by Jane Doe
After the embarrassment of my first and last love affair, I felt it was time to develop the spiritual side of my life. Every night, to lull me into sleep before I could move my cheek against the touch of the corner of the pillowcase, I read the Bible. Starting with "In the beginning...", I read every word. Even the ones I didn't understand. I read all the "begets" and did not believe that anyone could remember whose father was whose that far back. I sometimes felt that I couldn't be sure that the man who lived with us was my father.
This was such a deeply ingrained belief in me that even mother's efforts to prove it with photos and a baby book, lost to the weight of my disbelief. There exists many photos, yes, but only one, taken when I was twelve of me with mother. In all the rest I stood alone. Never with my father. The younger I was, the more sure I was that I was not their child and they had not taken those photos of me. They had a camera, but all my photos where the tiny square ones from the five and dime photo booth.
It didn't help their case when, in my confirmation Bible, mother filled in the family tree with the familiar names of my aunts and uncles and grandparents. There was too much in the Bible that I no longer believed.
Some of the sexual stuff like "spilling his seed on the ground" and Lot having sexual intercourse, or "laying down," as they put it, with his two daughters up there in the cave seemed to me to be out of place in the Holy Book. Whenever I read such incidents, I took the pen I made notes in the margins with, and crossed out every lewd reference, no matter how disguised the wording was.
The eight chapters of Songs of Solomon embarrassed me beyond words. With a razor blade I cut the whole book out of my Bible. Such infantile caterwauling about love. I found it too laughable to be funny. Who let such a book be included in Holy Writ? Didn't the old graybeards of the church not realize what this was? Who wrote that lovesick batch of goings on? Someone who was very weak, silly, and sentimental,
Now I was wise beyond and above these feelings. Therefore I had the wisdom and the distance to judge that these were sinful pages. I trembled to think of other young people with Bibles containing this, this, and this... My only hope was that they weren't reading their Bibles straight through. Perhaps they would never stumble on these risqué parts. I wanted to ask Mary if she had read Songs of Solomon, but I was ashamed to let her know that I had read, and worse, understood it.
Mary seemed genuinely glad to have me back. We tried to plan where we would go to college so we could prepare together for our missionary work among the "unfortunate heathens in Kentucky" as we thought of them. There were some problems as I was now a Methodist and Mary belonged to the Pentecostal church. That was not an easy soup to
I joined the choir. Again I sat next to a soprano. Even more I wished the altos could sing along the familiar melodies. Here in church there was the organ to drown out my vocal transgressions. I was probably the only girl in the choir who came to sing praises to the Lord. The rest used choir practice as an excuse to get out of the house on a week night to meet with their boy friends – usually up in the dark, damp, musty-smelling belfry where we were forbidden to go.
I was openly outraged when one of the older girls showed us how to defeat boredom during Sunday services by reading the titles of the songs in the hymn book and adding after each one the words "under the bed." This gave us such bawdy images as "Jesus Loves Me Under the Bed," "Come Thou Almighty Lord Under the Bed" and even, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus Under the Bed."
Full of righteous indignation I went to Mr. Meyers, the choir leader, to tell him what was going on behind his back. He agreed that what they were doing was not nice or even Christian-like, but secretly he was relieved they had stopped playing cards during services. He must have recognized my fervor, as he asked me to be librarian for the choir. My job was to collect all the music, even the books under the chairs and the sheet music stuck in the palms, count it, file it, and protect it. Perhaps Mr. Meyers had noted that I was one of the very few who did not make a dash for dark corners at the stroke of eight o'clock. I was grateful that he gave me something useful to do. Service, that's what I would do with my life.
Repeatedly, I had long talks with the preacher over what we could do to make our meetings better. I was elected president of the group so all my frustrations with boys were forgotten in my wholehearted efforts to rescue the youth of our church. Why should I think so much about the heathens in Kentucky when I had my work cut out for me right here in my own church?
I became an alarming menace to the morning Sunday School teachers. Instead of dating, like most of the other thirteen year olds in my class, I was home Saturday night studying my weekly Bible lesson. I was so often better prepared than the teachers that one little old lady, whom I thoroughly intimidated, was letting me teach the class from my seat while she stood in front of the class. Someone complained, so we got a gruff old farmer for a teacher. He didn't have time to study either, but, he was bigger and tougher than I. I had started using the hour and fifteen minute bus ride home each evening to memorize
One Sunday, our farmer-teacher misquoted a verse I knew. Like a vanquisher, I pointed out his error by quoting the whole story word for word. He didn't believe that I really had all that in my head. While following the passage in his Bible, the teacher asked me to repeat it. I did. Right. He was livid. He threatened not to teach the class anymore if I was in it.
