Sunday, July 27, 2014

Amazing Grace

I am an emotional person. I cry when I'm happy, I cry when I'm sad, I cry when I remember something good, I cry when I remember something lost. For many of the congregation of my church, that won't really mean anything. But to the clergy, who sit facing me each Sunday as I and my family sit in the second row (nobody sits in the first row unless someone is getting baptized), they get to see emotion draw across my face often.

I am a very emotional Christian. There are days when just looking at Jesus, hands outstretched on the stained glass window in front of me can make me cry. There are days when looking at my boys, arriving late, but sharp in suits and ties, can make my eyes misty. Then there are those days when music does it. It can be a song, like What a Friend we Have in Jesus - which my father used to sing to me when he talked about it being his father's favorite song. I never knew my grandfather, a preacher himself, but I heard so many stories about him growing up that I always felt like I sat on his knee all my life. It might be the sound of Jed Maus playing a trumpet, sounding exactly like the smooth tones my father caused his cornet - now mine - to issue.

Those days are a little embarrassing to me. I leave the sanctuary teary-eyed and sometimes I know people wonder what is wrong. It is nothing - I just felt it that day.

Today was really something completely different, which is ironic since it was the first day after our last youth mission trips returned home, having served under the motto "Something Completely Different."

It was a song, once again, that triggered the emotion. It was the sermon that might have had me thinking a little too deeply about what that song meant to me that resulted in an all-out, waterfalls down my face, can't talk, good cry. I felt compelled to lean over to my youngest son, Nathan, and kiss his head, which resulted in a similar display of emotion from him. I also felt compelled to touch my husband's shoulder and to sit down beside my mother and give her a hug. By the end of the song, we were all covered in tears.

Rev. Donna McKee silently gave me a hug after the service. She didn't need to ask questions - she knows that I don't just think about my spirituality in worship, I feel it. Still, as I thought about the reason for this over-the-top response to a very familiar song, I feel the need to explain myself a bit.

The song was Amazing Grace. This is such a popular song that I know as soon as you read the title of this post, the tune started playing in your head. Music is one of the most basic of human memory aids - hearing it can deposit us firmly into our past and that is sort of what it did to me today. Because of the sermon topic, forgiveness, I think it was more than just memory. I have four explicit memories that surround that song:

1. My grandmother, Vivian Keller, was a pianist and a preacher. I grew up in a small, wood-floor, wood-pew, no-air conditioning, frame church watching Grandma play every single gospel song ever written from memory on a piano in the front left corner of the sanctuary. Grandma had been a pianist in a silent movie house when she was young, which required her to understand the composition of music itself, so a visiting soloist or instrumentalist had only to tell Grandma which key they needed her to play or a general idea of the sound they wanted to achieve, and she started hitting those keys in  grand accompaniment. As a result, I knew many old gospel favorites - Sweet By and By, Beaulah Land, and yes, Amazing Grace. As an adult in my late 20s, I struggled with my life and my relationship with God suffered. My first story about Amazing Grace is one of new life. I was poor, depressed, and had a car that had no radio. I lived in a town about 45 minutes away from everything, and those silent drives were intolerable. I would sing songs to myself. One of the songs I sang most often was Amazing Grace. It started because it was the only song I knew every single word to. As I drove home in the evenings, I slowly began listening to the words and a song changed my life.

2. Fast forward a few years and the song that meant so much to me became my favorite song to sing to my children when I was trying to get them to sleep. I would sing it, hum it, and sing it again. Because of this, my daughter, Rene, loved the song and determined to learn all of the words. My dad heard her sing it once and the next time he visited, he brought with him something to record her voice. I still have the recording, when my 9 or 10 year old daughter sang all six verses beautifully and my dad just couldn't help but to accompany her in his tenor. That very recording was played years later at my father's funeral and I know he would have been delighted to know that he sang at his own funeral.

3. Three years prior to my father's death, my youngest son, Nathan, was diagnosed with cancer. I had recently become separated from my husband. For a myriad of reasons I won't go into here, I found myself alone with Nathan many times during the year of chemotherapy and radiation therapy that followed. My vivid memories of that time include many nights, sitting in a hospital rocking chair, rocking my baby to sleep and singing quietly. The song that I sang, hummed, then sang again reminded me of the powerful presence that kept me from being completely alone in that room. I'm sure you know the title.

4. Couple years on and David's grandmother "Mamaw" passed away. He sang at her funeral. You can guess the name of that song.

Today, all of these memories with forgiveness wrapped around them brought on the tears. Forgiveness isn't just about forgiving others for wrongs, it is about forgiving our own past. It is about forgiving our own actions, or inactions. It is about forgiving so that we can move on.