Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Reflections on the Journey—Strengthened for the Journey Ahead

June 23, 2021

Last week as it unfolded into a new week included my 79th birthday on Thursday, June 17 and Father’s Day on June 20. Sometime my birthday occurs on the third Sunday in June, but whether these two occasions coincide or not, this period of time is significant for me, as I reflect with deepest gratitude to God for these two grand occasions. Indeed, I have been in a reflective mood these past few days, and when I look at the Verse of the Day for June 23, 2021, I continue to pause and consider deeply, to “Selah” one of my favorite passages from the Old Testament. Today’s Verse of the Day comes from Isaiah 40:31, but I have committed the entire closing passage to memory because it offers great comfort and assurance, so needed in my life at this time:

Isaiah 40:28-31 (New Living Translation):

28 Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.

In Psalm 103:3-5 (NLT) we find another reference to being renewed like the eagle.

He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.
    My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

These passages also bring to mind the closing verses of Psalm 27, my favorite Psalm:

Psalm 27:13-14

New King James Version (NKJV)

13 I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.

14 Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!

Psalm 27:14 also inspired the following original psalm that I recite to myself and share with others:  

Strengthened for the Journey

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage,

and he shall strengthen your heart;

wait, I say, on the LORD!

Psalm 27:14

Let us pause to reflect upon the past,

Not with longing to relive bygone days.

Though some were fine, such moments cannot last

A lifetime. The budding rose never stays

The same but unfolds in lovelier ways.

Let us linger to absorb the essence

Of this moment’s triumph. Another phase

Of growth we note within our lifetime since

We first began the quest toward excellence.

Let us look ahead with vision and strive

Toward greater goals, for each day we commence

To grow toward our perfection, as we thrive.

May we see clearly where our paths have led

And be strengthened for the journey ahead.                                                    

Donnie McClurkin and Karen Clark Sheard offer this comforting advice: “Wait on the Lord.”

Reflections of My Father on Father’s Day 2021

June 20, 2021

Each morning, I arise with a heart overflowing with gratitude to God for being alive to see another day. On Father’s Day, I am especially thankful that I am a father with a loving wife and two beautiful daughters, Melissa and Angela,  and two great sons-in-law, William and Shajuan, and a grandson, Kingston Edward, all of whom have been blessings beyond words. This Father’s Day is special because of one of the special gifts that I received inspired this poetic response, as I thought of my father:

A Good-looking Hat

When my son-in-law asked what I wanted for Father’s Day,

He was wearing one of his signature hats that he wears with

Style and class, and I said, “I want a hat like that.”

And quicker than I could say “Jackie Robinson,” he took note

And made sure I received my request in time for Father’s Day.

As I look into the mirror and try on the Father’s Day gift,

I smile as I remembered my dapper Dad,

Styling and profiling, getting ready for church and other special occasions.

As far as I can remember,  whether summer or winter, Dad always wore a hat,

But Dad didn’t just put a hat on his head. Back in the day, as they would  say,

“He was wearing that hat!”

And so today, as I get ready for church,  I put on my beau chapeau nouveau,

And wear it proudly,  remembering my father, Lonnie Johnson, and I know he would

Have liked it, and I can hear him say, “That’s a good-looking hat. . .

You’re looking good, my son.”

This Father’s Day post also brings to mind another blog entry where I recall something that my father said. Although my father was a man of few words,  on a couple of memorable occasions, he told me, “Son, I’m proud of you.” Every man since Adam has sensed a deep yearning to hear these words or some variation thereof from his father. On one specific occasion occurring around Father’s Day, my dad made a similar comment that inspired this work:

The Perfect Father’s Day Gift

There was a time when I would stretch my mind,

Make a list and try to think of the perfect gift,

As we approached Father’s Day, the third Sunday in June.

Now let me see what will it be?

I know. . . a portable radio. . .

What about a shirt—extra-large—to fit?

