Jean and I talked about Christmas memories recently. I want to write about those memories, but felt the need to tell this story first.
Although we went to church every Sunday and took part in all of the activities at church, we never really talked about God or Jesus at home. We said a blessing before meals, but, otherwise, did not pray or read the Bible together – or see our parents do either. There were many conversations about church activities and church politics, but not about what we believed or why. We were often told what “good girls” did or didn’t do, but not in the context of faith. It is not surprising that we grew up ambivalent about church, and unsure of who we are in Christ.
Now, the back story : Mom was raised Roman Catholic. Dad was raised in the Lutheran Church. Both sets of grandparents were against the marriage because of the difference in their beliefs. Mom and Dad were married – I think by a priest – with only a couple of close friends present as witnesses. It took time and grandchildren before good relationships were restored with our grandparents.
Mom and Dad both believed in God and in the importance of church, but it took a while for them to find a church where they could both be happy. Judy and I were both baptized in the Roman Catholic church. My first church memories are of going to Vacation Bible School at a Lutheran church. Eventually, they found a small Episcopal church which became our church home until after Judy and I married. My church memories include:
- priests and sacraments;
- always having my head covered in church;
- catechism class, confirmation, and my first communion;
- our small youth group;
- Dad in the kitchen cooking spaghetti or pancake suppers;
- the stations of the cross around the sanctuary;
- Midnight mass on Christmas Eve, complete with incense;
- and a couple we called Grandma and Grandpa Field who became our local, surrogate grandparents.
Later in life Mom and Dad seemed to be more comfortable in their faith and with talking about it. They read their Bible and prayed together.
As I sat with Mom in the hospital a day or two before she was moved to hospice, she had a very other-worldly conversation. Mom looked up and said, “What are you doing?” I asked, “Me? I am knitting.” She said “No, that white one up there!” Then still looking up at the ceiling she blurted our Grandpa’s full name and, a few seconds later said “The Holy Roman Catholic Church.”
After Mom died, we found a drawer full of books and prayer notebooks. She must have loved those books. She had clearly read and reread them many times. Their covers were worn soft, and they were filled with underlining, dog-eared pages, and napkin book marks. I think they were all in the drawer because she was losing her eyesight and could not see well enough to read. The books were divided among us girls, so I don’t remember all of them, but I know they included: Daily Readings from Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen, Listen, Beloved by Martha Smock and a Unity Book of Silent Prayer.
In later years, Dad would say, “Jesus taught us the Lord’s prayer; that is all we need.” After Mom died, as Dad’s own health failed, the Lord’s Prayer became almost a mantra to him. He repeated it often, especially when he did not feel well or was scared.
One of my last meaningful conversations with Dad occurred the day before he passed away. I knew something was bothering him, but wasn’t sure what. I told him that I had heard a song on the way over about what it will be like when we meet Jesus face-to-face. (“I Can Only Imagine”) He said, “That is what I am afraid of.” His past sins were haunting him. We were able to talk about Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins. It was hard to tell, but I think he relaxed some.
Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,[a]
but deliver us from the evil one.[b]’”