Spirituality and Religion



Daughter of Lawrence Palmer

The Lord’s Prayer states, “Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” I have known and recited this prayer in its entirety ever since I can remember. And so, when asked to write about my relationship with my earthly father, my “Daddy,” and what lessons I learned from him, this prayer somehow comes to mind. It would be too grandiose to say that the converse of this prayer is true and that my Daddy was my God on Earth and yet, my Dad was the first example I had in my life of who God is, what He represents, and how we live to shine in His eyes.

As a child, we don’t inherently know about God and religion and we don’t always know right from wrong. I learned both of these crucial life lessons by observing and interacting with my Dad as he lived his life with grace, dignity, compassion, honesty, devotion and love…. many of the key elements that are so intertwined with religion and my faith in God. I grew up in a relatively poor family in Jamaica, West Indies. But thanks to my dad, I never felt poor, not materially and, more important, not in spirit.

My dad, Laurence Palmer, was a humble, simple, exceedingly decent man. He worked as a salesman for a shoe company, and then later as a distributor for a juice company. Because he was so honest and reliable, his employers trusted him to collect the week’s cash from the company’s sales people and take it to the bank. I used to accompany him on his rounds. I took his honesty for granted, and I think his employers did too, but what none of us realized at the time was that my dad wasn’t honest simply for the sake of winning the trust of others. My father was an honest person because he passionately believed in living the Lord’s example on earth. And he wanted nothing more than to pass on that passion to his children.

And yet for someone whose religious beliefs went to his very core, he didn’t hit his family over the head with it. In fact, he wasn’t even the one who took us to church. On Sundays, my father would head off to worship at his Presbyterian church while my two younger sisters, my twin sister, and I attended a Pentecostal church with my mother. This is the way my parents were raised and they continued to worship in that same way. And while I vividly remember those Sunday trips to church with my mom, it was actually my dad who lived the lessons of Sunday every day of the week.

On one memorable day, one of my younger sisters got into a bit of mischief and my dad was preparing to punish her. I felt a sudden urge to intervene on her behalf. I stepped in between them, and pleaded with my father to punish me instead. My father stopped in his tracks, completely surprised, and allowed me to press on. I told him that Jesus would not impose a harsh punishment on a child, so as the older sister, it was me who should be disciplined instead. My dad considered my words, then smiled and said with a laugh that I would make a great lawyer. And he didn’t punish anyone. My father believed that God is graceful and forgiving, and that God wanted him to be both as well. And because of his example, his daughters believed in the grace of both God and their father. My dad never had to say it out loud as his example spoke volumes more. That moment was very clear, very distinct, and I will never forget it.

Most of what my father taught me about religion was far more nuanced and didn’t fully reach me until years later. In Jamaica, most parents relinquish control over their children when they reach the age of 17 or 18, believing that their children are then adults and therefore responsible for themselves. Family ties remain strong, but at that point, Jamaican kids are more or less on their own. But thankfully, my father was different and believed that a father, like God, is always there for his children. After I finished school in my late teens, I took a job that required a bit of a commute. My dad would come to pick me up, driving many miles out of his way, to make sure I got home safely. During those long drives along the water, we would discuss life, family, God or sometimes just insignificant happenings. It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I realized that my father was doing more than just giving me a ride home in the evening. Like almost everything else he did, he was both living out and passing on a religious teaching that he held very close to his heart: the idea that God is everywhere, that God is always where you are, and that God will always see you safely home.

My father died when I was 24. Not long after he passed on, I came to America to start a new life, becoming a Minister, a Chaplain and starting my own family. And even though my father was gone and I was in a completely new place in my life, both literally and figuratively, my father was not done teaching me.

When he was alive my father fervently believed in the constancy of both God’s love and the love we have for one another. I always knew this about him, but I never fully experienced it until one day when my husband and I were conducting a service at the church we run in the Bronx. These services are never routine, but they are something we do regularly, and there was nothing peculiar about this particular one. Towards the end of the weekly service, I play the piano while leading the congregation in a joyous hymn, taken from in the hymnbooks we keep behind each pew.

For a reason I still can’t explain, on this particular occasion rather than go with the hymn I had pre-selected, my fingers suddenly started playing a hymn that my father used to sing with us when I was little. The hymn is called Jewels, and it speaks specifically about children, in lines like “Little children, little children/who love their Redeemer/are the jewels, precious jewels/His loved and His own…” I had not heard this hymn since I was a child, had not thought about it in years, had never played it on the piano, and it wasn’t in our hymnbook. But suddenly I was playing it on the piano. And I was singing it. And so was most everyone in the congregation.

It was at that moment that I realized that everything my father did, everything he said, and every moment he spent with us was a lesson in the ways that God’s love becomes real, tangible and empowering every day of our lives. My father taught me that just as a kind and loving God is always with us, a kind and loving Daddy is too. God in Heaven watches over us, and watches out for us with loving-kindness. For fortunate daughters like me, dads do the same for us here on earth.

Laurence Palmer

Ingrid Peart is a Minister and a Chaplain in New York City. She and her Minister husband Paul have 4 children.