Free Souls, Chapter 11

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art–
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

From the chancel of the Fourth Presbyterian Church, Sandy, at sixteen the youngest member of the adult choir, lifted up her clear soprano in the ancient Irish hymn.

“Be Thou My Vision” had long been one of Sandy’s favorites. There was something solid, true, and tested about it. Joined with choir and congregation, with the massive pipe organ rolling out the hymn tune “Slane,” she felt herself to be united with the anonymous Dark Age Christian missionary, perhaps St. Patrick himself, whose manifesto it was.

“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise . . . ” Courageous, that’s what she would be, whatever life threw at her. Like the hymn’s ancient writer, she would stand firm in the power of Jesus Christ.

“ . . . Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all. Amen,” she sang, and it was more than a hymn for her, it was a vow and a confession of faith.

Choir and congregation were seated and the Reverend Dr. Alec Wallace ascended the pulpit to deliver his sermon.

Sandy liked to say she’d been a member of Fourth Presbyterian since before she was born, and certainly Dr. Wallace had been pastor there nearly as long as she had been alive. As far back as she could remember she’d seen him standing tall in the pulpit preaching God’s salvation and love.

This particular morning, he took his texts from the book of Romans. “God loved us even when we were His enemies! Jesus His Son died for you, and you have nothing to be afraid of anymore,” he proclaimed. “Nothing can separate you from His love, nothing! Trust His love for you, you are more than a conqueror in Jesus Christ!!”

At sixteen she was no longer a child, to be in awe of him in his long black robe with its red velvet stripes on the sleeves, but she still knew he was speaking for God.

“There’s no need to be frightened of anything in this world, brothers and sisters,” he urged his congregation, “because the perfect love of God casts out all fear. Believe the good news and praise Him for what He has done for you through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Grounded, that’s what she had become at Fourth Presbyterian. Rooted and grounded in the power and protection of God. Not everyone’s church experience was like hers, she knew that now. Eric’s certainly wasn’t. But certainly, what she gained from her pastor and teachers there gave her every reason not to fear.

From Dr. Wallace, too, had come the awareness of human work as a vocation from God, to be done to His glory. Sandy learned you didn’t have to be a preacher to serve Jesus, you could and should do it just as well as a salesman or a plumber or a housewife. At a young age she had determined that she wanted to be an architect and for years it had only been what she wanted to do for a living. But lately it had broken on her like an epiphany that it could be and would be more than that. The Sunday morning when she’d grasped the connection between the path she had chosen for her life and the Jesus Christ she had come to trust, it filled her with a burst of joy she wished she could have lived in forever.

When had she first had the idea of going into Architecture? She must have been ten or eleven. She remembered going to her father one evening and saying to him, “Daddy, Mark wants to be a doctor and Larry says he’s going to be an airline pilot. Daddy, I’ve decided what I want to be when I grow up.”

Roderick Beichten had laid down his newspaper and smiled at his only daughter. “So what do you want to be, Honey Sandwich?”

“I want to be an architect,” she’d said, proudly.

“An architect! Good for you!” had been her father’s unreserved response. “That’s a very important job.”

“I know! Dr. Wallace told me last Sunday that an architect made drawings so they could build the new Sunday School rooms. I saw them in the church lobby, on the bulletin board. And there’s a colored picture of what the new part will look like. Oh, Daddy, it is so beautiful! I want to be an architect so I can make pictures like that!”

“Being an architect is about more than drawing pretty pictures of buildings, Honey Sandwich,” he father had said, a probing tone to his voice.

“I know that,” she’d replied with a child’s impatience at the stupidity of grownups. “Dr. Wallace said architects have to show the builders how to make the building really strong so it won’t fall down. And he says our architect will be at church next Sunday and if I want to meet him I can, if it’s all right with you and Mommy. Oh, Daddy, may I?”

“Certainly, if he has time. Architects are very busy people, you know. You will have to work very hard when you become one.” (She distinctly remembered how he’d said “when,” not “if.”)

“Oh, yes, I will! I’m working already! I drew us a new house! Do you want to see it?”

“Of course I do, Honey Sandwich. And I’m glad to hear what you want to be. Not very many girls become architects, but if you study hard and keep drawing, I know you can do as well as any boy out there. Maybe better.” He’d winked. “Now go get those house plans of yours.”

Her rudimentary plans and elevations Roderick Beichten had had framed and hung on the wall of his den, and no one had been prouder than he when Sandy was accepted into the prestigious program at the state university at Mt. Athens.

Her father, her whole family, actually; her pastor and the members of her church– they had all supported and encouraged her as a girl. They taught her not to fear anything she might encounter.

“So why am I so afraid of what might happen, with the office– and Eric? Why can’t I stand up on my two legs and act like a grown up human being instead of a scared little child?”  She stared out towards the streetlight bright through the naked branches of the tree outside her window. All those early reasons for courage were still hers. But somehow, they remained just beyond her grasp.  She needed to know why.

____________________________

by Catrin Lewis, 1983; revised 2013 & 2014.  All rights reserved

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