“I’ll pray for you if you like?” The old woman’s voice was shaky, the words coming out of her throat as though she had to push them from the pits of her stomach. She sat on the back pew, beside Angela, who was holding her newborn on her lap.
“Well, yes, thank you,” Angela acknowledged the woman, smiling at her and stroking the baby’s soft blonde head at the same time. Angela wasn’t sure why she needed prayer at that point, and the elderly woman was a stranger, one that wasn’t a regular member of Angela’s church. She’d come in off the street, her clothes heaped around her in a haphazard way, as though she decided at the last minute to walk through the doors.
“You from around here,” Angela whispered the words and bounced the baby on her lap, only partly paying attention to the woman, sitting ghostlike beside her in a paleness Angela never saw before.
“Well, I guess so dear. I’m from all over the place I suppose.” Angela began to smell the aroma of unwashed flesh and material as it started to make its way over to where she sat. She pushed herself away from the woman ever so slightly, feeling uncomfortable now at who this stranger might be.
“Welcome then,” Angela said, hesitant to stretch out her hand and grasp the woman’s in her own. Light feelings of disgust started to attack her thinking and she felt a stab of guilt. After all, this was the house of God. We are all equal, Angela thinks as she continues to bounce her newborn on her lap.
“May I hold the child?” the woman moved closer to Angela, shifting herself ever so slightly, yet somehow still aggressively.
“Well, I rather you wouldn’t right now,” Angela’s voice clipped the answer. She felt her own irritation grow. She wanted away from the woman now, far away from her as her uneasiness grew. “She’s still quite young and not comfortable with strangers.”
“Yes, of course,” the woman slid back over to where she had been sitting, and folded her hands into her lap. “I just wanted to give the baby a special blessing is all my dear. “ She bowed her head down toward her lap, and closed her eyes.
“Yes, well,” Angela hesitated. “I’m sorry. Maybe next time you’re here. But you see, she’s just too young right now.” The young mother’s smile was weak, her voice apologetic, but firm.
“Yes, of course, next time. Not sure when I’ll be around again, but yes, of course, next time.” The woman’s voice grew fainter. She wrapped the layers of coat and scarves around her skinny body, and got up from the pew. Angela turned to wave a silent goodbye, as the preacher was mid sermon now. And as she did, the woman was already gone.
At the end of the service, Angela waited for the congregation to thin out, and waited patiently in the pew.
“Pastor John,” she called out, finally, as he shook his last hand with a final welcoming smile.
“The woman who sat beside me this morning. Did you see her? Do you know who she was?”
Pastor John smiled. “You didn’t know,” he said, surprise in his voice.
“That woman used to stand on street corners, years ago, all over the country, and preach a gospel like you never heard. People thought she was a female Paul. One powerful woman she was.”
“What happened?” she asked, curiosity growing.
“Nothing,” he said. “She just got old and can’t do it anymore. So she goes from church to church and picks out people she believes the Lord has laid on her heart for special blessings. I see she approached you?”
“Well, yes, the baby actually,” Angela turned her head to look toward the door that the woman had left through, as though by looking, she could bring her back through, and this time, accept the blessing.
But she couldn’t. She lost a valuable opportunity for her baby. But the woman was poorly clothed, and was obviously unbathed. Angela straightened out her own Armani suit, and stood up.
“Do you think I missed something?” she asked, as she looked at the tiny person in her arms.
“I’d say you probably did,” he answered. “You missed recognizing angels when they’re just wearing street clothes. “Good day Angela,” he smiled and walked away.
“By the way,” he called over his shoulder. “She only ever asks once.”
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