Previously published in The Washington Post
As millions of Christians around the world celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ Sunday, I joined my grandparents, 92, for the celebration at Tenth Street Baptist Church on R Street, N.W. We read from Mark 16:11, and Pastor Michael A. Durant gave a powerful sermon about redemption and resurrection. But the real ministry for me was from the brothers in the congregation who jumped up in joy and broke down in tears.
First, the church band cranked up DeAndre Patterson’s gospel hit “He’s Alive – And I know it” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hbcD-u4pPY). That got us stirred up, and had me on my feet rocking and swaying and singing at the top of my lungs. “Jesus died, and I know it. He’s alive, ’cause he rose again.”
The pastor lectured on resurrection – from despondency, disappointment and despair. He lectured, too, on resurrection from death.
“Even those who say they want to go to heaven don’t want to go through the cemetery,” Durant said. With that, I understood clearly my sadness about recent deaths in my family. There’s something sad about putting our loved ones’ bodies in the dirt even if we believe their souls are going to some place better. That “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” reading over their buried bodies somehow reduces our grand love to something as common as the ground. So, Easter morning I relished the idea of everlasting life, keeping our loved ones alive in our hearts. I belted out my hopes in Patterson’s song. “He’s alive! And I know it!”
The band was electrifying. A keyboard artist in his 20s sang out loud, inviting us to follow. A slightly older man in beautiful dreadlocks wailed on his electric guitar. A bearded, bow tied brother kicked on his drums, and a calm, bespectacled young man rocked the bass line. Next, a young woman in the choir stood to lead an Easter morning classic, “The Lamb of God,” and all manners of restraint were loosed.
Individuals began shouting. “Hallelujah!” Praise him!” The shouting gave way to people jumping up from their seats, dancing in the isles, spinning, twisting, shouting, and crying. It was a typical southern-Baptist-style, “holy-ghost-getting” kind of celebration. A middle-aged man in the congregation jumped up, shouting and crying. He bowed down on one knee crying on the front pew. Another middle-aged man in the pulpit shouted, jumped, jerked and cried. The young man who had been sitting next to him pressed the palm of his hand to the crying man’s back to keep him from falling off the platform. What we witnessed was an enormous emotional release.
I used to think there was something wrong with such public displays of emotion. Growing up in the Nation of Islam, I had learned to dismiss such overwhelming emotions. (Malcolm X’s legendary passionate oratory skills aside, our Sunday services were decidedly cerebral.) At best, I believed, emotions were a sign of weakness. This belief was reinforced by many other influences over the years.
In recent years I have preferred the quiet, happy, guilt-free sermons of Joel Olsteen on Sunday mornings. But a couple of my friends have been urging me to go to church. It’s a different experience than watching it on TV, they insisted. Easter morning found me completely engaged at Tenth Street Baptist.
As the young woman sang and the men shouted and cried, I considered how much better our world might be if people simply cried sometimes. I wondered if we would have less violence – and fewer unwanted pregnancies – if we accept, expect, even encourage crying sometimes as a proper emotional release.
As the singing continued, I reached for my smartphone to research the benefits of crying. Sure enough, doctors say crying is healthy physically, and psychologically. (http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-living/wellbeing/the-health-benefits-of-crying.htm) I was reminded of when and why I had stopped crying so many years ago. Where I’m from, the motto was curse, don’t cry. Those of us not inclined to cursing – simply held it in, watered it with liquor, numbed it with drugs. I had not seen my grandparents cry until they were past 90. I saw my dad cry only once in his life – on his death bed a couple days before he died. So I delighted in the flow of tears Easter morning.
After service, I wanted to know what my granddad thought about it.
“I haven’t seen that much crying – ever,” I said as we were leaving.
“Oh yeah, people shout in here,” he said with a chuckle. “Even the pastor will be up their shouting.”
I prefer crying to shouting.
Millions of Christians around the world – and many in this Washington area – will spend this week, known as Bright Week, from Easter Sunday through the following Sunday, celebrating resurrection. For the whole week, they will meditate on Psalms in the Bible, and in other ways tune into spiritual songs and truths celebrating Christ. I will be with them in spirit. Celebrating the resurrection of Christ – and of my own compassion and emotional compass.