I sit in church, watching as children file slowly up to the front of the sanctuary. It is Easter Sunday in my parents church and the children are playing in a bell choir.
The strains of “Just as I am, without one plea” begin coming from the speakers and on cue yellow, red, and blue bells begin to chime. I am transported back in time and I shake my head at the mystery of memory.
I am back in Pakistan at my boarding school, listening to a Danish evangelist speak during weekly chapel. He would come at least once a term and present the gospel message in compelling words. The service always ended with an altar call and the hymn “Just as I am.” And we would all go up, repentant, teary, the impact of the words and song hitting our souls with just the right amount of emotion to compel action.
During those altar calls, when all present were singing “Just as I am,” I was acutely aware of my sinfulness and the beauty of God’s forgiveness. For some reason, no one explained to any of us that we needn’t go up to the front over and over again. So every time the evangelist came, up we got and down the aisle we went.
A wave of emotion hits me as I remember that time and my faith, a child’s faith, so easily shaped and molded.The memory is not negative. Rather, it is a part of childhood that I now better understand, a faith journey that has matured and grown.
My faith roots go deep. They go back to boarding school and early childhood. They twist and turn, much like the roots of a Banyan tree. There is something deeply comforting about my roots. The soil where they grew was rich with love and grace. There were mistakes – no life grows free of mistakes. There was sadness. There was misunderstanding. But that doesn’t take away from the deep roots. Adversity made them stronger.
So I sit and I watch small children, the same age as I was in boarding school, play “Just as I am.” They can’t know what it fully means, but that doesn’t negate the importance of what they hear.
We are told to come to God as children, expectant, joyful, and innocent. As I sit and listen to bells chime a song of my childhood, I feel like a child, wrapped up in God’s abundant love and grace.
And I thank God for the mystery of memory and deep roots of faith.