The Divine Ms. B and Miss J are the daughters of God

Okay, one last church post, because I’m starting to sound like some political exile who spends all her days talking about a place to which she has no intention of returning.

Still, I went there almost every day for 18 years, and I’m still trying to figure out how to come to terms with that and be a happy woman. It’s because of that, or in spite of that, that many of my good friends are people whose parents also served churches in some capacity. My dad is a minister, his best friend and the father of two of my oldest friends is a minister, the Super Genius’s mom is a minister, JR’s mom was the organist at one of my dad’s churches, and the Divine Ms. B and Miss J’s mom was the organist at their church, and the voice of God . . . which I’ll come back to.

First, I want to tell you about JR’s mom and her organ playing. JR’s mom always wore dresses that she made herself and she wore sensible shoes. When she sat down on the bench, she would always slide her feet out of her shoes and slip around on the slick wood seat to face the organ. Probably because we were in church, it reminded me of Moses–take off your shoes; this is holy ground–and like some Old Testament prophet, seeing for sacred what the rest of us saw as ordinary, she would begin to play.

Church organists make two mistakes. The first is that they decide “Skating Rink” is the appropriate sound for an organ in every instance. The second is that they don’t consider the congregation. They get caught up in what they’re doing and plod ahead at that tempo whether the congregation is with them or not. This is especially dangerous with Methodists, because we like the sound of our own voices and will drag out any hymn until the organist is on “the triumphs of his grace” and we’re still on the “O, for” of “O, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” Or worse, the organist will get caught up in the sound of her own playing while we’re caught up in the sound of our own singing and everything slows to almost a stand-still. And believe me, when you have six verses to get through, the molasses approach is not the one you want to take.

But JR’s mother always played beautifully and she understood that the role of the organist is not to compete with the congregation and the minister for control of the song, but to shepherd them into a reasonable tempo and get them through the song some time before lunch. Those two qualities, beauty and understanding, made her a tremendous organist.

My dad, in an effort to humiliate me to death, would make me sing once a year. I hated it, even though I love to sing, because I’m not very good at it and I don’t enjoy proving that to myself on a yearly basis. JR’s mom, thankfully, would always accompany me. I loved it precisely because of the beauty and understanding part of her talent.

It didn’t matter what Amy Grant song I was slaughtering that year, she’s make it sound amazing. So, in effect, it wasn’t like I was singing, I was just singing along to some beautiful music. And, if I got lost or scared or off-tempo, or came in too late or too early or whatever, she always added some extra notes or left some out or some how made her beautiful thing fit whatever flailing mistakes I was making.

Miss J and Ms. B have a confidence singing before crowds that I lack, and I’m a little envious of it. Miss J is the kind of person who gets standing ovations at kareoke night with her rendition of “Walking After Midnight.” Ms. B. gets up on stage and it doesn’t matter if she’s standing way in the back, playing a rock who only comes in on the chorus of one song in the dullest part of a musical, you can’t take your eyes off her. Even as a still rock, she’s dynamic.

When they sing while their mom plays, it’s incredible.

They went to this conservative Lutheran church and their minister spent a lot of time worrying about whether women understood their proper place. Their mom’s “proper” place was tucked away out of sight in the choir loft at the organ.

This made for the funniest and coolest part of going to church with them. Every service, in the middle of this religio-patriarchal fun-fest, there came a point when a disembodied female voice would drift down from the rafters listing the names of people who ought to be in the congregation’s prayers.

With no visual cue as to who was speaking, and the gentle but insistent tone the voice took, it really seemed to carry with it a divine authority–for a few brief seconds every Sunday their mom is the voice of God.

8 thoughts on “The Divine Ms. B and Miss J are the daughters of God

  1. how perfect that you mention o for a thousand toungues to sing – isn’t that page 1 in the hymnal. LOVE IT. Yeah, my mom is the shit and all, and I don’t have nearly enough appreciation for that….

  2. It is the first page. And all the other three million verses are on the next page. With the amount the Wesleys sat around versifying, it’s amazing they ever had time to fight with anyone.

    And yet, fighting seemed to be their favorite activity.

    Yes, all I took from confirmation was that the history of the Protestant church–and the Methodist church in particular–is rooted in the Cartmanian philosophy of “screw you guys, I’m going home.”

    I mean, Methodism was founded in 1729, a mere 300 years ago, and has already splintered into any number of groups, because we never met an argument we didn’t want to take both sides of.

    Anyway, your mom is the shit. The day she threw her tampons at my dad was probably the start of my life as a feminist.

  3. I hope that one of you will tell the tampon story someday…

    The voice of God story, which I think you have told me before, Aunt B, is one of my favorites. The kind of favorite where I like it more each time I hear it.

    Same for the Robert Johnson one.


  4. Eh, the tampon story is pretty short. My dad said something jack-assy to JR’s mom and she opened up her purse and started flinging tampons at him.

    And I was floored that someone would just be so matter-of-fact about having and needing tampons and so blase about using them as weapons. Girl power indeed.

  5. I think that my mother got the idea for the tampons from the cat – the legend is the preacher (maybe your dad, though I don’t remember exactly) came over and the cat did what the cat always did, which was roll them all over the floor with her nose….the later incident was embarrasing, but of course, like me, my mother has some boundary issues with men, and we never hesitate to throw embarrasing yet very light (though very offensive – i mean, this was the minister at the church – COME ON!) at men….PRETTY SWEET!!!

  6. B — I had never heard the Voice of God story — how I missed that I don’t know.

    Your religious bent of late is in sync with my own. I’ve been obessing about my religious upbringin for a couple of weeks. Did I ever tell you that my dad was an elder in our church growing up, which I didn’t think qualified us as preacher’s kids, but according to my siblings it did. He has given sermons and married people. Weird that you take up with all these lapsed religious types.

    But I too was coerced into singing on occasion and I have the worst singing voice ever. So one day at a holyday service, the youth choir leader pulled me aside and said, “Shill, God gave us all gifts, and yours is, perhaps, playing the piano.” So I got out of choir but once a month, I had to play the piano to accompany the congregation at the regular service. And what was always awful about it was the last hymn, after the sermon, where you’ve been sitting there for a while and you have to get up and play cold and I would always fuck up the intro. And everyone was always really nice about it — look at the sweet 15 year old accompanying the service like a nice young Christian woman. I hope my son marries her. Barf.

    But good god did I love banging out Onward Christian Soldiers. Nothing like giggling at my brothers for putting extra emphasis on the word “hell.”

  7. Shill, I love you, but I have to say that I’m a little fearful of continuing this topic. The government could have no greater means of making our political prisoners uncomfortable than to have you and I singing together for their “entertainment,” and I don’t want to be conscripted into the war on terror.

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