The Sacred Word

Miss Mary Dell Ard was my fourth grade teacher.

She was an old-fashioned schoolmarm. Never married, she dedicated her life to teaching children. She called every student “precious” even though she may be at the same time applying the rod to the child’s backside. Her oak desk was huge (at least it was to this 4th grader) and as she sat pristinely behind it, she commanded full attention and good posture from her every charge. Her appearance was immaculate and she expected everyone else’s to be as well. In fact, there was an inspection every Monday morning.

Every Monday, all 30+ of her students would put their hands out on their desks while she checked fingernails for dirt and proper length. If nails weren’t clean, there was no harsh discipline but a chiding to have them acceptable before the morrow. Each student was also asked if he (or she) had read the Bible each day the past week. (I know. This was before Christianity was taboo in public schools.) Since she read to us aloud a passage from the Bible every morning and since those of us who attended church heard the Word on Sundays, we only had Saturday to account for. If somehow we were exposed to the Word in some form on Saturdays, we could answer “yes” truthfully to her question. It was a good way to start off a week. Properly manicured and grounded in scripture.

One of the few times she embarrassed me by chiding me in front of the class was a morning after I had been assigned to take the lunch money to the cafeteria. I had left the room after the Pledge of Allegiance and had re-entered while she was still reading from the Bible (which was so overused that she had to hold the Book together with a large rubber band). My desk was two steps from the classroom door and so when I re-entered, I went directly and sat down. Big mistake. Apparently it was a sacrilege to move about at all during the reading of the Word – a rule I had somehow missed. If one enters a room as the Bible is being read aloud, then one must stand perfectly straight and still until the end of the reading and throughout the following prayer. This was the rule and I never broke it again. I still feel the need to be reverent whenever the Word is being read.

Years ago my kids inherited a book called Petunia from their cousins. It’s about a goose that finds a new item and is curious about what it is. Then she remembers that she had heard little Billy call it a book and that his grandfather had said,

“He who owns books and loves them is wise.”

Petunia, tired of being called a silly goose, believes that the ownership and the love of her newfound book would make her wise – and thus gain her respect among her barnyard peers. Strutting around with the book tucked under her wing, she goes from cow, to horse, to pig, to rooster, to dog giving each of them very bad advice – just because she perceives herself wise in possession of the book. The story continues to tell of catastrophes that the animals suffer by her advice when finally she tells them that a package of fireworks delivered to the farm is actually candy. And so, you know what happened.

The only good news is that the explosion that left the animals burned and maimed, including Petunia herself, blew open the book, and for the first time revealed that there was writing on the inside – words that Petunia could neither read nor comprehend. Ah ha! The book itself wouldn’t make her wise but the contents within the book had potential to teach her something. She resolved to learn to read, and then become wise…and would live happily ever after, I guess.

The point is: Miss Ard taught me that the Bible was sacred and Petunia taught me that it has no use unless I am willing to open it, read it, devour it, ruminate on it, and then do what it teaches. The results may even be astounding.

3 thoughts on “The Sacred Word

  1. Carol C Smith

    What wonderful memories. I moved back to Geneva from Slocomb in the 4th grade and was in Ms. Ard’s classroom. I had forgotten about the Bible readings and the other little daily rituals she did until you mentioned them. Thanks for reminding me. I loved this post. Carol


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