Swart looked down at his watch and saw that it was already past eleven. They'd got on the subject because it came up constantly at family visiting. Item three on the agenda--three out of fourteen. With the point of his pen, he ran down the list--reports to classis, angry overtures, then finally, benevolence, missions. Maybe they'd just quit early, he thought. It was going nowhere. Frustration sat thick as fog.
"Maybe we ought to pray," Jeannette Ludinga said, finally.
"Right now?" Wilmot said.
"Yes, right now," she told him.
He looked up at the clock. "Okay--but do we raise our hands or not?"
"We can do with less sarcasm, Fred," Pastor Tom said, and Wilmot pushed himself away from the table. "Prayer is a good suggestion," the pastor continued quietly. He looked around. Ferris was seething, and Wilmot pouting, jawing that chew. "Gene," the pastor said, pointing at Elder Swart, "Would you lead us?"
Pray, Gene Swart thought, now? He shook his head, then looked down at the missionaries whose photos were pressed beneath the glass of the consistory table. Once, years ago, he'd made profession in this room. He was 44 years old, and he had spent more hours than he could count meeting around this table with elders and deacons . . .
"Gene?" Pastor Andrew asked again, as if he'd not been heard.
“Pray?” he thought. Pray tell, for what? The air was thick with the stench of a battlefield, anger rising from the trenches on either side of the table. Aside from college, Lakeside had been Gene Swart's home church from the time he was twelve. He loved sitting there in silence before the service, waiting and worshiping with the people he'd known for a lifetime.
The council stared, waiting for him to pray.
For whom?--he wondered. For the Sibbelinks? For Elder Wilmot? For Nikki, hands raised. For the whole bunch?
He turned toward each of them, followed their eyes all the way around the circle of the table, holding his hands as he met their anxious eyes. Pray?–he didn’t have a clue to what to say because honestly and truly there was nothing to say but, like King David, let his bones groan. That was the only prayer. How on earth were they going to get out of this? Who on earth was he going to pray for.
He swallowed thickly, sniffed once or twice, wiped his nose with the back of his hand. Here in this very room where his father used to hold forth, he came to the judgment that there was only one real prayer really, only one need worth pressing right now, so he smiled, then stood, then raised his hands. He pulled his hands into fists when the rest of them didn't respond, and jerked his hands up again like a maestro until they were all on their feet, every one of them–each of the uppers and every last one of the downers too. And then he prayed, as requested.
"Lord," he said in a tremolo, "have mercy."
Then silence, and all of them–all twelve of them stood there around the old table, waiting for a blessing, waiting for someone, something to make a move, for someone to be slain in the spirit, all of them, looking from one to another, until, as if on cue, first Nikki, Swart, then Luddinga, then each and every one of those chosen twelve watched voicelessly as their hands were raised by something bigger than any of them had ever imagined could inhabit the room; and there they stood, all of them around that table, their hands raised in silence, until it was Wilmot of all people–until it was Wilmot who finally said it when no one else did, who raised his deep bass voice and said "Amen," with vehemence that even he regarded later as being born-again.
Think of them there around that table, their hands raised with the burden of their own sin. Think of them like the apostles, blessed beyond themselves.
It was a moment they tried to explain forever afterward. But you had to be there, they said. You really had to be there to know for sure what was in that room.