Let’s just stick to this image:
A tall woman comes up to the front of the chapel, pink hat over steel hair and freckled brown skin. When she begins to sing her voice is uneven, imperfect, strained:
“Put on your face….”
She makes it through the verse, takes a breath.
The congregation starts in, unevenly, with our part:
“But no one knows me, no one ever will…”
Slowly, people begin to stand. Harmonies start to emerge, from people who know them, more people stand, voices gain confidence.
The soloist tackles the next part, and her voice is stronger, without the crackling anxiousness of the opening verse.
The congregation backs her, supports her.
“There must be someone who understands….”
A few people stomp the beat, enough to sound a heavy thud in a plain white meetinghouse which was certainly not anticipating such shenanigans.
“Let it out now, let it out now, let it out now….”
Then the steady revival-meeting clap, the call and response, the uneven ending from people not sure how many iterations that unspoken repeat at the end of that measure signed us all up for.
“I got the feeling you understand….”
She is singing strong, free, without any of the hesitancies of her first verse, her arms swinging as she claps the beat, her shoulders loose. What might have been fear has been transformed into this power, a clean, clear voice, a one-woman riot.
This is what congregations are for. Communities. The village it takes.