I'm one of the many people who think of themselves as spiritual rather than religious. It's been a long, long time since I've been to church, unless you count weddings, but last night I dreamed about it. In the dream, a friend and I went for the first time to one of those huge mega-churches that are popping up all over. Not the decorous sanctuaries I experienced in the Baptist church of my youth, the Methodist church of my teens, or the oh-so-sophisticated Unitarian Universalist church I attended for a while as an adult. This was the kind of church I see on TV, where the music is lively and the people are standing on their feet, waving their open hands in the air, faces raised up to the Heavens. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
Since my dream-friend and I had never attended that kind of church before, we agreed before going inside that we'd just watch the other people and try to blend in--sit when they sat, stand when they stood, etc. It seemed like a good plan, but it started unraveling almost immediately. First of all, we got separated because of the large crowd. I ended up sitting in a section of pews that were placed at an angle to those where my friend sat. From my position I could clearly see her in her front-row seat.
Another person also caught my interest. Standing on the floor in front of the stage and a short distance away from the preacher, there was a lady who was using American Sign Language to interpret the service for a group of deaf people. The deaf people, coincidentally, were in the first few rows near my friend. As the choir sang, the deaf people signed along with the interpretor, "singing" the lyrics, and when the hymn ended, they all quieted their hands and watched the interpretor as she translated what was being said.
The sermon began. I listened to the preacher, but I watched the congregation. I got busy sitting, standing and waving as the others did, and then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something I couldn't quite wrap my brain around. My friend, it seemed, had chosen the interpretor as her model for how to behave in this church. I watched in disbelief as my friend mimicked the sign language motions, moving her hands and fingers, touching her face or her chest, exactly in sync with the interpretor. It was actually quite fascinating.
I didn't want my friend to embarrass herself, so I focused all my energy on her, willing her to look in my direction. When she finally did, I began mimicking the sign language motions, too, accompanying them with a frown and a side-to-side shake of my head. My friend didn't understand that I was signaling her to stop. Instead, my fake-signing seemed to offer her affirmation, so she gave me a big smile and continued even more vigorously. "No sweat," her smile seemed to say. "I'm down with this."
And then I noticed that a couple of the hands-high-in-the-air people were looking back and forth between my friend and me, both of us doing sign language now, and one by one they began joining in. Like a wave at a baseball game, the sign language movement grew from the front of the church to the very last row in the back. The pastor, caught up in the fervor of his own voice, didn't seem to notice. Nor did the interpretor.
As the choir began to sing again, this time a rousing gospel number, the interpretor started swaying to the music while she signed the lyrics, which started my friend and all the deaf people swaying and signing, and then the entire congregation began swaying and signing like crazy, all in unison--all except me. I had stopped by that time and was just standing there, watching all those people dressed up in their Sunday best, joyous expressions on their faces, looking to me like spaced-out, signing line dancers.
The dream ended then, at the point where I was feeling alone in the crowd and wondering (not for the first time in my life) why I was the only one who seemed to think there was a problem with everyone just goin' with the flow.