My father and I enter a huge concrete block building with no windows, the carpet is brown and there are people everywhere, it seems like seven hundred of them. My dad does not use a cane yet, but he needs to, so he holds me on the back of my neck to steady him, and I act as a kind of human crutch. I am about nine-years-old, so I guess I am just the right size for it. I walk slowly, feeling him lean on my back, trying to keep the same pace.
The service begins with praise music, and a man named Jimmy plays the piano, belting out the choruses into a microphone, while everyone else claps and sways; they close their eyes and lift up their hands. There are no hymnals, the words are written with markers on overhead projectors and displayed on the two screens in the front of the auditorium. The choruses are easy to pick up, and they stick in my head. The children are all running around: racing back and forth to the water fountain in the corner of the room, and I am shocked because I have never been able to do that in the Baptist church where I was a member.
Jimmy’s music turns from playing a song to playing chords, and the notes wave over the congregation as he says, “I sense that there is someone in this church who came for healing.” That’s an obvious statement, as we’re at a healing service. My father has a neurological condition that grows worse over time. He never had much control over his lower body and he moved his feet by swinging his arms and chest. Eventually he will move to a cane, to a walker, to a wheelchair, and he’ll fight each progression, with a hearty insistence that it’s not going to happen. But his body never cooperates with his strong will.
As a daughter, watching my father debilitate is difficult. It’s hard for all of us, I suppose, to watch our parents age, to see them weaken, to observe that great patriarchal force diminish, becoming incapacitated.
Dad doesn’t have much use for doctors or physical therapists. Every time he goes, he ends up with a different diagnosis: everything from polio to Multiple Sclerosis to a simple vitamin B deficiency. Even though he doesn’t seek medical help often, the hope for a cure absolutely drives him; he’s always looking for a miracle.
And that’s why we’re here, at the service. Jimmy continues, “She has just been diagnosed with cancer and God wants to touch her tonight,” and I can see a woman across the auditorium, her face changes, she’s shocked as tears well up into her eyes. She makes her way down the aisle so that she can be prayed for, and people surround her, pleading with God that her cancer might go away. The sick woman stands in the middle of this, she becomes overwhelmed by it all, and she faints. She’s been “slain in the Spirit.”
A couple of ushers have these modesty cloths ready, and they move in quickly to put it over her knees, so that her dress does not ride up while she’s out. Jimmy pronounces, with his fingers still dancing over the piano, “Sister, your cancer is gone. God has healed you. It is gone,” and the crowd erupts in applause and shouting, everyone is so excited because they are sure that the next X-ray will show a shrinking lump.
Jimmy had more words for the people in the crowd: there was someone with one leg longer than the other, and another person with asthma, and another with allergies. One by one they came up for prayer. Then, the first woman wakes up and she is telling everyone how she was diagnosed with lung cancer, and how she did not want to come to the service, but she came anyways, and now she is healed. The people yell out with loud “Hallelujahs” and “Thank you, Jesus.”
This testimony seems to fuel the fire and more people make it to the steps so that they can receive healing. The service seems to continue for hours, but Jimmy never says anything about my dad, and I wonder why. I stand there, a fervent and very religious little girl, and I pray, as hard as I can, that my dad will be healed. I pray that his feet will become straight and that his back will no longer be crooked, and I believe with my whole being that it will happen. I can see miracles all around, and I just know that if I have enough faith, mountains will be moved and my dad will be healed.
But then the songs and prayers end, and we walk out, with my father’s hand bearing down on the back of my neck, just like when we walked in the meeting. My heart’s crushed, just like the last time we went to one of these. I wonder if God can’t hear me. I think maybe I am doing something wrong, and I imagine my prayers bouncing off the ceiling and never reaching the ears of the divine. I can’t understand why God passes out the miracles to everyone but my dad. I can’t figure out why my father would end up after each service, with the same halting steps that he had before.