We, humans, are made of many pieces. We are multifaceted creatures physically, emotionally and spiritually. Humans have a physical body that houses their souls. You have a human body, you are a soul.
Where were you when you learned you are a soul?
For me, it was not in church though I spent a lot of time in one. Church taught me rules, not spiritual formation as was claimed to be the lesson. I was raised mostly in a Southern Baptist church. My mother was relaxed coming from the Peace and Love generation of the sixties, but my grandmother who we lived with a big chunk of my childhood was strict. My Me-Ma loved me, I have no doubt. If someone said to me that their grandmother does not love them I would be surprised. As a mother and grandmother myself it would be impossible for me not to love my children. My grandmother put discipline on the same level as love. If you love your children you teach them with discipline.
Grandmothers are often portrayed as kindly small gray-haired women who bake a lot of cookies and give tons of hugs. That is me for sure without the old part. My Me-Ma was all those things too, with the addition of a mean streak.
I have shied away from writing about my childhood out of respect for the dead. Now that I am at a comfortable age that allows me to not really have a concern with what the dead thinks about me since I am closer to meeting them than I am being a child, I have allowed myself to voice that part of my past.
Sometimes we, humans, elevate the dead to a status of sainthood that the living did not deserve. We see all the good in our memory but forget the bad. The faults of a person are either forgotten or exaggerated in our memories. I guess my memory doesn’t work that way. I like to think I can remember facts as truth. Maybe I forget some things, but not much. I can remember the good and the bad. My long term memory is one of my assets; however, my short term memory, not so much. I can remember all the way back to my second birthday at Me-Ma’s house. I can remember what my Dad was wearing and some of who was there. I can remember my dress and the toys that I loved. Now ask me what I ate for dinner last night and I have no clue.
At my grandparent’s house, Sunday mornings came with a whirlwind of bacon, eggs, coffee, dresses, fancy hats, painful shoes, and pantyhose. We, my cousins, aunts, uncles, and parents were expected to go to church every time my grandmother went if and when we were staying at her house. It made no difference if any of us were visiting for a weekend visit or a live-in situation. If Me-Ma said we were going to church, then we were going.
I was always expected to ride with Me-Ma in her Chariot, a long burgundy Buick with white and black houndstooth interior. Don’t put your feet on the seat getting in, Young Lady. I would sit upright, no slouching, a posture that stayed with me until bedtime on Sunday. God doesn’t like lazy and slouching was lazy.
First, we went to Sunday school. I liked that part. I was with other children my age. It was where I learned all the stories and all the songs. Sometimes there was even a treat.
After the learning hour, we filed into our pew in the main sanctuary. Not a bench, chair, or seat. No, it was a long pew. It had a length long cushion the same burgundy color as Me-Ma’s car only in velvet. I usually sat next to my grandmother, between her and my mom. My mother was on an end close to the aisle since she often played the piano. My grandmother sat where she could dole out breath mints or a soft rebuke, whichever was needed to make me or one of my cousins pay attention to the service.
Wait…wait …wait a minute. I take it back, Sunday School was my second favorite part. Listening to my mother play the piano was my favorite. I imagined the music in heaven sounds like my mother’s music. I was heartbroken when after my grandmother died my mother gave her piano away to a local small new church that needed one. What I didn’t know as a child that I know as an adult was that my grandmother insisted that my mother played piano in church. My mom had no choice. My grandmother’s death freed her of the obligation.
The sermon at the Baptist church was long. It consisted of a short passage of the Bible followed by a long speech about how something I was doing was wrong and this is why. Something like, See Bible verse of shame in the chapter corresponding to the sin. Sometimes the sermon was about the retribution of God. When I was young, I pictured God as a male and a larger more powerful version of my Me-Ma. God was the rule maker and maestro of my life and everything else. I did not belong to myself or my family, I was his. It terrified me.
What if I messed up? First, my grandmother would punish me with her switch or her paint paddle. You know the small strips of birch they give away free when you buy a can of paint? Then God would come down from heaven and strip me naked like Adam and Eve. He would send to me some desert to live out my days.
The stories about Jesus were different. He was special. He liked people who messed up. Jesus hung out with criminals, poor people dressed in dirty rags, people who climbed trees, and people who liked the ocean. I was all of those things. Yes, even a criminal. Once I stole a small toy cat from a Woolco display in the toy department. Jesus was alright with me because he liked naughty people.
I didn’t get that my soul was at the center of this learning and discipline. What I got from all the hours sitting on the church pew was no matter what I did I was not good enough for Heaven. I couldn’t earn my way there. I would always be bad, so I should just confess and get it over with.
My grandmother did not tolerate rule breakers, smart mouths, or slobs. She believed that if she was an unbending disciplinarian that her children and grandchildren would become respectable Christians.
Well, Me-Ma, I did become a Christian, more of the radical, unworthy, sinner type.
My Me-Ma also taught me that Jesus loved me. That I was a daughter of the King. That no matter what if I asked forgiveness Jesus was the way to forgiveness. She taught me that family is the most important piece of your life, only second to your devotion to God.
My Me-Ma sang to me and taught me the importance of setting a table full of bowls of yummy food for a family to gather around. She taught me everything I know about baking, quilting, respect and big warm hugs. The love of my soul came from what I was taught at the base of hearth and Sunday dinner table of my grandparent’s home. Love your family. Love your neighbors. Be kind.
It took years of searching, prayer, and good old fashioned common sense to put the two sides of Christianity together. I finally understand that what I was taught on that pew was not the love of God for my soul but the rules and tradition of man. Rules imposed on an unbound, limitless God.
God does not limit love to us by conditions. Holy love is pure and unconditional. It is love for my soul from the creator that has nothing to do with my character.
Christianity is a piece of me. All of it. The terror of not being good enough, memorization of Bible verses, my grandmother’s insistence of keeping the Sabbath holy and dinner on the ground fifth Sunday fried chicken. Giving a quilt to someone who needs it and love them even if they don’t deserve it.
All of that is part of my soul. The part of who I am on the inside.
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