I didn't like it when I looked up there and saw that the pastor was knocked out and another man was taking over, says one woman. What kind of leadership is that? There was tremendous pressure to conform, at first, said a man who resigned as a deacon soon after the revival hit. One time I did kind of collapse. My legs kind of bucked up on me a little. But afterwards I was looking around at them all, running after people and catching them, and I said to myself: This is ridiculous. If God can knock people out, why can't he go ahead and catch them too? One man said when he prayed about the matter, the message that came through from God was: My word is sufficient.

But Brownsville's harshest critic is Hank Hanegraaff, the head of a nondenominational religious watchdog organization in California called the Christian Research Institute. He's the star of a syndicated radio talk show about religious matters and the author of Counterfeit Revival, a book that is highly critical of the charismatic movement. Hanegraaff calls the Brownsville revival psycho-social manipulation. He says that people who go to the revival hoping to be slain in the spirit are deluded. If they fall to the floor, it is not because of the Holy Spirit, he says, but because of crowd dynamics and the power of suggestion.

Linda Smith, a Methodist minister who lives in Pensacola and has taken an interest in the Brownsville revival, says that its critics are people who want their religion to be precise and predictable. When God shows up as he has shown up at that church, nothing is normal, she says. It's as if he has blown a hole in the roof and is just pouring his power down on that place. And people become afraid when God shows up. Suddenly he jumps out of the Book, and they can't close it.

What is going on here is biblical, says Jana Sumner, a legal secretary from Claremore, Okla. She is first in line at Brownsville, having arrived to claim her spot at 2:30 a.m. When you come here, you better leave behind your preconceived idea of church and God, she says.

I soon discover how right she is. The choir members are bouncing up and down, a hundred people in the front of the sanctuary flying this way and that and making the occasional mid-song pirouette, their purple robes and yellow collars flying. Even the ushers are dancing in the aisle. The pilgrims are freshly packed into the pews, where the fervor and anticipation and the steam of the long day outside rise up from them like a shimmer over hot tarmac. For more than an hour they stand and sing, matching the choir and the back-up band chord for chord, decibel for decibel. They don't just belt out an upbeat holy tune or two. They work their way through the whole CD. The songs are imploring, devout, emotional:

I want to know you
I want to hear your voice
I want to touch you
I want to feel your grace
I want to know you, Lord

The lyrics are all like that, the kind of one-on-one appeals that usually only rise up from children or death beds. The people sing with both arms held high and their faces thrown up towards the ceiling. Already some of them are crying. A young man in jeans and a crisp denim shirt is falling to his knees, then bending to touch his head to the floor in abject devotion, his shoulders shaking. In the front of the sanctuary, Kilpatrick and Hill sit in padded chairs, grinning and tapping out time while a man with long hair and elegant, tapered fingers directs the choir and bangs out melodies on an electric piano. The man steers the music into one crescendo after another. Hallelujah! he says.

The choir director is the good cop. Steve Hill is the bad cop. He steps to the pulpit when the music finally dies down, weighing in with a booming rasp and a battering-ram sermon designed to put sinners on their knees. Kilpatrick only preaches on Sunday mornings. Otherwise, Hill carries the load. In two years, Hill has missed only one revival service, when the small commuter plane he was flying on ran into rough weather. It was terrifying. People thought the plane was going to crash. Being a preacher, Hill used the experience as material for a fear-of-God sermon that goes something like this: Imagine you are flying somewhere, and you look out the window and see one engine burst into flame. Then the other engine goes. And then the plane starts to nose-dive, and you realize your life is soon to end. Would you have to kneel in the cabin and repent then and there, seeking eleventh-hour forgiveness for all of your sins? Friend, if you are not ready for that plane to crash, if you do not eat, sleep, drink and breathe Jesus, I have doubts about your salvation.

You'll get no fluffy, Twinkie, feel-good sermon from this pulpit. Hill is not afraid to preach about sin, and he is not above suggesting that, yes, the end of the world may be near. He is here to tell you just how close judgment may be, and just how easy it is to fall, to sin. Friend, it can happen at the check-out line. Look at this, he says, leaning over the pulpit and turning his head back and forth. This is my neck. It works like this. The next time you catch yourself standing in line at Wal-Mart and looking at the cover of Cosmopolitan, just turn your head away and look at the Tic-Tacs. Do you have R-rated movies at home? Get rid of them. Marilyn Manson CDs? Throw them away. Because if you think you are a good Christian, but you can watch a movie that involves a man and a woman taking off their clothes, you have backslid. You need to do as one man did after a Hill sermon: He strode to the pay phone outside, called his wife and told her to cancel HBO.

