A Sunday Meditation

dale evans prayer bookWriting well isn’t only a matter of technique; it’s also dependent on what we allow ourselves to feel. Often, my strongest feelings come from childhood. Driving back today from Indianapolis, I came upon a radio station that was playing old-time church hymns: “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” “In the Sweet By and By,” “Bringing in the Sheaves.”

Sometimes I wake on Sunday mornings with the feeling that there’s somewhere I’m supposed to be. I call back the memory of the churches of my childhood:  the hard wooden pews, the dusty smell of the hymnals, the thimble-sized communion cups half-full of Welch’s grape juice, the Saltine cracker from which the believers broke a piece of the body of Christ, the red-edged pages of New Testaments, the preacher extending the invitation to salvation— Jesus is waiting. Won’t you come to him now?

I was fifteen when I accepted the call, and I still remember the feeling that filled me after my baptism, this feeling of life starting again, of all my wrong steps being cleansed, of every sin forgiven. This was love, my mother told me. This was Christ’s love. Although I eventually dropped away from the fold, and remain outside it even today, I never forgot that lesson. I never forgot that when you truly and wholly love someone, you forgive them for falling short, forgive them the injuries they bring you, forgive them for being less than what you want them to be. All the while I basked in the warm comfort of this new life after my baptism, I began to see how my mother’s faith—her refusal to stop loving my father no matter the ugliness of his temper—might just be enough to save us.

Listening to those hymns today, I remembered how my mother used to read to me from A Big Golden Book, Dale Evans Prayer Book for Children. Dale Evans, “Queen of the West,” the wife of Roy Rogers, the square-dealing, “King of the Cowboys.” They stood for all things decent and right, and as hokey as that may seem these days, I still look back at the boy I was and my mother’s attempts to keep reminding me of everything that was good in the world, with great affection. She was no Dale Evans, mind you. She couldn’t do rope tricks, couldn’t ride, couldn’t sing worth a lick. But she was a mother who wanted her son to know he was loved. From this book, I learned my first prayer of gratitude: “God is great and God is good/And we thank him for our food.” And I learned how to ask God to take care of me: “Now I lay me down to sleep/I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” No matter how far I’d eventually travel from that simple faith, I’d never be able to completely forsake it. I’d carry it with me through everything that lay ahead. I wish my mother were still alive so I could tell her this: her efforts weren’t in vain; I can still hear her gentle voice reading from that prayer book, as she sat on the edge of my bed and I repeated the words she said, taking them in, feeling the goodness of her love.





  1. NancyKay Wessman on March 10, 2014 at 9:39 am

    This is beautiful, a sweet reminder to me of my own Southern Baptist upbringing. So blessed now to be an Episcopalian, always founded on the way of my mother, father, and grands…. Thank you.

    • Lee Martin on March 11, 2014 at 9:24 am

      Thanks NancyKay. I very much appreciate that you read my post and took the time to leave a comment.

  2. Melissa Cronin on March 10, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Beautiful piece, Lee. Some say they want to forget the past, but there’s so much rich material to be harvested, to be written, to be shared. Thanks!

  3. Lee Martin on March 11, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Thanks, Melissa. I find that mining those memories has a lot to tell me about who I am in the here-and-now.

  4. ruth ann zwilling on March 11, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    Brings back the memory s of my childhood and attending church with my Grandma Garrett down at the little Gilead Church. She never missed and during the week she would clean the church and play the piano. Grandpa always asked for his favorite song to be sung before the end of service “The Old Rugged Cross.”

    And I also attended church with my Grandma Nicholas at the little country Lutheran Church in Richland county. Oh to be able to revisit those days with loved ones on a Sunday morning. I still attend church faithfully and think of my grandparents and my loved ones who taught us their ways by their actions.

    My Grandma Garrett taught me my very first song when I was around 3 yrs old which was Precious Memories. And that they Are.

  5. Lee Martin on March 14, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Those are good memories, Ruth Ann. Thanks for sharing them.

  6. Beverly on March 30, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. I would love to read more of them.

    • Lee Martin on March 30, 2014 at 8:58 pm

      Thank you, Beverly. I hope you’ll visit my blog again. Take good care—Lee

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