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Why Would Anyone Write a Book?

Grandfather wrote his own Preface, so let’s begin there.

“The spectacle of sermons in print has been compared to a visit to a mortuary for the purpose of viewing a departed friend. What we cherished — the smile, the personality, even the mannerisms are all gone, leaving only the cold and lifeless remains.”

Ah, preaching is a spoken art. It’s all about delivery and eye contact and intonation. There’s more to it than the words. How can that possibly convey when all we have left is printed type? I wonder if the Biblical writers ever had this foreboding. Just words, what will they have to say, what possible pleasure could they give, to someone who never knew me, never saw me, never heard me?

Yet, Grandfather did have them typed out thanks to “Mrs. Orlando Berg for the suggestion that his manuscripts be turned ‘into printer’s copy.'” That despite her overcrowded secretarial schedule she found time to prepare the typescript and enlisted three others (mentioned by name) in the “arduous task.” To them Dr. Rilling offers his “warmest gratitude” for “our book.”

And it’s in the “our” that I suspect he took comfort and drew confidence. What Dr. Rilling knew, and what wisdom and knowledge he drew from, were due to others – many others. He writes, “Every author draws upon the stored up wisdom of the past in others’ books and finds his better thoughts coming from the living encounter of mind with mind.”

We are what we read, as in many ways we are what we eat, provided we don’t spit it out, but manage to chew it a bit and subject it to our powers of digestion. Dr. Rilling sought to lend the product of his preaching to the nutritional climate of his day, that the good of it might nourish others and provide sustenance for their days.

But he didn’t come to this conclusion on his own. It grew out of the “thrilling encounter of weekly worship in a congregation whose hunger for the Word of God is a constant challenge and encouragement.”

Wow. Would I say that my weekly worship is thrilling?

(Personal aside: I love his word choice here, as I used to introduce myself saying, “Hi, I’m Wendy Rilling, that’s thrilling without the ‘th.'” Not to influence your opinion of me, but hey, at least you may remember me.)

But back to thrilling worship…  would I say that my hunger for the Word of God challenges and encourages my pastor? Have I even considered that we are partners in this endeavor, he/she and I? That I have a responsibility to come with my questions, respond with my doubts, and take my enthusiasm to the study the Word of God on my own?

Well, this congregation apparently did, and so Grandfather, in his gratitude, said this is not “my” book, this is “our” book. Rather, it is the story of the group of us finding meaning and purpose in The Book. It is not a spoon feeding to helpless infants, but a meal set before discriminating patrons. Dr. Rilling is around the table with these, and even perhaps sees himself at the head of this table with the responsibility to pay the bill — which he most certainly knew he didn’t have in cash.

This book is his payment in full. In story, in prayer, in wisdom, in lesson, and in the telling of it all, laid out in cold type, it is anything but dead. It is as alive for me today, as I can only imagine it was to its original hearers.

To him and to them I express my warmest gratitude.

 

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The Dance of Life

skater youngGliding, flowing, streaming
across the surface,
without effort
without care
without fear,
she slides along.

The ice is slick,
but, on razor’s edge,
she is balanced and strong.
Her blade is firm,
posture sturdy,
confidence in full bloom.

Leaping, landing,
forward and backing,
running, jumping,
dancing and whirling,
spinning, stopping,
pure delight.

skating pairsShall we dance? says another,
gliding in, offering his hand.
She, unsure, at once unsteady,
falls in line, takes hold of hand.

Feet to feet and twist to twist,
the two make way across the ice,
yes to yes,
and no to no,
cheek to cheek,
and toe to toe.

Embracing, spinning, pure delight.
Leaning outward, daisy blossom,
coiling inward, serpent strike.
Oh how fragrant,
Oh how deadly.

skate pair close

Yet they turn with smooth precision,
No mistaking the dance of life.

Through the Eyes of Love – the Dedication

IMG_9925“To MARY CATHERINE”… the dedication reads.

Short, sweet, and to the point. Very German, some would say. And I expect they would be right. Mary Catherine was my maternal grandmother, and had been Grandfather Rilling’s helpmate and companion for nearly 30 years at the time of this writing. Not to mention the mother of his three children. Talk about dedicated! Doesn’t she deserve more than a “To Mary Catherine”?

It was his way, and their way. Not effervescent, not ebullient, not over-flowing, but spare. And what they had, they gave first to the church. Not only Dr. Rilling but also his wife. I imagine the life of the wife of a pastor would be spent at functions and entertaining guests, keeping the kids quiet because “father is working” and generally managing the household so he could attend to “bigger” things.

How different those times were 🙂 When women’s rights debates hadn’t set us to quarreling about the harder task, the bigger contribution, the working in or out of the home. But this dedication, to his wife, certainly signifies to whom – apart from God – he felt indebted.

These days, book dedications are generally more than a name; they are accompanied by a description or a reason why this (or these) were foundational or inspirational or set the tone for the writing of this book. Today there is enumeration that books of that day didn’t have, not because it wasn’t deserved, but because it wasn’t the practice. The name was enough.

And so, as I enter this book, I take this under advisement. It is is my tendency to look through the eyes of my own age and evaluate according to the standards of my day. I want to read, “to My Sweet MC” … “who supported me completely” or “whose dedication to our family has ….”.

Looking back through my “today” eyes, I might be dismissive and prone to judge unfairly. I can hardly help myself because, after all, I do bring me with me whenever I read. And with me comes what I know, what I’ve done, whom I’ve met, what I’ve heard and read, what I’ve been taught and the many layers of cultural biases of my day and age. I don’t apologize for this. But I must recognize it and try to suspend it, or at least apply it responsibly.

Was Dr. Rilling being dismissive to dedicate such a book, the collection of his lifelong work, just “To MARY CATHERINE”? I don’t think so. As I look back into his time, through softened lenses, I read the dedication more like the simple card you attach to a beautifully wrapped gift. Dear Mary Catherine, this is for you.

And so it is with gift cards. I just needed to look at this one through the eyes of love, which seek to understand by standing for a moment in the other one’s shoes. Big shoes, these would have been. Plenty of room for me, the little girl trying on Grandpa’s big wingtips, clonking and stumbling about just trying to keep my balance.

That I hope to do as I advance through these pages.

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