It was a cavernous sanctuary, ornate mahogany pews with red velvet cushions, a massive pipe organ dominating the wall behind the platform. We always sat in the balcony, slightly to the right of center, in the second row.
I was a small, somewhat impish child — not at all averse to occasionally sneaking up forbidden stairs and peeking between those enormous pipes as the congregation gathered, always scurrying back down at their first sonorous blast, my black, patent-leather Mary Janes echoing in long hallways as I sprinted to join my parents before the prelude ended and suspicion began.
I didn’t know Jesus then. Nor did I consciously know the power of art and beauty to move a soul. But I felt it. In the grand architecture, warm light spilling from chandeliers, glorious music from blended voices, and words. Such poetry! I listened and heard and loved it for reasons I couldn’t name. Reasons that would find me years later. On the long drive back to the suburbs from downtown Dallas, I’d whisper to myself The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23. I couldn’t have told you why, but I didn’t want to lose those words. Didn’t want to forget.
Do we recognize His hand in simplest things? I didn’t then. Not yet. Two things rise as constants in those days. Two things that remain as final things now:
Hearing my mother sing alto and watching her draw on her bulletin.
The music, it was always the gift. I didn’t know my eyes and ears were being trained. I only knew I wanted it. She held the hymnal and sang, and I followed the notes and heard them and learned their language. Amazing Grace and This is my Father’s World and For the Beauty of the Earth and The Doxology — praising God from whom all blessings flow, singing and believing the truth as a child believes. As we all must believe to enter the Kingdom.
But the drawings, they were her sanctuary. She’d scan the crowd and select a subject, and all through the service she would sketch. And I watched with wonder as the image took form. That old man with the crazy eyebrows and furrowed jowls may have gone home to his fried chicken dinner after church, but he also came home with us in her purse.
We are born with abilities engineered into our DNA — those places where we feel most at home in our own skin. When she was a little girl, “going outside to play” meant taking her color books and crayons to the sidewalk. She used to tell me that story, laughing at herself. But I loved it. Loved the way our gifts discover us. In college she majored in art, and toward the end of her senior year, she had to turn in an oil painting. The project was due, and she was running out of time. She and Dad were dating then, so she sat him down and painted his portrait, all in one afternoon. She added the finishing touches after he left, and in her hurry, painted the button on the wrong side of his shirt — another joke she always loved telling on herself. The portrait still hangs in their dining room.
She doesn’t tell these stories any more. Or any other stories. But her heart’s homes remain. Music. Drawing. And my father.
Recently they were sitting at the kitchen table after breakfast, and he asked her to draw him. She balked at first, but he insisted, so she took a sheet of paper and pencil, and glancing back and forth from her favorite face to the page, she drew.
After he saw the result he took her to an art supply store and bought a sketch pad and pencils. Last week he asked her to draw me. I watched her face as she sketched, and the smile appeared of itself. The same smile that lights her face when she holds Naomi. Her words said, “It’s not very good,” but her smile said, “I’m a little girl on the sidewalk. The breeze is ruffing my hair, and the sun is warming my back, and the crayons — oh, the wonderful crayons! — they are creating something out of nothing.”
And now I’m a little girl, too. Sitting beside her in church, watching her sketch a man in liturgical robes as he raises his hands toward heaven and gives thanks to an Almighty God who spoke the world into existence, creating beauty and form from nothing. And we who are weak, earthen vessels, frail and breakable — we are His image bearers. We who are small peek through cracks, snatching mere glimpses — notes, words, the faces we know and love best. Simple, powerful, eternal things.
I grasp for words, but who can wrap words around these mysteries?
We see in part, and we don’t want to lose it. Don’t want to forget. So we sing it to the deeps, and the music, it remains. By His grace.
When Curtis and Grace were in town last week, he pulled out Mom’s old classical guitar, Grace found lyrics and chords on the internet, and we sat around the kitchen table singing songs Mom loves. I used my phone to video a couple of them and thought I’d share them here with you. These recordings aren’t professional on any level, but I’m so glad to have captured a small sample of this sweet time. I love how Mom is transported to a far away place on Summer Time, and I love watching my dad’s face as he watches her.
One of these mornings, you’re gonna rise up singing
Then you’ll spread your wings, and you’ll take to the sky . . .
One of these mornings. Until then, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we have been fully known.
We are made in the image, and when we see Him, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. The face we love best.
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Considering the Practice of Humility, or in this case, what it means to be small.