Wednesday, March 21, 2012


At seventeen, I flew across the country to a Christian ballet intensive.  As one of the older girls in our group, I helped shepherd the younger girls through our layover and onto the small plane.  We headed for Jackson, Mississippi full of joy in our shared adventure.  It was my first parent-less trip.

Time there was a thick, wet blur of ballet classes.  It was always hot and humid.  One day a girl stepped off the bus at the studio and yakked up her cafeteria lunch.  For two weeks, every muscle in my body ached from lack of rest.  Day after day we studied, bent, stretched, reached.  We piled sore on sore muscle.  We shoved down grits and pale, colorless produce.  No rest.  We danced for God.  Who was going to ask Him for a break, after all?

The only place in Mississippi that wasn't hot was the dorm room I shared with my best friend, C.  A poorly conceived air conditioner blasted through our room before dissipating through the halls.  No one else seemed cold, but our daily transition from studio-hot sweat and exercise to the biting, sterile air of our empty space was excruciating.  I had packed my linens in my suitcase; only a set of primary colored dinosaur sheets and a thin matching polyester blanket would fit.  This was barely enough weight to secure me so far from home, but even less protection from each night's artificial chill.

Evenings and mealtimes, we roamed halls, lay in corridors.  One girl talked about her boyfriend who had a motorcycle.  Oooh.  Most of the time we did as girls do--hair, nails, not much at all.  There was a scandal on the floor where a few twelve year olds got creative and gave each other new haircuts.  Friends taught each other how to pluck eyebrows.  It was a bold time for good girls.

I don't recall why C and I went downstairs that day, but we ended up in a hysterical, electric room filled with girls.  J, a friend we'd known for years, sat on the bed, crying hysterically, unable to speak.  Another girl--sixteen, maybe?--held her hands out over J's head and arms.  They both shook violently.  Let it in, the second girl cried over and over again.  Let it in, don't worry, it's okay.  Let it in, J!  She grabbed and pulled at J, but it seemed like J was somewhere else.

I was cold, but a new kind.  The kind that comes from fear.

This kind of scene certainly didn't play out back home, where the rowdiest thing at my tiny Methodist church was a lame puppet show.  Sure, folks would get together and have a rockin' pool party each summer, but no one ever shook or went catatonic.  No one chanted.  No one cried or fell down.

Was I less Christian because we didn't talk about demons? I wondered.  I didn't yet have the Biblical or worldly understanding to place what I saw.  God was God, I'd always thought.  My way got me to Him, too, right?  Mississippi was my initiation to the other between Christians, the differences between faiths that are hidden in the subtleties of denomination like a code.

I don't remember if I left the room and came back or if I stayed, but eventually an adult from the program showed up.  Whatever this was, it was too much for kids to handle or touch alone.  There was the implication that a few girls either bit off more than they could chew or that there was some dramatizing. I never knew which he meant, really.  Nobody should be letting anything in, he said.  Nobody had anything to fear.  God is powerful.  He told us how the staff had prayed over the building before we arrived, anointing it with oils and praying protection over us and our journey.  Some of this was unfamilar, but it had the familiarity of authority and it was presented in love and care.  I headed back to our room, bewildered.

That night C and I slept in the same twin bed to stay warm (we said--I was grateful not to feel alone), our two blankets a slightly warmer barrier against the constant, uncontrollable chill.  I was scared out of my mind, and I prayed all night for understanding while I stared up at the glow that radiated from outside our dorm window.  I wasn't sure what I'd seen or what my role was supposed to be in seeing it, but I felt different for being there. The cold settled into my spine and shook with the chill. I knew I didn't understand enough yet to make a judgement. I knew then I probably couldn't put into words what happened, so I kept what I'd seen to myself.


For the next few weeks I'm writing in response to prompts from The Scintilla Project. Check it out.

Today's prompt: Talk about an experience with faith, your own or someone else's.

1 comment:

  1. I just love the way you write. And these stories you are telling have me riveted.