Pajamas, house shoes, another Dopp kit?

Each year I would really try, as I resolved:

No more cologne—not another tie!

One year I ran out of ideas, and so I asked,

“Dad, what do you want for Father’s Day?”

He thought awhile and in his own quiet way,

He smiled and had this to say:

“Just between me and you,

Here’s what you can do.

Just keep me proud of you.

Son, just keep me proud of you.”

Now when my daughters ask,

What can they get me for Father’s Day,

I fondly remember, and I smile and say,

“The words of your Grandpa are still true.

As he said to me, so I say to you:

‘Just between me and you,

Here’s what you can do.

Just keep me proud of you.

Girls, just keep me proud of you.”

I continue to thank God for my father and all that he contributed to my success in all areas of my life. I have so many fond memories of my father, and so often this

I continue to thank God for my father and all that he contributed to my success in all areas of my life. I have so many fond memories of my father, and so often this song by Chris Tomlin comes to mind:

Still numbering my days: A birthday celebration

June 17, 2021

Each morning I begin my day with a  time of prayer and meditation, thinking about the goodness of God and His mercy that have brought me thus far along my journey of faith.  Today, June 17, 2021, is especially significant as I celebrate my 78th birthday. My heart overflows with gratitude to God, my gracious heavenly Father, for all that He has done. Many times on such occasions, I compose a psalm of praise to the Lord as an expression of gratitude in celebration of being alive to see another year and to enjoy the bounty of God’s love. Rejoice and celebrate with me as I am

Still Numbering My Days

The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
11 Who knows the power of Your anger?
For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath.
12 So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:10-12 (NKJV)

On the brink of the cherished four score years,

If the Lord tarries and if  the Lord will,

I press toward the mark, learning to be still–

Watching, waiting as Christ’s appearing nears,

Yearning to see what Father has in store

Beyond all I could ever think or ask for.

Looking ahead, I cannot hold back the tears.

With more than a portion of health and strength,

I have tasted His boundless love,

Flowing from the heart of the Father above

Beyond the breadth and depth and height and length.

I yearn to hear, “Faithful servant, well done.

Enter in the joy of the Lord, my son,”

On the brink of the cherished four score years.

We close with a musical rendering of the essence of Psalm 90 by Marty Goetz:

A Triptych from Hebrews 6: Take a look (Panel 2)

June 9, 2021

Today’s blog entry is the second of a series of three poems that form a triptych inspired by Hebrews 6:10-12. OxfordDictionaries.com defines a triptych as, “a set of three associated artistic, literary, or musical works intended to be appreciated together.” WordNet 3.6 provides this definition of triptych art, as “art consisting of a painting or carving (especially an altarpiece) on three panels (usually hinged together).” Here is an example of one panel of a triptych carved from wood with three sections on each leaf. Each of the three poems that form my triptych is also accompanied by commentary and a musical selection related to that work.

ONE LEAF OF A TRIPTYCH IN CATHEDRAL OF SEVILLE

Watchman Nee, early 20th Century church leader and teacher in China, describes the life of each believer in this way—“the Christian journey, from start to finish, is a journey of faith.” As we journey through life, we encounter challenges designed to build our faith. Believers are on a journey that takes us from faith to faith, glory to glory, and victory to victory as we pursue the will of God for our lives.

My life continues to unfold as a journey of faith  with several notable milestones along the way.  At 12 years of age I became a member of Carter Chapel C.M.E (Christian Methodist Episcopal) Church in Gary, Indiana, where I accepted Christ as my savior. The spiritual foundation for my life was laid in that church where I was actively involved throughout elementary and high school. I recall attending a summer camp in Saugatuck, MI as a rising sophomore and volunteering to do a short teaching on youth night. For some reason, I was inspired to share from Hebrews 11 verses one and six, two verses related to faith, the bedrock of my life:

