“May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us;. . .” Psalm 90: 17a
One of my grandmother’s older sister, I’m told, had had a very difficult life in the early years of the 20th century. She’d had two children, one of whom died as a child—I don’t know why, and neither does anyone else, now, a century later. Grandma’s sister’s name was Cora Formsma, and her husband was a salesman in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One day, without explanation or seeming cause, Cora’s husband, handsome and dynamic, simply walked away and never returned, left his wife and only child.
That child, a daughter, went off to college—unusual for the early years of the century, but then Cora’s father had been a professor. At college she met a bright young man with a distinguished academic future. They fell in love, and when he was in graduate school at the University of Michigan and getting himself financially stable, the two of them planned marriage. Unexpectedly, Cora Formsma’s daughter, soon to be a bride, came down with a strange disease and died soon after, leaving Cora, wife and mother, alone.
I heard that story from an aunt, who remembered being told as a child.
There’s more. Some time later, Cora herself died. And when her relatives looked through her belongings—there were no heirs and no spouse—they found a letter in her desk addressed to the man who had abandoned her, a letter Cora had written, knowing that someday she would die and hoping that maybe something of her would find its way to him. That letter, my aunt told me, explained to him that she loved him so much that, after he left, every night she’d stay awake until she’d heard the wheels of the last Wealthy Street trolley move slowly away into the night.
That sound of those steel wheels—a screaming I never heard—stays with me nonetheless, carrying the portrait an wife who buried her only two children, but still waited, every night, for the last trolley, hoping to hear her husband’s footfalls coming up the sidewalk to the door of her empty home.
My aunt told that story for another reason—she wanted to describe my grandmother, a woman I never knew.
Because there is still more. On the walls of my grandmother’s bedroom, she kept a collection of pictures of her family, including an snapshot of her sister, Cora Formsma, and her two small children. When Grandma was dying, and suffering—according to the aunt who told me this—she looked across the room and saw that picture, then asked if someone would please turn it away from her because the sight of her sister brought back the pain and sadness of a story that broke her heart even on her death bed.
Most translations offer verse 17 of Psalm 90 this way—“may the beauty of the Lord shine upon us.” I don’t doubt for a moment that’s what my grandmother wanted, only the beauty of the Lord. Clearly, it’s what Moses wanted, not only for himself, but for his people. This poem, Psalm 90, arises in his parched soul from far too many Aunt Cora stories out there in the desert. The beauty of the Lord is what Grandma wanted, and what Moses wanted—the beauty of the Lord shining all around.
Don’t we all? Some of that beauty is here in the almost forbidding darkness of this great Psalm from the soul of Moses, some of the radiance of God’s divine beauty is here in the poem.
It’s here. Read it for yourself.