My father wrote a sermon a week for over 50 years. Fifty-two weeks in a year, well, you do the math. That’s not counting funerals, weddings, memorial services and the interim preaching he did until he was 80. This is a major accomplishment, a passionate act of dedication and commitment. I attribute these traits, my love of words and a commitment to writing, to my dad. I’m also surprisingly comfortable in a pulpit, onstage, or anywhere I’m asked to stand and deliver. Before Dad became a minister, he wanted to be an actor. It must be in the blood. My brother is a preacher, too.
My dad has been diagnosed with vascular dementia. Luckily for those of us who love him, his disease progressed slowly. Until his early 80’s, he could hold his own in an argument and was still teaching a weekly Sunday school class. Now his dementia has progressed to the point where daily life is difficult for him; even more so for my mom as his primary caregiver.
Still in fair physical condition, Dad has lost perhaps the most painful things a person can lose: his memories, his understanding and retention of written language, his own vocabulary. For a man who spent his whole life deriving meaning from language–through his reading and research, his writing, his listening ear, even his daily prayers and scripture–all are lost to him now.
Since I can remember, my dad led us in a “devotional” time each morning after breakfast. In order to make the Word accessible to his young children, he purchased and read children’s bible stories with large colored illustrations, as well as morality tales we could understand. My favorite book was “Bird Life in Wington” by John Calvin Reid. These were moral parables or fables whose main characters were owls and bluejays, robins and sparrows. All the birds were members (or their membership was eminent) at the First Birderian Church of Wington. They weren’t perfect, either. They made foolish mistakes like we did. I gasped. I cried. I was completely caught up in their avian drama. And I loved the First Birderians long after I was “too old” to hear about them at devotional.
I loved the classic Bible stories, too. I never tired of the miracles, the romance and violence, the poetry of a gigantic book written primarily in iambic pentameter. David and Goliath. Jesus. Lazarus. Wild John the Baptist whose head ended up on a platter. The prostitute Mary Magdalene. Moses and the Israelites looking for a land of milk and honey. Fishermen.
In the end, I have my dad to thank for my love of words. We may have stuck to a handful of books, and only one carried any real significance in his eyes. but it was chock full of beautiful images and language. I was encouraged to read it all, even the songs of Solomon, because, hey, they were in the bible!
The poetry of the Psalms proved some of my favorites. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For Thou art with me.” The 23rd Psalm comforts me in times of fear, of loss. I pray these words are still alive somewhere inside the man who first taught me to love them, my dad.