Upon graduation as Valedictorian, Class of 1960 from Froebel High School, I attended Purdue University from 1960-1965, earning a BS Degree in Pharmacy and becoming a Registered Pharmacist in Indiana. In 1967 I was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era, as I experienced a close encounter of the most intimate kind with Jesus Christ, my Savior. While serving as a pharmacy instructor at the Medical Field Service School in San Antonio at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, I rode the crest of the Jesus Movement and experienced a powerful conversion that introduced me to the transforming power of God through receiving the Holy Spirit and studying the Bible. During my stint in the military, I discovered the joys of classroom teaching, a passion that continues to burn. I also recognized my poetic inclination and sought to develop the art and craft of the poet.

Here is an original psalm inspired in part by Hebrews 6:11

This Far by Faith

And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence

to the full assurance of hope until the end,      

Hebrews 6:11

 “We have come this far by faith.”      

Traditional Black Gospel Song   

Though we see truth, there is still the rest of the story, 

As we strive to be all that God called us to be,   

Created to be to the praise of His glory, 

We walk by faith and not by what we can see. 

We now rise above to view life from God’s grand scope: 

Each day our faith will increase and not diminish.

With diligence to the full assurance of hope, 

We will complete our course, striving toward the finish.  

A great cloudof witnesses surround us to cheer 

Us on from faith to faith and victory to victory.

The mighty hand of our gracious God brought us here,

For such a time as this—behold our destiny. 

While pressing toward the mark, we must still watch and wait,

As we sing our song, “We have come this far by faith.” 

Growing up in the 1950s in Gary, IN, I have fond musical memories from the “Golden Age of Gospel Music.” One of the most popular songs of this period was “We’ve Come This Far by Faith,” a selection often used as a processional for morning services at countless Black churches across the country. The opening lyrics of the renowned gospel favorite are woven into the tapestry of the poem:

Voices of Hope, a choir from Los Angeles under the direction of Thurston Frazier, offer a rendition of one of the most popular gospel songs of the Fifties and Sixties.

On Mother’s Day and every day

May 9, 2021

On Mother’s Day

And every day. . .

This is what I say

To my Beloved Brenda,

My Sweet Lady, BJ,

Brenda Joyce

The wife of my youth

In whom I rejoice:

Lyrics from my “boppin’ doowop days”

Still apply today

I hope you remember

Lyrics so tender                                   

And you still see

How much I love you                 

M.T.Y.L.T.T.

(More Than Yesterday Less Than Tomorrow)

On Mother’s Day

And every day. . .

Happy Mother’s Day, My Love

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2021

April 29, 2021

Poem in Your Pocket Day: April 29, 2021

In celebration of National Poetry Month, the American Academy of Poets has designated April 29 as National Poem in Your Pocket Day 2021. Until recently, the idea was simple: people selected a poem that they loved during National Poetry Month and carried it with them to share with co-workers, family, and friends. People unfolded poems from pockets  throughout the day with events in parks, libraries, schools, workplaces, and bookstores. In light of the current COVID-19 circumstances, the celebration can continue digitally:

Here are ways to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day 2021:

  • Select a poem and share it on social media using the hashtag #pocketpoem. 
  • Simultaneously participate in the Shelter in Poems initiative, and select a poem that brings you solace during this time of distance and solitude. Share what it means to you and use the hashtags #pocketpoem and #ShelterInPoems.
  • Record a video of yourself reading a poem, then share it on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or another social media platform you use. 
  • Email a poem to your friends, family, neighbors, or local government leaders.
  • Schedule a video chat and read a poem to your loved ones.
  • Add a poem to your email footer.
  • Read a poem out loud from your porch, window, backyard or outdoor space. 

Poem in My Pocket:

In the midst of all that is transpiring, I wake up each day with a heart filled with gratitude that I am alive and well and “clothed in my right mind.” I often begin my day by reciting Psalm 118:24 the inspiration for this original psalm, the inspiration for the Poem in My Pocket for 2021:

Good News Day

This is the day the LORD has made;

 we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24

It’s a good news day

no blues day

new shoes

no way to lose

What a good news day!

