Each week we sat in a circle, huddled in a dorm room preparing our hearts for worship. For an entire semester our small group of diverse women gathered together to pray. One day a new face joined our little group. When it was time for her to pray, she started off shyly, carefully choosing each word. A voice within the group gently interrupted, “You know you can pray in any language you want.” We all felt her body shift as she exclaimed, “Really?” We opened our eyes and nodded in unison. As she switched from English to Spanish, the words burst from her small body, rushing together like a song. She sounded like an entirely different person. We only knew some phrases and key words, but that young woman lifted all of our hearts that night. By affirming her, we saw her true identity, and our view of God was expanded as we all imagined God whispering in Spanish back to her, back to us all.
Though she was praying in a language I didn’t know, there was something familiar about her worship. Attending a black church as a child, I remember being enthralled by hand-waving praise, melodious sermons, and gospel music that rose and fell with the emotions of the church. For two hours, we really were one body. Once our new group member was given the freedom to be herself, those memories and my own cultural background suddenly felt affirmed. An intense wave of belonging and connection took over. After that moment, we were never more committed to our group’s rule for cultural authenticity and cooperative participation. We all felt like we were home.