Choir in Wertheim, Germany
Today, I'm going to share a story I wrote a few years ago. It's a combination of a travel piece and a personal essay that might also be submitted to a religious magazine. It's alright to combine the different kinds of non-fiction writing. It's also an example of taking a very small happening and expanding it into a full story. I hope you enjoy the story.
The Presence of God
By Nancy Julien Kopp
I’ve felt the true presence of God a few times in my life, so real it seemed that I might reach out and touch Him. Each of those events has been etched solidly into my memory. It’s safe there and I call upon it for renewal of my spirit whenever needed, my own mini-miracle.
One summer, my husband and I had the good fortune to travel by river cruiser from
Amsterdam to .
The trip afforded us many pleasures as we traversed the Rhine, Main, and Vienna Danube rivers. Cathedrals and castles, cobblestones and
cafes--we savored them all on the land excursions planned for us each day.
Early one Sunday morning, our ship docked at the small town of
Here, we were told by our program director, we would have the opportunity to watch a glass blowing demonstration and then visit the retail shop that Hans, the Glass Blower, operated with his family.
“I’m so sorry that there are no other shops open since it is Sunday, but you can walk through the town and enjoy the buildings.” Renata told us as she pointed out a Protestant church. “There is a service here at this morning, but it will be conducted in German."
Ken and I attend church regularly in our home community, but, since this service would be in German, we elected to attend the glass blowing demonstration. How much can you get out of a service you cannot understand?
Hans entertained us royally with his demonstration and lecture about his art. When we finished admiring the fragile merchandise in his shop, Ken and I strolled through this quaint little town situated alongside the river. The cobblestone streets and the half-timber houses reminded us of fairy tale books we'd read as children. We admired the architecture of the buildings and stopped to gaze in the shop windows, regretting that none were open for business on Sunday.
“It's a good thing this art gallery isn’t open,” Ken said. “If it was, I'd buy that picture.” Lucky for me, the door was locked, and we had to move on.
Turning from the art gallery window, we found ourselves next to the church Renata had pointed out earlier. “Let’s go take a look,” Ken said. “The service is over by now.”
We climbed a flight of stone stairs and stepped into the cool interior of the church. No cathedral this one but truly lovely. An ornate altar with splashes of gold dominated the front. Twenty to thirty people clustered near the front pews, talking softly and milling around. They began to arrange themselves with backs to the altar and facing the mostly empty pews. Their chatter slowed, then ceased as they gazed steadily at a man who faced them.
It dawned on me that this was a choir of some sort getting ready to practice. Ken and I slid into one of the back pews, prepared to listen. We were treated to some of the most beautiful music I have ever been privileged to hear. The choir sang three songs, all in German. I could not understand one word, but there was no doubt that they were worshipping God with their music, singing from their hearts. It was as if we were listening to the voices of the angels. Joy and adoration radiated in the faces of the choir members as they sang in the near-empty church.
Ken and I moved a little closer together, our shoulders touching. The light from the windows shone on the altar giving the gold leaf a vibrant glow. The choir voices appeared to surround us; melody and harmony blended to perfection. Soft, but clear as crystal, the music flowed from front, back and sides, even though the choir sang directly in front of us. As the resplendent voices rose and fell with the melody, I felt the presence of God so strongly that it seemed as if there was nothing else in the world but this church, this choir, and the two of us.
I could not have spoken a word at that point as emotion rose high within me. My eyes brimmed with tears. One thought surfaced--that I did not want this to ever end. But end it did. The last notes of the final song floated softly toward us, then ceased. The people in the choir moved to the pews, picked up their coats and sweaters, and came down the aisle chatting in German and smiling as they passed us. They were once again ordinary humans, not the angels who raised their voices to the heavens.
We sat there a bit longer and finally rose to follow them outside. The choir members clustered at the top of the steps posing for a picture. One of the men stood below on the cobblestone street, adjusting his camera, and we slipped by him to continue our tour of Wertheim. Before we reached the corner, I turned for a last look at the German singers who had given us a taste of spirituality and perhaps a glimpse of Heaven on a quiet Sunday morning.
Minutes passed before either of us could speak, and, when we compared our feelings, we realized we had experienced something very, very special. No, we had not attended the church service that morning, but we found something never to be forgotten. It was one of those rare times when God makes his presence known giving us His love and assurance that He is always with us. What a wonderful way to have it revealed to us—through the voices of this gifted choir as they practiced, their songs a tribute to God.
When life’s trials and tribulations seem to be closing in on me, I close my eyes and bring the memory of that Sunday morning back once more. I see the golden glow inside the church, hear the angelic voices of the choir, and feel the presence of God. A warm sense of peace envelops me, and I'm ready to meet the rest of my day.