It’s a great day

I can’t wait day

lift your voice

let’s rejoice

Good God, a good news day!

It’s a payday

goin my way day

no nay–all yea

what you say

Such a good news day!

It’s a live it up day

overflowin cup day

It’s a bright and bubbly

doubly lovely

Show-nuff good news day!

Here is a link to a discussion of “Good News Day” posted on Dr. J’s Apothecary Shoppe. Check out.

Reflections on Black History: Seventy years ago

February 22, 2021
My class photo taken in the third grade 70 years ago reminds me of a desire to “make history” during the celebration of what was then Negro History Week. Times and the name have changed, but the desire still burns brightly.


As the celebration of Black History Month continues to unfold, I recall an event occurring 70 years ago to the date on February 22, 1951, when I was eight years old in the 3rd grade at Roosevelt School, an all-black school in Gary, Indiana where I was born. I have been reflecting while looking at my class picture and noticing the bulletin board in the back of the classroom decorated with these words: “Negro History Week.” Since that time, the celebration and recognition of the contribution of African Americans have been expanded to Black History Month.

The bulletin board in the picture reminded me that at that time I consciously determined that I would someday “make history” and do something significant as an African American. Back in the day, it was expressed this way: “I wanted to be a credit to the Negro Race.”

Over the past seven decades, I continue to strive to make that desire a reality. In 2019 during a book signing and presentation during Black History Month 2019, I shared from my newly published book Embracing Your Life Sentence: How to Transform Life’s Greatest Tragedies into Your Greatest Triumphs. I also reflected upon the significance of Black History and related some of the events transpiring in my life since that class photo was taken.

I went on to graduate as Valedictorian of Froebel High School, class of 1960 and enrolled as a pharmacy student at Purdue University from 1960-1965, becoming the first African American to graduate from Purdue’s five-year pharmacy program. During my time as a pharmacy student, I was also introduced to Black poetry and would later discover my passion to teach and to write poetry.

Upon graduation from Purdue, I took the state board examination and passed to become a registered pharmacist in Indiana. My first full-time job was as a hospital pharmacist at Methodist Hospital in Gary, Indiana. I was enjoying the good life until I received “Greeting from Uncle Sam” and I was drafted into the US Army in 1967, in the midst of the Viet Nam conflict. That two-year stint I describe as my “Lemonade Experience” in that what I thought would have been the worst thing that could have ever happened turned out providentially to be far better than I could have ever imagined. While I was a pharmacy instructor at the Medical Field Service School in San Antonio at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, I discovered the joys of classroom teaching and writing poetry, passions that continue to burn.

During my stint in the military from 1967-1969, I also rode the crest of the Jesus Movement, a national revival impacting the lives of countless young people and others. I experienced a powerful conversion that introduced me to the transforming power of God through receiving the Holy Spirit and studying the Bible.

Twenty years later in 1981, I enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Indiana University, pursuing a doctorate in English with a minor of Afro-American Studies. I completed my dissertation in 1986 entitled “Portrait of the Bondslave in the Bible: Slavery and Freedom in the Works of Four Afro-American Poets.” Of those four early Black poets discussed, I first heard of three of them as a freshman at Purdue in 1961.

As I reflect upon my life, I acknowledge that I have been blessed to enjoy the overflow of God’s goodness and grace. Today, I am a Vietnam veteran and cancer survivor of more than 20 years. In addition, I am a former registered pharmacist, a published poet and a writer, a retired professor of African American Literature, who continues to teach because “I love the teacher’s task and find my richest prize in minds that open and in eyes that ask.”

Just as I made up my mind in elementary school that I would someday make a significant contribution as an African American and someday do something to “make history,” I am sure that others now living and those who come after me also have a similar burning aspiration to “make history.” So often we think of history as people and events of the past; however, we must remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “The reader of history must replace the words ‘there’ and ‘then’ with the words ‘here’ and ‘now.’”

