One of my earliest memories. . .
is bedtime with Mom. Every night, without fail, I would climb into bed, slide under one of her homemade quilts and await the ‘regimen.’ The regimen was always the same: books, prayers, hymns.
I learned early on that I had to pick shorter books. . .
because Mom was a ‘sleeper.’ If she sat down for too long with nothing to do, I could count on her eyes closing. She wasn’t a one-book-Mom. She was a three-book-Mom. I’m fairly certain it was her patient reading to me during those early years that fostered my love for the written word. Even though her voice often sounded like a tired angel, she still read with great and appropriate expression. Since I really didn’t hear her talk that much during the daily grind of living, listening to her voice every evening was special.
We said three prayers: “Now I lay me down to sleep. . .
I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take, and this I ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen.” And “Dear Father, in heaven, look down from above; bless Daddy and Mommy, Rebecca, Daniel, Michael, Liz and Peter, and all whom we love. And “May angels guard over my slumbers and when the morning is dawning, awake me. Amen.”
And then we sang hymns.
Not one verse. Many verses. As many as I wanted. Of the thousands of evenings logged doing this regimen (I was about ten when she stopped), I probably chose “Built on the Rock” 50% of the time as the first hymn. I had no idea what the words meant until I was an adult but I sure liked how the words and melody made me feel. Strong and stable. Other favorite hymns I picked often were “Lord Jesus, Who Dost Love Me” and “Children of the Heavenly Father.” “Jesus, Priceless Treasure,” “Abide With Me,” “Rock of Ages,” and “Like the Golden Sun Ascending” were often sung. Even as a young child I found myself wondering how I knew all the words to so many hymns. I eventually figured it out. When you do something a thousand times, it tends to stick.
I do have a favorite hymn. Hands down.
It’s been my favorite since childhood when my young, sweet voice sounded like one voice with Mom’s at bedtime. It’s a Norwegian hymn with a lilting Scandinavian melody that ebbs and swells like warm-toned strokes of rosemaling. Its four serene verses beautifully encapsulate a day in the life of a Christian living (and sometimes struggling) under God’s enduring grace:
“The sun has gone down, and peace has descended on country and town;
The songbirds in silence have flown to their nest,
And flowers are closing their petals in rest;
So closes my heart to annoyance and care,
In homage and prayer, in homage and prayer.
I praise for this day the Father in heaven who prospered my way,
Who shielded from danger, defended from harm,
Promoted my labor and strengthened my arm;
For hours that passed lightly as birds on the wing
Thanksgiving I bring, thanksgiving I bring.
Forgive me, O Lord, my sins and transgressions in deed and in word!
Thou knowest my heart and my innermost thoughts,
The words I have spoken, the deeds I have wrought,
My errors and failings I deeply regret;
Forgive and forget, forgive and forget.
I ask for no more. My light I extinguish and fasten the door,
And seeking my chamber, betake me to rest,
Assured that my slumber this night will be blest,
I fondly confide to Thy care and control
My body and soul, my body and soul.”
I knew all four verses by the age of around eight. I’m now 53 and didn’t need to open my hymnal to review it.
My first hymn teacher was a good one.