I played a holiday orchestra job at a Baptist church this morning, a large and beautiful sanctuary in a lovely area of town with a dignified congregation that never once uttered the “Amen’s” that I remember from my youth. The last time I played there several years ago, my mother came with me as she liked to do- especially when it was a Southern Baptist church, steeped with the traditions and hymns she knew and loved. She would get dressed to the nines in her holiday best, and I would wheel her wheelchair to a place where she could watch me play. She would shyly observe at first, but by the time things got started, she was harmonizing hymns and talking a blue streak. Momma never met a stranger- especially at church.
I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, my mom doing her best to make sure my soul was well-tended. She set such a great example of what a truly good person was- with or without Sunday School, but she wasn’t taking any chances with me. I faithfully attended church until I went away to college, but then never really felt the connection without Mom there. I joined the Catholic Church for a while because it was my first husband’s faith and he wouldn’t consider changing…and I must admit that ever since I saw The Sound of Music as a young girl, I have had a fascination with nuns and Catholicism. He wouldn’t go to Mass with me, and pretty soon I gave up. Don’t even let me get started telling you about when I naively announced to Mom that I was converting to Catholicism…let’s just say it didn’t go over well. My mother was strong in her faith – and there was one way to do things…the way Grandma Schultz had taught her.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a deeply spiritual person and I have strongly-held beliefs; however, I have never felt comfortable within organized religion. I see beauty and worthiness in all religions, and have always resonated with the quote, “There are many paths to God.” I think everyone has to find what resonates with them on their journey to be a good human being, and they may not always find that within the walls of a church. That is my case- I do my best to do good things, try to help people, serve others, and I talk to God every day (honestly, I talk to my mom and hope she has God’s ear). For me, this feels right and good, as it does for my husband, Dan, as well.
This morning, though, as the opening strains of the Doxology rang out in the organ and those familiar words filled the room, I felt goosebumps and the prick of tears as memories flooded my heart and mind.
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
(Text: Thomas Ken, 1637-1711)
I could see my mother doing her best to find something presentable to wear when she didn’t have two nickels to rub together. She would sell what she could to make sure I had a new dress and black patent leather shoes for Easter Sunday morning, trying so hard for us to fit in with the well-to-do members of the church. I can hear her voice rise up in song with such joy from the back row of First Baptist Church of Brandon, and see her head bowed in earnest prayer. I can hear her the night before she died singing hymns at the top of her lungs- even with a Bi-Pap machine over her face, a faithful believer to her very last breath.
(Mom sings ‘Up Calvary’s Mountain’)
I hope that my mother (who I have no doubt whatsoever is in what and wherever Heaven is) knows that she didn’t fail me in any way concerning God. While I don’t often find myself inside of a church, I still feel that connection to God, still tear up with emotion and memories when I hear certain music. I believe in a higher power and I believe in good. And I believe that I have someone on the inside who looks out for me and whispers in God’s ear from time to time. I heard her angelic voice singing out this morning during the Doxology.