When my grandmother died so suddenly, many years ago, and the whole family was pitched into grief, and then the inevitable dividing up of important items—one wooden giraffe for each grandchild, the accordion for my aunt, the handmade kindergarten creation song booklet for me—my mother took hold of her Bible, which meant that her own came down the line to me.
My grandmother’s Bible is enormous. I don’t know how or if my mother has managed to lug it home to Kenya. Hers is more moderately sized, leather-bound, with high school and college scrawls of interesting insights from sermons and studies. I’ve been using it on school mornings to work through Proverbs with my own brood. The King James language is a point of beauty and interest, rather than a hindrance.
“Why does wisdom have to be talked about like a woman?” my son complains.
“I don’t know,” I say. “Sometimes women can be wise. Later there will be an evil woman. Look, some of the men are good, and some are foolish and evil.” I do know, but I don’t want to get into it with him. “Go practice the piano and stop fussing.” It’s the standard response to all difficult questions: Stop fussing. Practice the piano.
The piano, like the Bible, is hers as well. In high school she needed a piano. It’s possible to practice only so much in other places. If you really want to be good, you need a piano. One of her very wonderful teachers, I forget which one, said that if she memorized a whole book of the Bible, he would get her a piano. A whole book of the Bible could be a breeze.
At my own school people were always memorizing James. Some people I know who really dislike God now managed to get through the whole book of James and keep a handle on it through till graduation, whole sections flowing off the tongue with no problem. I was too rebellious and stuborn for James. I only did Ecclesiastes 13 and left it at that. Not a whole book, just a chapter. My mother, unbound by legalism of any kind, fixed on Hebrews. The whole book of Hebrews and at the end, one whole piano.
When my grandfather died, a few years after my grandmother, and the house really had to be sold, my mother contrived to get the piano all the way across the country from Portland to Binghamton. My children bang out “Eye of the Tiger” and Pachelbel’s Canon on it. Their teacher, laid back and calm, lets them learn whatever they want. My grandmother would be shocked. My mother, I think, is just grateful that they are learning. When she’s here, she coaxes them and persuades them to place the piano and its sound in high esteem. When she goes, I make the children wipe jam off their fingers before practicing. “Remember,” I say occasionally, “This is Nonnie’s Hebrews Memorial Piano. Don’t bang on it. Don’t make it sticky.”
If it weren’t for the Bible and the piano, I don’t know how things would have turned out for my own wonderful mother. They have tethered her to hope and beauty and Jesus, and through her, me. They are like the strong, sometimes invisible to others, but always clearly felt under the index finger and thumb, thread in the Princess and the Goblin—the thread that Irene follows through darkness and fear and evil to safety at the end. The world looks on and thinks, how can that possibly turn out well? But there, under the fingers, forming on the lips and in the heart, is the tether, the strong hope to which we are called, that cannot be abandoned or destroyed.
This post is a modified reprint from Anne Kennedy’s blog, Preventing Grace.