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February 29 , 2008

Encountering God: Reflections on the Courtship Letters of My Religious Parents


Walter met Margaret at a church outing at summer’s end when she was visiting her sister in Greeley, Colorado. Shortly afterwards, Margaret returned to Washburn, North Dakota to direct choral groups and teach high school English. They married thirteen months later. Aside from two brief visits, their courtship unfolds entirely in their letters.
The intimate imaginings of these Victorian holdovers, often cloaked in allusion and innuendo, though not racy, were seldom dull, often humorous and sometimes surprisingly frank. While seeking to gauge the other’s commitment and concerns, they waited for the mailman to bring an envelope containing their lover’s response—a minimum of two days, usually three or four. The Great War of their childhood and the Great Depression of their early twenties is fresh in their minds. The letters are a look into the cultural and political concerns of two Western farming communities in the fall and early winter of 1937 when the economy tanks and Germany again mobilizes for war.
Five years after they were married, I became the fourth of their eight children. I can speak to their faith. God came across in their daily lives through worship, prayers, praise and thankfulness. Possibly as a result, I grew up with a deep-seated awareness, but an unresolved sense of God. As a teenager, I often pondered the joy my parents found in each other in the midst of what was to me an unrelenting financial struggle. One day, I asked Dad, “Why are you a Christian?” He replied, “When you can show me a better way to live, I’ll consider that.”
Their love of nature, their openness to questions, and their interest in spiritual matters played a large part in my becoming both a scientist and a spiritual seeker. Their letters surfaced after their funerals. Long before I probed Dad with my questions, their answers were in the letters.
As they build a foundation for spiritual intimacy letter by letter, they reveal the breadth and depth of the joys and challenges faced by Christian soulmates falling in love and working out the keys to a fun-fulfilled life together. Their takes on life and on God are colored by the remembrances and musings of a dedicated scientist and intrigued spiritual seeker. Their keys to joy can be adapted to the needs and interests of the reader by pondering the thought provoking questions included at the end of each chapter.

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