Every night, after the sermon, Hill makes the altar call. Sometimes he does a countdown to dramatize the narrow window of opportunity. Sometimes he has a trumpet player play reveille to help wake up the backsliders. Hurry! he says. Hurry! People rush forward and kneel at the altar, many of them weeping. In four hours they have covered a month of Sundays' worth of wailing for lost souls, fearing God's wrath, proclaiming their love for their Savior.

By the time the altar call rolls around, I feel like the only person at the party who is not having a good time. The sermon sounds like stuff I heard from the nuns in second grade. The music is no match for gospel or Gregorian. I don't think Cosmo cleavage is sinful. Neither is my premium movie package with Time-Warner. And I hate it when people talk about the end being near. It seems so self-indulgent. We're here. We've been born. Must be time to close down the salad bar.

I still am conducting a lively inner debate on these issues when the sanctuary lights dim, the music softens, and the prayer teams begin moving through the crowd. From the balcony, I watch. Soon the floor is covered with a wave of fallen worshipers. And it is biblical. Because from this point on, the place is not driven by the bombast of the preacher or the pumped-up passion of the choir. It comes from the hunger of the crowd for a sign, a touch, a confirmation that all that waiting in line was not in vain.

I find myself watching Kilpatrick. He seems to linger at his task more than the others who are praying for people; he is much more likely to pause and speak a few words in someone's ear before he sends them reeling. He gently takes a man's glasses off, tucks them into the man's breast pocket. Then he encircles the man with his arm, holds up a hand, palm out. Shooo! The man falls backwards.

A moment later a woman comes up to me in the balcony and asks if I want to be prayed for. OK, I say. She steers me downstairs and through the crowd. Soon I am standing in front of pastor Kilpatrick. He looks at me. Let me pray for you, brother, he says. It sounds so casual in the soft Georgia accent, as if he has just wondered out loud if maybe I wanted that hedge trimmed up just a bit. Then he leans over, pats me lightly on the back, and seems to pick up a message from somewhere. Whoo, boy, he says. It's like you're on a bungee cord.

Nobody touches me, but suddenly it is as if I have been enveloped by a cushion of air with a mind of its own, and the next thing I know I am on the floor. It is like fainting, only without the nausea. It is like being drunk without the headache. It is like being suddenly propelled into that half-conscious state of mind when you first wake up in the morning. I do not hear the voice of James Earl Jones or see a burning brush fire approaching me. I just sit there wondering if I can open my eyes. I can. Then I wonder if I can move. I do. Then I think: I better grab my notebook. When I stand up, I feel as if I have just awakened from a catnap.

I don't have enough faith to tell you it was the Holy Spirit. I am not quite cynical enough to say it was psycho-social manipulation. Whatever hit me was humbling. It was safe. It was peaceful. It sure broke the ice.

The next night I volunteered to be a catcher, to follow Stephen Hill around as he worked through the crowd, praying for people. For an hour, I caught people from all over the world. I caught old people, young people, big people, little people. Sometimes I got the full weight of them and eased them down gently. More often it was all I could do to snake a hand through the thick crowd and put it on the small of someone's back while somebody else eased them down from the other side. It wasn't an I-believe-and-you-don't situation. I wasn't judging them, and they weren't judging me. Here, carpet time seemed to make more sense than sitting in a pew and woodenly responding to prayers I wasn't paying attention to. Here, I was helping people find whatever it was they had come for. And there was a real joy in doing that.

I saw an old man falling back. Somebody else had him by the waist and I cupped the back of his head and eased it toward the carpet. The crowd swirled on past us, and there we were, him with his eyes closed and this wonderful peaceful expression on his face and his white baseball cap still clutched in his hands, me feeling his wiry black hair on the palm of my hand and just wondering what sort of dream he was dreaming. When I looked back a moment later I realized a woman, probably his wife, was sitting over him patiently, waiting for him to wake up. When I tried later to think of a word to describe that scene, the word I came up with was holy. It just looked holy.

I said when I went I couldn't stay long
I must be home by nine.
But the fire came from heaven
And I fell to the floor
I got home five hours late, but felt fine.
Something got ahold of me
Something got ahold of me
I went there to fight
But oh my, that night
Something got ahold of me.

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