The preacher, diplomat that he was, gave me the job of distributing the weekly literature for the different Sunday School classes. I reorganized the way the papers were stored and sorted so that I cut the time that I must miss class down from forty-five minutes to a mere fifteen. Within a month I was called into the preacher's office again. As he put it, since I had to go from class to class to pass out the literature, I might as well collect the attendance records and the offering. That didn't take any longer than handing out the papers. I might as well count the money and put it in the yellow brown velvet sack. I was also to add up the number in each class so I could post the total attendance on the wooden sign in the front of the church where, with cardboard numerals, the hymns of the day were advertised. With that, there were enough duties to occupy me until the bell rang for the closing exercises for Sunday School. It was enough to keep me out of class but permitted me to be in the church kitchen one Communion Sunday to observe that the body and the blood were really Welches Grape-aid and Wonder bread. I was deeply shocked. I stayed that way until I saw the joke in it.
Something else was revealed to me at this time. One evening our youth group was invited by a youth group in the city for a district meeting. We were excited as the city kids had arranged a very special program for us. A married couple were to play hymns on cowbells and water goblets. The musical man was to bring us the message of the evening.
We got there to find a catered buffet had been set for us. Our eyes bugged way out over our paper plates when we saw rolled ham held with a toothpick through a pickle, with pink and blue bread, and all the cola we wanted to drink. This must be why people live in the city! Besides this the boys were handsome, debonair and self assured. Our girls didn't know whether to look at the food or the boys.
I was studying how they organized the kitchen work, the ratio of parents needed to oversee how many of the young people, who was doing the clean-up – always a messy problem with our group.
After we had eaten all we politely could and had played some very effective get-acquainted games, we went upstairs into the sanctuary for the program. I was marveling that they even had printed programs for the service. In our church only the adults knew far enough in advance what was going to be presented to commit it to print. I read it, hoping to be able to detect if the kids themselves typed the program or if they had a minister's secretary to do it. The name of the bell ringers stopped me. Reverend and Mrs. Hope.
That couldn't be the people with whom we had shared the duplex on Linden Lane! I didn't think it was. The lady who came out, greeted us and played the first two numbers was too fat to be Mrs. Hope. She had her hair pulled back into a knot at her neck. The Mrs. Hope I remembered had straight hair parted in the center and pulled to two sides with bobby pins. Also she was thin and nervous. Perhaps these people were relatives of the Rev. Hope I knew. I was relieved. The name started me to reminiscing about the nights in the steamy bathroom with Rev. Hope and all the ruckus it caused when my folks found out what he was doing in there with me.
"Shall we stand for prayer?"
The voice brought me eyeball to eyeball with my Rev. Hope! He closed his eyes for his prayer. I raised my head to stare boldly; to see if that really was him. It was. He hadn't changed at all. Still tall and thin with a face like an angel's. Clear, transparent skin that pulled tight over his forehead where a lock of thick wavy blond hair fell when he moved his head. Even while praying, when no one is supposed to be watching him, he made broad gestures with his hands which showed off his long, sensitive fingers. I studied the way he moved his head and hands. There were no changes in him here either. It was like seeing a familiar person from a distance. Before the eyes can discern the features, inside one knows for certain one is seeing an old friend.
Was Rev. Hope my friend? The thought shocked me at first. The basic feeling that whelmed up inside of me was the recollection of the pleasure I had known with him. With him I had felt loved and adored. The way he touched me, spoke to me, considered my feelings, impressed me with his devotion. He made me feel that I was a little princess who held within her all the joys for all mankind. Even standing on the closed toilet seat made me like the Greek statues on their pedestals. "Amen."
We all sat down. Now I could observe him with every right to stare. He announced that he would play "Jesus Loves Me" on the water glasses. In each glass he dipped his finger to rub the rim of the glass. At first it gave off little squeaks of resistance. Then a deep vibrating hum issued from glass after glass. Seeing him rubbing his wet forefinger on those humming glasses made me want to cross my legs.
Church pews were always set too close together for someone with my length of leg to cross them without kicking persons left and right or bumping the back of the person sitting in front of me. I crossed my ankles and squeezed my thighs together. With a jerk, I found myself smiling. Too soon the song was ended.
Rev. Hope brought us the message of the evening. The text did not fit my mood. He was telling us how to be good stewards of the church and worthy of Christ's love. We had to be pure in our hearts, in our minds and with our bodies so we could appear before God without sin. The longer he talked, the more vengeance I nurtured. How could he, who had done what he had done with me, a child, stand up in front of all these people telling them how to run their lives? What if they knew what he had done? Did he still do it with other little girls? I hoped I had been the only one. I ceased arguing with the speaker to look at the people listening to him. In row upon row of curved wooden racks they sat, enraptured. What would happen to these faces if I could silently, with just my eyes, beam out the truth about him? The more I read the faces, the more I knew they would never believe me. Besides, I was still just a kid. He was their preacher, bringer of light and love, the word of life.
Such a handsome Gabriel type would never have to seek out little girls in evening bathrooms. Surely being filled with the love of Jesus was enough for him. A wicked smile came over me. Well, we'll keep our secret, Reverend Hope. I didn't like the way I felt about him anymore. I didn't like the nasty smile I had smiled. By mixing his words from the pulpit with my memories, I was making a very sour brew. I was tired. I wished the service was over. I wished I was in bed already reading my Bible so fast I didn't have to think anymore.
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010