After visiting my grandparents (PaPa & NaNa) one day this summer, I left marveled at these two witnesses. PaPa is 92 and Nana is 87. They have lived long and fruitful lives. PaPa stationed throughout Europe during World War II. NaNa growing up on a farm in rural Hanover County. They raised three children, grandparented eight grandchildren and six plus great-grandchildren. With one more on the way.
This picture has been making the rounds on Facebook the past few weeks. The first picture shows what a child did to a wall. The next picture shows what the child’s mother did to that scribble.
Photographer Unknown via National Art Society on Facebook
The mother had taken a mistake and turned it into something beautiful.
Every Wednesday I spend part of my evening at the L’Arche community in Lynchburg. There are L’Arche communities all over the world made up of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Wednesdays is the Lynchburg community’s Spiritual Life Night. Since October I have been leading this time which we spend in prayer, scripture reading, and singing.
Last night at the L’Arche Spiritual Life Night, we sang a bunch of songs, as we usually do. One of them was Jesus Loves Me, which we sing almost every week. It is a song we often think is just for children. As we sang it last night, one of the residents, Steve, was in a different part of the house. As we sang, he stopped what he was doing and walked into our space. He stood next to me and uttered sounds that told us he was singing along. He looked in the direction of my songbook, and I handed it to him. He took it from me and started “singing” louder. As the song started to to come to an end, Steve moved on.
He knew the song and wanted to sing along.
It reminded me of a story I heard Connie Hopper tell once about visiting her older brother. She would take him recordings of her family group’s gospel music to listen to. The recording that got the most use, was that of their version of Jesus Loves Me.
No matter what our mental capability, state of our memory, or place in life, there are great hymns and songs of faith that help us remember that Jesus loves us. And there is none better than the song most of us learned growing up in the church as young children. And it reinforces the work of those Sunday school teachers and children’s ministers who teach the essence of the Christian faith, without all of the complexities: Jesus loves me.
The story goes that a student asked the theologian Karl Barth to summarize his theological in one sentence. Barth is reported to have said, “To quote a song I learned from my mother’s knee, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'”
I observed last night’s General Conference worship. It was an excellent service, with astounding music of various kinds. The theme of the service was healing by the sea. As an introduction to the first song, Precious Lord, Take My Hand, sung by a UMC choir from Oklahoma, the worship leader commented that it was “a hymn born at sea; written at sea.”
Now, whether “sea” was meant to be taken methorapically is uncertain. The hymn, while mentioning storms, was written by the great “Father of Gospel Music” Reverend Dr. Thomas Dorsey. In the late 1920’s and into the 1930’s Dorsey took the African-American spirituals that were so well known and beloved and wove them with the blues and jazz that was becoming so popular and giving voice to so many.
In was in 1932 while leading a church service that Dorsey was given a telegram. His wife had just died while in childbirth. The following day the newborn died as well. Dorsey was in the midst of a storm that left him in despair and doubt. He truly believed that he would never write another hymn again.
A week later, deep in grief, Dorsey sat alone at a piano in the music room of a dear friend. It was there that he felt a deep peace that he had not felt in a week. As the peace fell over him, Dorsey started playing the piano. It wasn’t long before his fingers found a melody and the words that followed gave birth to Precious Lord, Take My Hand.
Dorsey was not at sea, but was facing a strong storm in his life.