They'd sing together in public often, but more importantly, they'd sing in church publicly, which is to say with exceptional volume. To be sure, they sang well, but often their duets on "I Know Not Why God's Wondrous Grace" or some other high-flying hymn would carry forth rapturously throughout the six or eight pews in the immediate vicinity. They harmonized quite well, I think--they weren't an embarrassment; but their piety, their public righteousness, was daunting and I scurried into the closet where I've been for most of my life.
What's more, they loved singing. At home, my mother, who taught piano, played it constantly when I grew up, almost always hymns. She used all the keys, one of those pianists who made a hymn as elemental as "Trust and Obey" into something baroque. When my father would come home from work, they'd sing together for fair, hymns always, one after another, raise the roof with their duets. "We gonna eat soon?" I'd say. "One more," my mother would say. My parents were wonderful people, and I was blessed to have them as parents. But, dang it!--they were my parents, and I had to fight 'em. We all do.
So I've spent most of my life as a closet singer because I simply wouldn't be them. I love singing--sort of. But I won't be quoted on that, hear? Whatever you do, don't tell my mother.
Geez, we're screwed up, or is it just me?
Anyway, we've been church shopping for a year now, content to let our membership in our old church sit tight for a season or two. We visit there occasionally; but most often we attend two totally different congregations in the same Calvinist tradition. One is a staunch conservative congregation that sings like a company of angels. No ditties, no cute stuff, no "new one this week"--just the oldies, as comfortable as slippers.
Truth be told, I can sneak out of the closet in the warm fellowship and booming congregational singing of that old, big church--"I Will Sing of My Redeemer" in the old rollicking version in the blue Psalter, which they haven't dumped, even though the gray one beside it is now, denominationally-speaking, is officially yesterday's. Nobody hears me.
The other church we attend has all of thirty people in it, and while there's joy to be felt and love to be experienced, the singing is, given the numbers, uninspiring. That small group sings hymns that are even older than the ones in the big church, and some of those old ones, to be truthful, are themselves uninspiring. Purposely and contentedly, I keep it down low in the little old church.
So last week during "pass the peace" time (if you've got only thirty people, you can shake hands with the whole congregation), the silver-haired woman right in front of me, the woman whose husband wears the only pair of church earphones I've seen, turned to me and said, "I just love sitting in front of you because you have such a beautiful voice."
I had no idea how to respond.
Now, trust me, I don't sing very loud in that little church. I could, but I don't. Like I said, I'm a closet singer.
So when we all got back in our pews, we started into "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." Good night, was I was conflicted. This week, I've been checking the yellow pages for some 12-step program for closet singers.
That silver-haired woman in front of us said she loved my voice, but I've spent my adult life not wanting to be my parents. Still, she liked it--she loved to sit in front of me, she'd said. She was blessed. Who am I withhold blessings, for pete sake?
There I stood, in the pew, hymnal in hand, wondering what on earth to do with that blasted volume dial. I'm an idiot, I told myself. Here I am, retired--my father's gone and my mother, who's 94, doesn't sing much anymore, and I'm sure no one in the church of my youth even remembers their boisterous duets from the pew.
So I turned it up. Not overpowering either, just turned it up a little because, dang it, that silver-haired woman in front of me, bless her soul, is blessed, she claims, just hearing the bass line in my voice and just who do I think I am I to jerk the hand break when it comes to her blessings?
So I turned it up some more, just a bit, not a long ways, just a few decibels. For her. And it was good. It was fine. It was worship. "Morning by morning new mercies I see." You know.
When we walked out later, I told myself our being there in that a little old Presbyterian church was a blessing to me all right because that morning I was one myself, my singing that is. It was another good worship experience with a blessed little congregation in the old Presbyterian church (yes, Mom, the liberal one). It was good too because I'd inched out of the closet a bit for once and even been a blessing to boot.
In other words, I felt pretty good after church.
"Hey," my wife said in the car on the way home, "do you realize you've got your shirt on inside-out?"
I did. I honestly did. This guy with the wonderful voice, the blessings man, had pulled on his shirt backwards that morning.
Nobody'd said a thing.