Posts Tagged ‘winding-sheet’

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.