I close my sharing with an original poem shared during the opening session of a New Testament History Class that I taught in 1976 at a Bible college in Kansas when I knew that I was destined to teach on the collegiate level. That class and countless other events confirmed my desire someday to make history.

The Living Gallery of the New Testament

In the living gallery of the New Testament is reserved a special space
An empty canvas awaits each feature of your face.
Each of us paints a self-portrait in the minutest detail.
To develop your life’s masterpiece, you can never fail
When you follow Christ’s example, the Master of the Word,
Beholding as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord
Each day abounds with potential for matchless artistry.
Now is your golden moment—you are making “His Story.”

I close with this related song “History” by Maverick City Music



To come up smelling like a rose: what does it really mean?

February 10, 2021
To come up smelling like a rose: What does that commonly heard expression really mean from a spiritual perspective?

On February 10, 2021, instead of looking at the Verse of the Day, we are going to take a look at a common expression as the “Quote of the Day”:

“To come out/up smelling like a rose”

The Merriam Webster dictionary offers this definition:

“to have success or good fortune in a situation in which one was likely to fail, be harmed, etc.”

The Cambridge Dictionary has this to say about the expression:

“to have people believe that you are good and honest after a difficult situation that could have made you seem bad or dishonest”

I thought of all that Jesus Christ endured through his death, burial, and triumphant resurrection. Here is the account recorded in Colossians 2:12-15 (Amplified Bible):

12 having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him [to a new life] through [your] faith in the working of God, [as displayed] when He raised Christ from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh (worldliness, manner of life), God made you alive together with Christ, having [freely] forgiven us all our sins,
14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of legal demands [which were in force] against us and which were hostile to us. And this certificate He has set aside and completely removed by nailing it to the cross.
15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities [those supernatural forces of evil operating against us], He made a public example of them [exhibiting them as captives in His triumphal procession], having triumphed over them through the cross.

This passage inspired this poetic response:

Having. . .Having. . .Having. . .Having. . .Having. . .He made. . . 

Having forgiven all trespasses against us:
For every time we tried but failed and missed the mark,
When our flesh faltered, we received new strength within.
Christ, the Lord, washed and cleansed us from the stain of sin.
God made us to be lights that overcome the dark.
He set us free to sing on the wing, as a lark,
Having forgiven all trespasses against us.

Having wiped out the handwriting of ordinances:
The hand that records each failure to keep the Law
Graciously blots out each shortfall and each mistake
And releases us from the penalty, for Christ’s sake.
Through the eyes of love, He looked beyond what He saw
To decree that flesh should not be a fatal flaw,
Having wiped out the handwriting of ordinances.

Having taken it far from us, out of the way:
Guilt and shame removed and replaced with righteousness,
Transformed and fashioned with a new identity,
We stand in His presence, revealing the mystery.
Hurled and buried in the sea of forgetfulness,
The curse of sin has been replaced with blessedness,
Having taken it far from us, out of the way.

Having nailed it to the cross as a bold display,
Turning into triumph what seemed to be disgrace,
Symbolic sign displaying both shame and glory,
Dramatic unfolding of the greatest story.
To show his love for all, Christ took our place
To flaunt the victory right in the enemy’s face,
Having nailed it to the cross as a bold display.

Having disarmed principalities and powers,
Our triumphant warrior defeated every foe,
Crushing at once the head of the deadly serpent
To achieve our victory to the fullest extent.
To perform the greater works of Christ as we grow,
God enlightens and empowers that we might know,
Having disarmed principalities and powers.

He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
Coming attractions describe the Spectacular
Super-conquering show:
The captor has been made captive, a prisoner without parole
in his own prison,
The accuser of brethren, once idolized,
now the source of derision,
Stripped, crippled, toppled, and trampled
To be brought ever so low,
A foretaste of the day when every tongue shall confess
And every knee shall bow.
He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.

