I have mentioned, more than once, my disdain for all things ‘hymnal-esque’. Of course it’s not the actual book that I openly reject. It’s not even, ALWAYS the music inside that I run from. It’s the place, the memory ridden place, my mind and heart travel to when I hear these melodies and return to my childhood and youth.
My parents have had a bumpy marriage (and that’s a generous term in an effort not to offend this early on). They have been (in the past), shall we say, rather demonstrative and verbal in their marital woes. My father has also struggled with alcohol abuse back when it was not only accepted socially, but almost expected among businessmen. They were members of the Elks Club for goodness sake, a perfectly respectable establishment much like Vegas. What happens at the Elks Club stays at the Elks Club, sans a few well timed photographs.
The memories of our household remind me of perhaps… “Cleavers Gone Wild”. We were the average family, living in suburbia-America. We had two cars, the latest and greatest in electronics, a new home, good income, went to good schools, in the latest fashions, and my parents had the debt to prove it. There was a bit of stress to say the least.
Add to this mix, my parents were both the youngest children of their families and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were spoiled with material things…they do carry with them much of the mentality of a ‘youngest sibling’. Read that however you wish.
BUT…we were raised going to church. It is expected and required that unless you’re lying on your death bed, you WILL be attending church. My father would share that he even had to go when he was ill. We would get ready for church and pile into the Buick and head across town. Living in Colorado during this time, we didn’t even get to miss church on snow days because the city did such a fantastic job clearing the roads immediately upon first snowfall.
My parents, in their demonstrative, passionate way, would discuss (fight, argue, and verbally assault) the days activities or the previous night’s (at the Elks Club) activities on the way to church. My younger sister would be crying, my older brother would be zoning them out (before Ipods or even Walk-mans, mind you), and I would listen intently and hear the abuse and even speak up (no surprises there) in defense of my mother usually.
We would arrive at church 15 minutes later and be reminded of the proper appearance and we’d each put on our mask and enter the building for another fun filled Sunday message from God. I even thought God must be a complete idiot if he just allowed this to happen each week.
After an hour of Sunday School boredom and basically Sunday SCHOOL of sitting still and listening (no questions were allowed and YES I am serious), we would enter the Sanctuary, find our parents, and be seated for more listening. The organ would start playing, we’d be instructed to turn to page (fill in blank) and sing the first, third, and fifth stanzas of whichever hymn was first. We’d sing 2-3 hymns prior to service, an offering hymn, and of course the alter-call hymn of inspiration.
The whole time I’d be thinking… “I wonder if they’ll fight the whole way home. I wonder if they even love each other. Why doesn’t God DO something? Why don’t they just get a divorce? How can they stand there smiling and singing this stuff when they obviously hate each other? If this is marriage…I ain’t buying!”
You see I’m the child that wasn’t sent away during the fights. I’m the child that would hold my drunk father back while my mother tried to call for help. I’m the child that would watch as my mother flung hot oil on my father and covered them both with blisters. I’m the child that saw the knives thrown and the violence surge and escalate. I’m the child that would beg my mother not to take the handful of pills and end it all.
I’m the child that witnessed the tears from both, as they attempted healing once again. I was very angry and bitter for a long, long time because it seemed they were both too ‘weak’ to give up and divorce. And every week, when I re-entered that church building and had to put on the smile and sing those hymns and try to find the safety for those two hours, I was weeping uncontrollably inside.
Eventually the hymns became an audible cue to trigger these feelings and emotions of despair. I felt utterly helpless and no ‘slain lamb’ was coming to my emotional rescue. The ‘Old Rugged Cross’ was apparently completely useless, splintered wood and the only thing amazing about ‘Amazing Grace’ was how seemingly pointless it seemed.
My parents have both mellowed with age (don’t we all). There is no more flying oil or knives. The arguments are much more civil, and the few heated arguments are much shorter-lived. I actually think they love each other and I KNOW they like each other. There was fall-out...most of it mine.
I didn’t attend church for a very long time as an adult…but then it seemed the music was evolving and it wasn’t all hymns…it wasn’t hymns at ALL. It was music. It was choruses and beautiful, SAFE music. It didn’t trigger anything. It wasn’t always breathtaking and meaningful…but it was worshipful and gave me a chance to sing without trigger or fear. I returned to church and found it had changed as much as I had changed.
Then, like all things you think have gone away for good…they came back, the hymns came back. It seems these old hymns are making resurgence in modern and even post-modern churches.
The aftermath from my shoes is this: I didn’t trust marriage for a very long time. I felt it was an acceptable form of abuse via a contract of commitment and I wasn’t buying into that one bit. I was 34 before I married my husband. Thank you GOD for a husband that is so obviously created by YOU specifically for me for a lifetime! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
The other, less resolved outcome is, to this day, when I hear those ‘retro-hymns’ starting, I look around at the faces (even in my wonderful church home) and immediately travel back to those days in that church in Colorado where I knew the joy was merely a manic mask and the music wasn’t masking anything.
I can see the anger in my parents’ eyes as I hear the music build. I can still feel each and every word ‘bomb’ thrown between them and the harmony only makes my stomach churn. I realize I am a bit like Pavlov’s dog. I realize therapy would probably help; I’m just not there yet. It’s easier and frankly much cheaper to just walk out during these hymn times and return for the music that isn’t the road to perdition for me.
In all honesty this is one of the reasons we almost didn’t join our current church, but I am believing God will heal me and I’m believing that one week, when we sing our one token hymn, I will be able to stand and sing along and believe what I’m singing. I’m hoping that there will be a day when I do not travel to a place in my life that holds pain resulting in wounds and scars and memories that refuse to die. Until that day, it’ll continue to be a great time for a bathroom break and making sure the coffee pot is turned off.
Have a melody-filled Thursday!