When I was in nursery and grade school, my mother managed to get my brother and me to church on a semi-regular basis. Though neither he or I particularly loved the experience of being roused early and wrangled into uncomfortable clothes in order to spend the next hour being quiet and listening to sermons and stories we didn’t understand, I’m grateful my mother persisted in this thankless effort. I believe it was a gift to have been introduced to the cadences and language of the Bible at a young age—albeit reluctantly at first. And while I don’t think such early introduction is necessary, I’m sure that my sense of wonder was stirred in a special way by some of the images I absorbed during those services.
There were the old faithfuls—the ones so ubiquitous you didn’t need to go to church to know about: Noah’s ark, David and Goliath, the three kings. But there were some stranger, more mystical passages too. For example, one from this Sunday’s Gospel, “in my father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2, KJV) still conjures a mental picture of a long, bright hallway and a feeling of expectation. It’s also (nearly) iambic pentameter, one of the most common rhythms of English language poetry and speech. Likewise, with the idea that “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21), the hallway and all its mansions became part of my own mind—in a way affirming imagination and creativity as a holy pursuits (which my mother also encouraged).
Or, at least I’d like to think so—that the random assortment of disconnected images and rhythms gleaned from childhood encounters with scripture has become part of my unconscious repertoire, integrating with a collection of other forms and associations. When I attempt to write a poem, essay or (gasp) sermon now, I still have those first images. I can apply the pressure of thought to them, or with a little grace, hope that the right one emerges at the right moment. This alone is enough to make grateful my mother insisted (more often than not, anyway) that my brother and I get up on Sunday morning. This Sunday, Mother’s Day, I will be sure to tell her that.