Now, how to describe it? It was, to say the least, energetic. While it took old Mr. Roels, by Ray's estimation, five minutes to get behind the pulpit, his performance was never boring. From the moment he stood from the pew to the last determined step he took to get back, he was the absolute focus at Fair Haven. No one moved. Every note of that song was a phenomenon.
His voice? Untrained, but voracious in the way it filled the far corners of the church; on key mostly, but, like that sheep of the song, sometimes astray as he plodded through each verse as if they were each only mini-rehearsals for the sweeping "A-waaaaays" of the chorus, his enunciation wrenched beyond recognition.
It was epochal. It was an event that overshadowed anything else that winter or most winters at Fair Haven. Every eye, every ear, was trained on the old goat in front braying away as if he were himself as lost as those directionless sheep.
It was literally stunning. By the end of the third verse, his round face held high as a morning glory, the book closed and at his side, he threw himself once more into that chorus. His tremolo staggered, not as if he were about to cry, but as if he were powered with some engine that would never die.
And then he stepped off the pulpit, one foot at a time, came up the row toward his wife, and took his seat, his thin face carrying a species of gracious arrogance, as if he'd known himself--saints be praised--what it was like to be lost and what it was like to be found.
Claire loved every last second. Angie said it was garish, and how could we ever hope to attract people from Scottsdale, and if things didn't change she didn't know how long she could stay at Fair Haven.
Marty called it "an event" and just shook his head. Pastor Tom wished people could have understood the words a little better, and Ray honestly didn't know what to think. After the service that morning, he'd thanked the old man and his demure wife warmly with a pair of gymnastic handshakes.
On the way home, in the heat of a late winter Arizona sun, Laney, their eleven-year-old, said, "Who on earth was that old man who sang anyway?" and then "Was he in the war?" and then, "He must have been in a war or something or other."
"Why do you say that?" Ray asked her over the seat.
"You could hear it," she said. "I didn't understand a word he said, but you could just hear it in how he sang. Hokie toots, could we have him over sometime?"
"Sure," Claire said. "We can do that."
The whole thing was a mandate, Ray thought, something the Lord, for his own good reasons, wanted them to experience. What else could you say? It was special music.