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God, our Guide

By July 28, 2017 10 Comments

I’m not sure why, but I think a killdeer is by nature given to excessive worrying. Ever hear ’em? But then, I suppose they have cause. After all, they build their nests out in the open, on the ground, on gravel of all places, where just about anyone could have at the eggs–if you could find them, that is.

In addition to their snappy attire–they seem always dressed for a wedding–and the frantic pitch of their song, they’re notable because their mothers are such drama queens. Approach a nest and Mother Killdeer will fake a broken wing so convincingly you’ll be on the phone to the SPCA, stunning performances staged to draw attention away from the eggs. Not the kids. Killdeer young spring from their eggs as if half-grown. Mom tosses the kids out almost as if she doesn’t love them.

I found this single killdeer feather on the driveway yesterday in one of our few windless mornings. It’s a work of art, I think. It belonged, I’m sure, to some local killdeer. It’s just exceedingly fine, don’t you think?

There are moments when I wished it weren’t so, but I’m so hopelessly Calvinist that if I find a killdeer feather on our driveway my mind leaps to God’s providence–hairs on heads, birds of the field–you know.

I’ve been reading the century-old sermons of a preacher named Rev. D. R. Drukker, no relation other than that we were reared the same tiny Dutch denomination, albeit most of one hundred years apart. The third sermon in The Beauty of God is titled, simply, “God Our Guide.” It’s all about providence but doesn’t use that other greatly despised Calvinist p-word.

I’ve been asking myself why, back then, this Dominie Drukker was considered the denomination’s finest. The book’s intro says he was, an intro penned by a man I had thought might well have been considered such himself, Dr. Henry Beets.

I can only speculate why he was so beloved, but I was startled by the way this Rev. Drukker uses William Cullen Bryant in the third sermon of the volume, an American poet known primarily for “Thanatopsis,” a poem about death that was once required reading for just about every American high-schooler–“Thanatopsis” and “To a Waterfowl,” the poem Drukker quotes (without attribution, I should add) in his sermon.

Makes good sense that he uses that poem, but I’m still somewhat surprised to find it here. After all, William Cullen Bryant was probably not required reading for late-19th century Dutch Calvinists. Drukker had to be reading on his own to find that poem. He must have been dipping his imagination into literature that wasn’t necessarily approved by Calvinist powers-that-be.

But then what little he uses of that poem, anonymously, sounds pretty much like catechism:

There is a power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast
The desert and illimitable air–
Lone wandering, but not lost.

He who, from zone to zone,
Guides thro’ the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.

Neither p-word is there either, but if “predestination” isn’t in the poem, that certainly doesn’t mean the doctrine isn’t in the mix. I spent my lifetime teaching literature, so I hope you’ll excuse my wanting to believe that one possible attribute that made Drukker a memorable preacher was wide reading habits. I’d really like to believe that.

And then there’s this. Rev. Drukker wouldn’t think of a sermon without three points, and the third sermon, “God Our Guide,” isn’t short. His third point goes like this: “In Following the Guidance of God We Must Not Try the Short-cuts.” Let me quote: “The child of God may in all confidence rely upon God,” Rev. Drukker says. “At times the way may appear to be dark and dreary. Help may seem to be far away from him.. . .”

But there’s assurance, to be sure. “God will guide us to the end of the journey. No matter how dark the night, how rough the way, how deep the valley, how steep the mountain, how long the wait, how burdensome the load, how heavy the heart, remember–and then he quotes from the Psalter before him:

Thy protector is the Lord,
Shade for thee He will afford;
Neither sun nor moon shall smite,
God shall guard by day and night.
He will ever keep thy soul,
What would harm He will control;
In the home and by the way
He will keep thee day by day.

No attribution there either, but I’m betting the congregation could not have missed Psalm 121.

I picked up this killdeer feather just yesterday, a little, magnificently fine work of art, don’t you think? And that little feather put me in mind of blessed assurance, a place I need to be because this morning we’ll return to the hospital where, last night for a time, Dad, who’s 98 years old, had kind of lost his mind. He’s dying.

In “God Our Guide,” the good Reverend Drukker is spot on, as was Lowell, as is Psalm 121. And pardon me if I just have to chuckle because, trust me, a killdeer feather, William Cullen Bryant, and a dusty old sermon from a century ago is, day by day, just what I need to get by.

James C. Schaap

James Calvin Schaap is a retired English prof who has been something of a writer for most of the last 40 years. His latest work, a novel, Looking for Dawn, set in reservation country, is the story of two young women joined by their parents' mutual brokenness and, finally, a machine-shed sacrament of reconciliation. He writes and narrates a weekly essay on regional history for KWIT, public radio, Sioux City, Iowa. He and his wife Barbara live on the northern edge of Alton, Iowa, the Sgt. Floyd River a hundred yards or so from their back door. They have a cat--rather, he has them.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Exceedingly fine. That version of Psalm 121 is from the old green Psalter or the brown Psalter? The meter suggests the tune for “Come Ye Thankful People Come.”

  • With modernized pronouns, that version of Psalm 121 is still in the 1987 Psalter Hymnal and even in the very recently published Lift Up Your Hearts. The tune was composed in 1858 for another hymn but was probably the one that Rev. Drukker sang. is a wonderful resource!

  • Diana Walker says:

    Beautiful and meaningful way to start this day. Blessings to you. We have been there.

  • This meditation was lovely to read. Advice I was given in a leadership course at Dordt is to “read widely”; I believe it’s no different for the ordained leader.

  • Debra Rienstra says:

    Strength and peace to you, Jim, as you sit in vigil for your father.

  • Fred Wind says:

    Lovely writing…thank you!

  • Jim says:

    Especially sweet in that Bryant was a Unitarian . I always used To a Waterfowl as the quintessence of Boston Unitarian tone as well as substance. Salvation from all corners, Jim. Strength for the day.

  • Emily R. Brink says:

    Lovely indeed. I was with you all the way. The Psalm 121 versification found its way first into the Psalter of 1912, the most widely used metrical Psalter in the 20th century in North America, born from the collaboration of 7 Presbyterian and 2 Reformed denominations, including the CRC, for whom this was the first English language psalter.

  • /svm says:

    Neal Plantinga would agree, would he not?

  • Karl Westerhof says:

    Thank you. And may you know God’s nearness as your dad draws near to death.

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