I grew up going to church nearly every Sunday. It seemed to last forever. Through the church day and service I listened some and passed notes to my sister and cousins, who occupied the last two pews with me.
One moment in service, though, always, without fail, captivated me: Altar call. The moment near the end of the service when the pastor would reach out his arm and call those in need of healing to come forward for prayer.
He would some times say, “Maybe you sick, maybe yo’ son’s in jail, maybe you don’t know what’s gon be dinner tomorrow, maybe you wounded, maybe you lonely, maybe you feelin’ dirty, maybe you a paycheck away from the street, maybe yo heart’s broken again …”
Usually everyone sat in the pews for minutes on end. Wondering. What brave soul would admit to woundedness, brokenness, loneliness, out-of-fitness, first? Who?
Inevitably someone would step into the aisle, take the walk before the pulpit and kneel down to be prayed over. The one would eventually be joined by many.
I could go on about the power of this ritual to bring peace and healing to my community, and how it changed my relationship to service, but years later, I realize that the real power there at the altar was the power that comes from admitting vulnerability: the surrendering of our outward appearance to that of our soul’s and heart’s inner needs.
A few months ago I attended a yoga workshop with Atlanta-based teacher Gina Minyard. The practice was technical and soulful, with Gina pausing after each action or asana to let us take in the fullness of sensation and to ask how we were feeling.
It was simple. It was powerful. Like I remembered church.
Finally, we came to savasana.
“Who needs support? Bend your knees if you are in any way uncomfortable here.” Gina said.
My lower back spoke to me. I “shushed” it by saying, “I’m a yoga teacher! you think I don’t know how to take care of you?” My heart thundered, but I told it to “quiet down, people were listening and maybe even watching.”
My mind took me back to those clear and loud memories on those last two pews in my old home church.
It was then I knew the altar was waiting for me.
It was then that I stopped my ego’s frontin’ and listened to my body.
My teacher had called me and I became brave. I bent my knees, the indicator that I was in need of support, that I needed my body to be lifted up in a kind of tangible prayer, touch.
There. Front. Center. Yoga teacher. Me. I admitted that I didn’t know.
I heard my teacher walk over to me. I felt her exhale. My eyes were closed. She knelt and just sat beside me for what felt like hours. I could feel her creating space.
Then she put her hands under my low back and lifted me into that space. We both inhaled.
All these years and some miles away from my old church home, there on my yoga mat, I heard an altar call in my heart. And I heeded it.
An admittance of my incessant need to be held. To be soft. To yield to safe and healing touch.
To be prayed over.