Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting
A memoir-in-progress of my life’s spiritual journey, centered on but not always about Wednesday night prayer meetings of my childhood and teen years.
Caves have impeccable acoustics.
There’s a cave at Windermere Baptist Conference Center near Lake of the Ozarks. In September 1981, a group I was with from the Baptist Student Union in Warrensburg left a late Saturday night worship service as part of a weekend youth conference. Instead of heading back to our cabins – men and women had separate quarters, of course – we instead hung out on the grounds, somehow staying in the shadows and avoiding the slow, sweeping beam of a night watchman’s flashlight.
We were under direct orders – both from conference staff and our BSU director – that anyone not in bed with lights out at the stroke of midnight wouldn’t be allowed on future trips.
There were other, non-specific consequences, the type that 18- and 19-year-old Baptists flatly ignored.
There were about 15 in the group I was in, so we must have felt braver en masse. Just after midnight we dashed from the cover of a shadow into the cave. I wouldn’t say I was the ring-leader, but I was in front with one of our two flashlights. Someone in the back had the other flashlight.
I don’t remember the cave having much length, and as I recall it had a shallow spring that seeped from under a dead-end wall. When we reached that point, I switched off my flashlight. The girls screamed. (And probably some of the guys, too). Then the flashlight in the back went off.
I started the praise chorus, “Alleluia.” That was the first verse. Just “alleluia,” sung to very simple, harmonious chords. Second verse was “I will praise him, repeated eight times, following the same simple chords. Third verse was “He’s my Savior.”
Back in Warrensburg, I’d auditioned and was selected for “Testimony,” the BSU’s touring music group. I never was sure whether to sing bass or tenor – or just carry the melody. One of my group-mates, Elaine Black, had one of the most effortless soprano voices I’ve ever heard. She was somewhere in the group of singing Christian rebels that bathed the limestone cave walls and ceiling with rich harmony.
We finished the song, I think someone probably prayed – we’d have lost our Baptist cards if someone hadn’t prayed – and just as I flipped my flashlight back on, the applause of one person approached from the entrance.
The night watchman.
As he wiped tears from his eyes, he whispered, “You kids get to your bunks.” He thanked each of us as we walked past him, following his quiet order.
“Testimony” was a musical experience I had from the fall of 1981 to the spring of 1982, maybe eight or nine months. We sang in all corners of the state, visited every group member’s home church (mine was Faith Baptist in Belle, Mo.), and sang at every nursing home or veterans home in the western half of the state.
My hands-down, favorite piece we sang was a chorale, “Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All” — a capella, of course. It was the most challenging piece in our repertoire, so naturally we worked on it the most. And we performed it exceptionally well. I loved the bass line and even though I haven’t sung that song in almost 30 years, the memory is crystal clear. We had quite a few upbeat songs and my group-mates teased me – kind-heartedly, of course – about my preference for more sacred, slower pieces, such as “Jesus My Lord …”
We sang at a nursing home – in Clinton, I think – and the scene, as it is in most nursing homes, was just sad and depressing. That particular performance was especially uncomfortable and awkward. You could say we just weren’t “feelin’ it.”
That changed when we sang “Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All.” As we sang the final measures, one old woman with a walker slowly made her way to the front. She stood in front of us, stepped away from her walker, and motioned to our director, Jon, to have all 10 of us kneel in a circle. In complete silence, she shuffled from person to person, placing her hands on each of our heads. Jon said she was praying. I didn’t hear it.
But I could feel it.
So I leave you with a treasure I found early this morning on YouTube: Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All.