Although I hope for news that Grandpa is getting better, I have been given to accept that he may be in his last days of this mortal life. My prayers go out for him to heal and to recover, that we may have more time with him. My fears and sorrows are that he may not be long with us.
Not surprisingly, then, memories of Grandpa have come rising to the surface in these last few days.
Both sets of my grandparents gave me the wonderful gift of Christian faith, though each gave me that gift in unique ways. From the Healy’s I was given an earthy faith, full of harvest and tilling, of chores and sweat. Theirs was a faith stripped of ritual; it was the little church of the home, where the Bible was intoned as much as it was read. From the Healy’s I learned both to read the Bible everyday, and to drink in the God who spilled his glory over the creation. Those summer days on the farm are doubtless why my travels home through the Flint Hills have nearly a sacramental experience to them. I can be beat up, beat down, stretched to the breaking point, and as I enter the slowly undulating hills I am refreshed. Day, night, bright sunshine, snowstorm, it doesn’t matter. I plant my feet on Kansas soil and I am reborn.
The Thompson’s gave me my Christian faith, too. But if the Healy’s gave me a vibrant life in Christ of the home and creation, the Thompson’s gave me the life of Christ of the corporate members, the gathered church of many homes. I have quite vivid memories of sitting in the service listening to Grandpa preach. No fire-and-brimstone preacher, his was a measured, orderly, reasoned message; gentle, humble, inviting. His prayers which dotted the various points of the service were the calm and quiet familiarity of one for whom speaking with Christ was the sharing of the morning’s rising over coffee. The elders of Grandpa’s church always impressed me with their quiet and intense solemnity while observing the Lord’s Supper (which we were taught to do each week). These gray-haired men of God would bow their heads, and contemplate both their own sins, confessing them, as well as the work of Christ on the Cross for us, forgiving those sins. I saw certain of these men shed tears of repentance before consuming the elements of the Lord’s Supper. Aside from the Orthodox Church, of which I am now a part, I have not met any group which have so regularly celebrated the memorial of the Lord’s Passion with such seriousness and joy as those men serving with my Grandpa.
I also remember Grandpa’s library. Sometimes it was in his pastor’s office. But much of the time of my growing up, it was in a spare room in his home. I took great delight in going into the quiet office and rummaging through his shelves, reading, sometimes taking notes, writing. I looked over his sermon notes. I read the different translations of the Bible he had. For a while, I was the only male grandchild, and even when my cousin Jeremiah came on the scene, he was too young to play with. Grandpa’s library was a refuge for me. There I could think in the quiet.
Grandpa also had a blue and white VW van. And the front passenger seat had a bar that went across the back of it, like a large handle to grab on to. In the days before seat belt laws and child restraints, I would stand behind that passenger seat, grabbing that bar and ride in the van like that. One time, as we were leaving worship services, I took my preferred place behind the passenger seat, and my uncle James was asked to shut the sliding van door. James, a teenager who could only have been terminally cool, did not lean forward and push the door closed with his hand. No, he continued slumped in his seat and lifted his foot and kicked the door closed. I was standing with my elbow in the path of the slamming door. It was a most unpleasant experience.
I also remember one time, Grandma had taken me on some errands with her, and we had gone to some shops, sort of like a small mall (I forget now why we had gone). Grandma had said something to me to which I, thinking I would be cute, decided to express my dissatisfaction by saying, “Well, crap.” Grandma turned to me with utmost seriousness and I learned how absolutely inappropriate it was for a young boy to use that word. However, Grandma wasn’t too mad because we soon were in a bookstore and she purchased for me a paperback copy of J R R Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. There was, in that store, quite obviously some pipe tobacco, because that book smelled strongly of cherry cavendish–which made me love it all the more. How Grandma ever allowed me in to a store which sold tobacco, I cannot say. But I took that tobacco-smelling book back to their place with me, and holed up in Grandpa’s library, reading it.
When I was older, and had just begun studying at Ozark Christian College, Grandpa thought it important that I put into practice some of the things I was learning. So, when we were back visiting, he invited me to preach a sermon at his church in Attica, Kansas. The poor congregation. I had no clue what I was doing. But Grandpa kindly lent me some of his preaching outlines so I could get an idea of what I might need to do. To the best of my recollection, it was the first sermon I ever preached.
Most of all, though, there is one set of memories which I have, by God’s grace, retained a vivid recollection and which I pray God I never forget. My grandpa baptized me into Christ, when I was seven, at my home church in Wichita, Kansas. Some weeks before I had lain awake in bed and heard quite distinctly a voice telling me, “You must be baptized.” I lay there and contemplated this directive. Like any child, I simply took it on faith that this was a command I should not ignore, and then went in to my parents to tell them of my decision to be baptized. After some conversations with the church’s minister and my grandpa the date of my baptism was set. I remember being nervous about making sure I “did things right,” and when the time came I stepped my way down into the baptistry where my grandfather waited for me. The water was quite warm . . . and deep. I stood on my tiptoes. Grandpa said some words about my coming in faith to Christ and the meaning of baptism, and then said to me, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” and then he lowered me into the water, and raised me up again.
I will ever be grateful to God that Grandpa was the one who was given the task of uniting me to Christ and his Church in baptism.