Indigo Insights

Sunday, November 02, 2003

There have been three constants in my life: church, music, and animals. By constants, I mean I have no memory of a time when these things were not important to me. My earliest documented memory was when I was 18 months old. That’s a lot of church, music, and animal experiences that I remember.

Tens of thousands of moderately talented singers and musicians are stricken with the performing virus early in life in their churches. It’s comfortable in church. The people there know and appreciate you. They make allowances and excuses for your talent inadequacies. There are no bad audiences in church.

I don’t remember the first time I sang in church. It was before I was five years old. I know that because my first theater appearance was when I was five and by then performing for audiences was old hat. That first non-church audience is as vivid in my memory as if it had happened yesterday afternoon. Although it was the largest audience I’d ever performed for, far from nervous, I was aglow with excited anticipation. Apparently, size of venue is irrelevant to a five-year-old ham.

In 1940, America had not yet entered the war, but grass roots fund-raisers and benefits for the Brits were common across the country. (That’s World War II to you young’uns.) England was regularly being bombed by Germany and English civilians were dying or without adequate supplies, food, or shelter. The American feeling seemed to be “there but for the grace of God go I”, and our country responded in an all-out people-to-people effort. I recently heard on the History Channel that over 100,000 British civilians were killed in the blitzkrieg before America even entered the war.

The dirt poor Coastal Plain area of North Carolina, where I grew up and where the theater benefit mentioned above took place, was struggling through the devastating remnants of the Great Depression. But there were enough pennies, nickels and occasional dimes in the pockets of audience members to jingle the collection plate as it passed up and down the rows of seats.

After the newsreel of the day had updated everyone on Britain’s plight, the audience stood and sang The Star Spangled Banner. Microphones were “one size fits all” on a stationary stand in those days. There was no adjusting for height. The Master of Ceremonies picked me up and stood me in a chair in front of the mic on stage, and I closed the show with an a cappella rendition of “There’ll Be Blue Birds Over the White Cliffs of Dover” – the final British tribute for the afternoon.

My interests – no, more than interests, more like life motivations – have not been in a time warp for the last sixty years. Spiritual study, music appreciation, and love of animals matured as I did. Church sponsored events comprised my entire social life until I was in high school. As a youth, I was totally involved in church clubs, music, plays, summer camp, and organizations for community service. The church choir was a very big thing in my childhood and teen years. This was “the Choir” – not a children’s choir, which we did not have – and I began singing with the adults when I was twelve years old. Being at church on Sunday was more imperative to me than delivering the mail was to the postman. I loved my church and the old minister who had been there for so many years. He baptized me, as well as the majority of the entire congregation. Nobody I knew could remember when he wasn’t our spiritual leader.

As young adults, my husband and I were active members of my childhood church. I continued to participate in all its activities, especially music related events. Our children probably can’t remember when they were not in church on Sunday mornings either. They were both babies when they first attended. The dear old Reverend had retired just before I was married and was followed by a procession of “hip, young, Jesus-lovers”. I was fine with that. Life marches on, etc. But many of the congregation were not as steeped in Christian Charity as I had always thought they were. Their snide, very un-Christian remarks about the succession of New Generation Jesus Guys wore me down after three or four of the exuberant young zealots were hired and fired. A couple of critical remarks I remember overhearing: “He doesn’t wear a tie in the pulpit every Sunday. Sometimes he wears a (gasp) TURTLE NECK sweater under the vestment!” and “Were you at church the day he wore WHITE BUCK SHOES in the pulpit?”, followed by another gasp.

By my early thirties, disillusionment with things churchy, combined with time demands of sports and other family recreational events that were conflicting for children and husband, pulled me away from the church. My independent study of things spiritual began then. Free from organized church requirements and obligatory church social events, my spiritual education thrived through my personal research into the history of religion – all religions.

Gradually, I realized I was closer to God, and in a more personal relationship with The Essence of God, than I had ever been before. A non-denominational Bible study group invited me to meet with them. They gathered in private homes. There was not a leader. Everyone contributed, and shared thoughts and prayers as they wished. This first experience in true freedom of religious expression further expanded my spiritual knowledge and comfort zone. There were never any guilt-trips, thou-shalt-nots, judgements, put-downs, or sermons. We read and studied the Bible and other religious writings and reinforced to each other the love of Christ and the true meaning of Christianity, even though we were not all Christians! It was a very homogenous group of plain folks whose spiritual needs were not being met in their buildings of religion. By exchanging faith-based feelings and tenets, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Native American Shamans, and Hindus, began to feel a bond of mutual understanding and faith. It was apparent that however we individually contacted our “god”, our goals were the same. It became clearer and clearer that the “path” was not as important as the “destination”.

After retirement and relocation to another part of the state, I found and joined a non-exclusionary church where all faiths were welcomed. That was where I worshipped with others to whom the love of God’s creations was more important than dogmas and doctrines, or social events. To use whatever talent God had given me to give something back, I became the church pianist and music director until the church was financially stable enough to hire a full-time paid Music Director.

This church was also where I learned that making contributions to humanity and people in need should go beyond the doors of one’s personal church. Good deeds are needed in many places other than within the confines of a given church and that church’s membership. Our church volunteers ministered to people of all denominations, walks of life, colors and creeds. We cooked and served food in shelters for displaced disaster victims, battered spouses, emotionally damaged children, and the homeless. We raised funds to replace lost personal belongings, such as clothing and even children’s toys. People in need were not asked what church they attended, nor was any notice taken of their ethnic backgrounds. These deeds were God’s work, not done for the recognition of any specific church hierarchy or Board of Directors.

My participation in church activities ended of necessity over three years ago when back problems ended my piano contributions. When I could no longer drive and navigate stairs, I was forced to stop attending church. But I maintain a close relationship with my minister and church projects, and a close relationship with God. Having learned long ago that it is not God’s house I need to commune with, but God, this arrangement has not dampened my faith. God and I have a pretty tight relationship. Even though I don’t get to sit in His living room anymore, He is a regular visitor in mine.

So, Cyber Soul Posse, you go your way and I’ll go mine. To those who feel the need to proselytize, show me the error of my spiritual ways, save my soul, or take me on your path, I say thank you for your concern, but you need not worry about my spiritual health. The time you spend making suggestions regarding my religious shortcomings in emails or comments would probably be more productive if you focused on someone who is still searching. There are many souls at sea out there. God Bless You in your efforts to be a beacon to those who have not found their way.