Yes, indeed, we recognize and celebrate all that Jesus Christ went through when he endured the cross, despising the shame, and now he is seated in heavenly places at the right hand of the throne of God. As believers, we are also seated with him, having triumphed over sin, sickness, and even death itself.

The expression “smelling like a rose” also reminds us that gardeners recommend fertilizing roses in early spring to prepare for a bountiful, fragrant display of floral gardens that delight the eyes and please the noses of those who pass by. Ingredients in some of the fertilizers include manure, compost, and fish emulsions that may give off an unpleasant scent when applied, but as these elements are absorbed, the foul smell is replaced with a sweet-smelling fragrance. Indeed, we come up smelling like a rose in every situation that appears to be negative and designed to defeat us.

2 Corinthians 2:14 (New Living Translation) reminds us

But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume.

Michael W. Smith’s powerful song of worship refers to a rose to illustrate that Jesus Christ rose triumphantly “Above it All”:

Despite wintry predictions, Spring is still coming!

February 3, 2021

According to tradition, on Groundhog Day, February 2, if the furry critter sees his shadow and emerges from his burrow, we are in store for 6 more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t and retreats into his dwelling, the weather forecast is for milder weather in the interim. Since 1886 the celebration of Groundhog Day on a grand scale has been associated with western Pennsylvania, home of the legendary Punxsutawney Phil, the famed rodent. As it turned out, Punxsutawney Phil did behold his shadow this year, indicating a forecast of 6 more weeks of cold weather although other groundhogs around the world provided opposing predictions of a short winter.

This past weekend, a winter storm, Orlena, swept through the Midwest on her way to the East coast, leaving 4-6 inches of ice and snow in her aftermath. As I was glancing out my window, I was grateful to be safe and warm inside. I also thought of the familiar expression, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?’ I smiled as I thought, maybe it’s going to be an early spring this year, reminding myself. . . “Spring is coming.” These words caused me to remember my acting debut in the second grade in the basement of St. Timothy Community Church in Gary, Indiana when I played “Robin Redbreast with my red sweater and brown paper wings that I flapped vigorously as I ran across the stage proclaiming, “Spring is coming! Spring is coming! Spring is coming!”

A few years ago, my daughter, Melissa, sent me a card with the “Easter Legend of the Robin” on the cover:

A little grey robin, as he was flying to the Holy Land, saw Christ hanging on the cross. His heart filled with sadness. He noticed the crown of thorns the soldiers placed on the crucified Savior. The small bird, forgetting his timidity, flew down to remove a thorn from the brow of Christ. As he did so, a drop of Christ’s blood stained the little bird’s breast. The robin, through his act of love, earned the red badge of courage.

From this time forth, all robins have had redbreasts as reminders that one of them was kind to the Lord. Thus, the robin is truly the harbinger of spring. He welcomes Easter with his cheerful note of hope, reminding us that from death comes life.

In reflecting upon my acting debut, I composed a new song that I sing when I see robins returning in winter:

Red Robin, Red Robin—Harbinger of Spring,
Rear back with your redbreast
And sing, sing, sing.

Here is an original poem that offers a comforting reminder that although we may be in the midst of harsh winter weather that also symbolizes a dead time, a horrific season where hundreds of thousands of people have died due to the Coronavirus and other factors, we are waiting, anticipating. . .

Until Spring

So, when this corruptible has put on incorruption,
and this mortal has put on immortality,
then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death,
where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?

I Corinthians 15:54-55

Death, the enemy, no one can deny,
Snuffs out our candles in devious ways,
For each man must learn to number his days,
Although the soul still probes to fathom why.
The mind made numb with pain can only try
To make sense of the immense ache that stays.
The answer sounds since Adam but still dismays:
It is appointed unto man once to die.
Though grief surrounds us, comfort can be shown.
The sun melts frost with new life as surely
As blossoms will flourish from seeds once sown.
Until Spring, on tiptoe, we yearn to see
The day when we shall know as we are known,
When death is swallowed up in victory.

