I’ve been thinking lately about some pictures related to faith which I’ve seen over the years. Some were framed and displayed on furniture or walls. Others were imprinted only on the canvas of my memory. Most are dated, but one is recent. It’s a picture of faith I won’t soon forget.
The earliest faith-related portrayal I recall is one of Jesus. The depiction of Him was in a small plastic frame on top of the dresser in my grandmother’s bedroom. I think she bought it as part of a school fundraiser, probably from one of her older grandchildren. It was a typical representation of Christ, his long brown hair and beard having a hint of red. He was dressed in white and walking on water, I think, but that’s more of a guess than a fact.
It would make a nice story to share how that little print changed my life, but I can’t claim that’s the case. In that same room, however, was a recurring scene that still inspires me, a living picture I saw on countless occasions. It’s an unframed but precious memory of Mama Joiner reading her Bible.
Whether she followed a plan or chose her own passages I don’t know. What I do know is that she read her Bible a lot. The picture of faith I frequently saw was of her in a wooden rocking chair reading in a soft whisper. Her voice was barely audible, not loud enough for me to distinguish the words. Whispered reading was perhaps just a habit, or maybe it helped her avoid distractions.
Finding Mama Joiner reading her Bible was a sight familiar to most of us who were close to her. She died in 1969, before camera use was common in our family. It would have been a wonderful snapshot – a kind-hearted silver-haired lady with her braid in a tight bun, holding a frayed Bible in her lap.
Years ago, I wrote a song that compared Mama Joiner’s Bible to my own. The lyrics were closer to the truth than I’d like to admit. “Grandmama’s Bible is old and it’s worn. There’s a picture of Jesus, the corners are torn. Mine is still shiny, was a gift from the church. It looks almost new because it’s not read enough.”
A long time had passed since I’d thought about that tune. It’s not an exceptional song by any means, but I need to keep singing it to remind me of a slowly fading scene. The distant memory of her in that chair conveys almost perfectly who she was, a quiet humble lady with a strong faith.
Quite unexpectedly I was reminded of Mama Joiner on the first of May while attending a funeral. A longtime family friend, Mr. W. H. “Finn” Cross, went to Harmony Baptist Church that day for the last time. He was a regular there since well before I came along. If the doors were open, Mr. Finn was present. It didn’t matter if cotton was hanging precariously from the bolls or if peanuts needed picking. Even if heavy rains were only hours away, worship was his priority.
Mr. Finn was an exceptional man in many ways. He was an outstanding farmer and adept businessman. His love for family was obvious and incredible. He enjoyed fishing and hunting about as much as anyone can. A picture of him in any of those elements could have shown some things he did and helped to describe him. But the photograph beside his casket showed who he was and what defined him.
Donna, his daughter-in-law, had discreetly taken the picture. He was in his chair reading, completely unaware of her silent admiration. His open Bible was resting on his lap as he held it with both hands. He was looking down, still seeking at a very late point in life to have fellowship with the One he looked up to.
That photograph has caused me to do some serious thinking. I’ve been asking myself what kind of picture would be most appropriate by my casket. I’m finding it hard to give a completely honest answer. The one thing I know with great certainty is there’s plenty of room for improvement. What I don’t know is if there’s plenty of time.
Mr. Finn’s portrait touched my heart in a couple of places. First, it reflected the godly example I’ve seen in him all my life. And secondly, it took me back to tender memories of Mama Joiner in an almost identical pose long ago. Those two pictures of faith now gently prod me toward something I need to work on. The cover of my Bible looks much better than it should.