It was my mother who created the grooves in my heart. . .
that became the resting spot for an increasing number of memorized hymns. From as early as I can remember, her bedtime regimen of reading books, saying prayers and singing hymns closed out each day like a present being wrapped in beautiful paper.
It was my dad who continued the mission of pouring hymns into my heart as I grew older. He is my second hymn teacher.
Between Dad and Mom, it’s anyone’s guess who loved hymns more. I believe they loved them equally. I think Mom would have edged out Dad in a ‘Most Hymns Memorized’ contest but, as the humble, non-wordy Norwegians that they were, that contest would have never taken place, so there’s no point in surmising.
Dad led devotion after supper every night, except Sunday.
He must have figured the hour in church qualified us as having ‘heard the Word.’ I emphasize every because it’s a very fitting word to describe how my dad operated. If my dad did anything well, and he did many things well, he had a fascinating ability to be disciplined with things that mattered–being kind to Mom and never grumbling over the messes she made in the kitchen, attending every sports event of his five children no matter the weather, visiting every shut-in on a regularly scheduled basis, writing ‘thank you’ notes to every parishioner for every gift we had received and preaching good Law/Gospel sermons every Sunday. He also had a fascinating ability to be disciplined with things that didn’t matter–immaculately straight garden rows, perfectly aligned chairs in the church basement and making the best, salt-laden and butter-slathered popcorn every Sunday during the Vikings football season.
Devotion always concluded with a hymn.
He would choose one or ask one of us to choose one. He’d start singing quickly and, most often, it was just one verse, for which we were thankful. I cannot lie and say that, as youths, we all loved having devotion and singing hymns after supper. I was mildly embarrassed when my friends came over and had to sit through devotion, as well. But they learned soon enough that at the Madson house, we had devotion and we had better listen because Pastor Madson asked questions at the end. As an adult, I’m so thankful that my Dad did this kind of ‘every‘ well.
I learned years later that the reason we memorized so many hymns. . .
in our Christian Day School was because my dad had a meeting with the principal and decreed that the memorization and singing of hymns would be an important part of the school’s curriculum. And it was. Every day. It became particularly stressful when we were old enough to attend Confirmation class with my dad. He was no one-verse-softie. We had to memorize and recite multiple verses at a time, along with the passages and answers we had to memorize from the Catechism. I recall being completely relieved that he cut us some slack when learning “Behold a Host.” This hymn caused the blood to drain from my face. One verse had 12 lines. He only made us recite one verse at a time with this one. Even that was rough.
But, 40 years later, I could rattle off those 12 lines like nobody’s business. And, 40 years later, I could not be more grateful to my dad for his part in packing my heart full of hymns.
Western Koshkonong Lutheran, my childhood church, was built on a hill in 1845 near Stoughton, WI. Its steeple can be seen and church bell heard for many miles.