To round out this discussion is a magnificent rendering of Steven Curtis Chapman’s exquisite musical composition, a reminder that, indeed, “Spring is coming.”

Not my cooling board. . .not my winding-sheet:

January 23, 2021

Today, as I stepped out of the shower, and thanked God once again that I could take a shower on my own and that no one had to bathe me. As I was rejoicing and expressing my gratitude, I had a flashback of an experience occurring while growing up in a small Black church in mid-town Gary, Indiana in the 1950s. On countless Sunday mornings, the congregation gathered between the end of Sunday School and the actual opening of the morning service, and I recall that a dark-skinned deacon, whose name I can’t remember, would rise to lead the church in prayer. Beginning with familiar expressions of gratitude to God, the elder church official began with a prelude, slowly mounting in intensity before ending with a grand crescendo to lead the people of God to the Throne of God.

After a time, a couple of my buddies and I memorized the opening lines, snickering to ourselves as we bowed our heads repeating the familiar refrain that went something like this:

“Lord, thank you that the four walls of my room was not my grave, that my bed was not my cooling board, and my cover was not my winding-sheet.” I knew from context what the deacon meant, but I later learned that in African American culture a cooling board is a board used to present a dead body. According to definitions.net, “In winter months it would be difficult to bury the dead due to the earth being frozen, so the body was wrapped and propped in a barn until the ground thawed out.”

I learned the meaning of the term “winding-sheet” in graduate school while working on my doctorate with a minor in Afro-American Studies. I was introduced to a powerful short story, “Like a Winding Sheet,” by Ann Petry, a Harlem Renaissance author with whom I had something in common. We were both Black writers who were pharmacists. Because of my exposure to African American literature, I learned the meaning of this term used in the deacon’s prayer.

In my daily time of prayer, I give thanks to God for another day that I am alive and well and “clothed in my right mind,” another phrase from the deacon’s prayer. Having been diagnosed with prostate cancer more than twenty years ago, I have come to understand on the deepest personal level exactly what the good deacon was saying in his prayer that was repeated on Sunday mornings across the land back in the day. In reflecting on my childhood experience, I was moved to tears and inspired to write this psalm of praise to God:

Lord, thank you for my soul.

That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

Psalm 30:12 (AMP)

Lord, thank you for my soul. My God, you are so kind.
I woke up this morning sleeping in my own bed,         
Another day you clothed me in my right mind,       
Not wrapped in a winding-sheet but in your love instead.

If it had not been for you, I could have been dead,
Laid out on a cooling board, but one more time you remind
Me you are God of the living just as Jesus said.
Lord, thank you for my soul. My God, you are so kind.

Lord, you healed my body and gave me a sound mind.
You are my healer, and I believe what you said.
What you loose in heaven, no power on earth can bind.
I woke up this morning sleeping in my own bed.

You showed when you raised Jesus out from among the dead
The spirit of the living God cannot be confined.
Lord, I trust you—you alone know what lies ahead:
Another day you clothed me in my right mind,

Before you touched my soul, I was deaf, dumb, and blind.
After all I’ve been through, Lord knows I should have been dead,
But one more day you kept me clothed in my right mind,
Not wrapped in a winding-sheet but in your love instead.

From the soles of my feet to the crown of my head,
My total healing from the Lord is what is I find.
Yes, I can still pray, thank you for the presence of mind.
Lord, thank you for my soul.

I discovered this recording by Donny Hathaway, “Thank You, Master, for My Soul” where he mentions the familiar phrases I discussed and makes sidebar comments, “Y’all don’t know what I’m talking about.” I chuckled and fought back the tears, saying “Oh, yes I do!” Listen and reflect with gratitude with me.