Thursday, April 7, 2011

The King of Love (some quiet words)

The King of Love, my Shepherd is, whose goodness, faileth never. I nothing lack, if I am his, and he is mine forever. 

I was thirteen when I heard this hymn for the first time. I was wearing dark red crushed velvet shoes that we had found on sale at Payless, and even though they pinched my toes I had insisted on wearing them. The hand-me-down black dress from my sister scratched my skin, and as we walked into the room I fidgeted inside it. 

It is the whirlwind I remember best. Telling my chorus director that I had to abandon the beautiful alto part in Sarah's arrangement of "Down to the River to Pray." Skipping the test on the New Testament we were taking in my 8th grade Humanities class (our theme was "Belonging" and so we were heavy in the midst of Jesus and his disciples). Packing the small red carryon suitcase two or three times because I couldn't remember what I had put in, and so I had to start all over. The cold drive to the airport. The colder, quieter plane ride. The arrival. Dad picking us up, not going to Greystones because Granny needed her space not to be crowded with people. The cramped motel next to the Q8 gas station where when we would get "peckish" late at night we'd fill our American stomachs with Walker's crisps and my favorite cans of Orangina or orange squash or Fresca. The picture of us all, me in braces and squinting, my youngest brother so very young, just a little guy. 

Where streams of living water flow,
My ransomed soul he leadeth
And, where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.

The words of the hymn swallowed me up that day in December 2003. I clung to Jesus without really knowing how to do it {and now I am back to that kind of instinctual clinging, a koala bear in His arms}. 
Last night we got the news that my English grandmother, too, has died. And my first remembering is Granddad's funeral. The Boeing 707. The splashing tears. The quiet I wanted to be in. Grief has for me always demanded quiet. I am like W. H. Auden - 

"Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come."

The quiet has been harder to find in the chaotic noise of spring - papers to finish, edit, exams to study for, trips here and there. Granny died in the bursting of spring, and Granddad in the entrance of winter. The seasons, so long opposed, have embraced each other. Both now hold life and death, the journey of grief, and the joy of remembering. 

In death's dark vale, I fear no ill, 
with thee, dear Lord, beside me. 
Thy rod and staff, my comfort still, 
Thy cross before to guide me. 

Granny taught me to drink tea in fine china, to let it brew loose in the pot. She taught me to trace my fingers over the black and white keys of a piano. She taught me to feed chickens, and the difference between real cake and "whatever we Americans eat." She taught me the word lovely. She taught me how to read Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

When I crinkle my eyes into a smile, I see her smile peeking back at me. 
(photo from the lovely Mandie Sodoma)
And so tonight, in the quiet place with my quiet words, I whisper to remember: 

And so through all the length of days, 
thy goodness faileth never. 
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise, 
within thy house forever. 


1 comment:

  1. Dear Hilary,
    I am so sorry for your loss. This was such a beautiful tribute, i am so grateful to be reminded of the hymn, and also for the image "clinging like a koala bear in his arms". . . May He give you peace and comfort there.


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