Laura’s Bible: Psalm 121

Laura Ingalls Wilder fans who have been to a homesite gift shop have seen for sale a list of Bible verses Laura referenced for specific times in her life. Mine came from the gift shop of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet.

I thought of Laura’s verses today while sitting, fittingly, in church. Though I wasn’t so much sitting as I was following my three-year-old around the pews. No matter, I was still paying attention. And something in the pastor’s words reminded me of Laura’s verses. So when I got home, I dug them out.

There they were, in Laura’s unmistakable, grandmotherly handwriting.

Not being a terribly religious sort, I’ve sort of grown into the idea that spiritual beliefs are a good thing. I like the idea of an order to the world and to my heart. I’m also not much of a Biblical scholar, but the older I get the more I am aware of just how much I don’t understand. More than that, I’m aware of not making the effort to try to understand.

To someone like me, the Bible is intimidating. But I’m plucky. I like challenges. I think I might take a verse she recommends periodically and explore it, to see what spiritual insight I can gain from one of my heroes.

I’ve spent the past few days googling and plugging in dates and emailing, planning some rather extensive travel in the month of June. So let’s start with this one:

“When you travel,” Laura writes, “carry with you 121 Psalm.”

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,
From whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord,
Which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved;
He that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, He that keepeth Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep
The Lord is thy keeper:
The Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:
He shall preserve thy soul.
The lord shall perserve thy going out and thy coming in
From this time forth, and even for evermore.

Did Laura pull this out to read on the train to San Francisco? Did she carry it when she returned to De Smet in 1902 to see Pa before he died? What about merely hopping over to Springfield? Driving around Missouri with the Seals?

Most importantly: did she have it with her when she stepped into that airplane?

One can imagine that travel to someone from Laura’s time was no idle matter. Traveling simply to the next state could take days. The fact that she, who treasured her family, hardly ever went back to visit her mother and sisters once she moved to Missouri speaks volumes. Even when she visited her daughter in San Francisco, Rose paid her the money she’d lose simply by being away from the farm. It makes sense that an undercurrent of concern would taint embarking on any trip, no matter how joyful the occasion.

The lord shall perserve thy going out and thy coming in
From this time forth, and even for evermore.

I kind of like the sound of that.


6 Responses to Laura’s Bible: Psalm 121

  1. Rebecca says:

    I have wondered where the list originally came from. Is this a list Laura herself compiled based on passages that had come to mean the most from her from years of study? Or was it perhaps brought up in a sermon at some point and she copied it down for future reference?

    Laura really doesn’t say much about her spiritual relationship — oh, she mentions the exterior “signs”, like going to church, memorizing Scripture, etc., but doesn’t say much about the relationship. However, I really believe it was there. Laura obviously pored over the Scriptures to be so familiar with them. She had so many hidden away in her heart, even at a young age — remember the Scripture recitation contest Ma held for the girls? And then the things she didn’t write about… that she not only went to church with her family, but also went to the Methodist Sunday School to win that Bible, so she got a double dose of spiritual education. :o) The experience she writes about where she really “felt” God’s presence… but considered that too personal and private to speak about. I think Laura considered her relationship with God something special just between them, not to be shared with others, and yet she plants “hints” everywhere that speak to its existence.

    I like the mental image you paint of Laura whispering that psalm within her heart over and over to wash away any anxieties as she traveled across the country all by herself to see Rose. The timing of your post is really interesting too, I’ve been familiar with that psalm all my life and could say most of it anyway, but in going through and actively memorizing all my favorite psalms, that one was last week’s psalm to memorize. I never really thought about it as far as travel, that’s an interesting association she’s made there, or whoever originally wrote the list made, but now I’ll have to recite that one to myself whenever I travel, in Laura’s memory. :o)

  2. Karma Wilson says:

    Gee Sandra, I didn’t know you had a Little House blog! LIW is still one of my favorite writers. If you get a chance read Dear Genius, the Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. She has some letters to Laura in there. Ursula said there was two authors who required no editing–LIW and E.B. White. Interesting, eh?


  3. Rebecca, you know, I never thought about that. I always assumed she compiled them, but now you’ve got me thinking — they could have come from elsewhere.

    I too find it fascinating that Laura was so spiritual but never descended deeply into spiritual topics. I bet that would make a lovely essay, don’t you? And what an appropriate coincidence that you happened upon that very psalm recently!

    (Speaking of travel, I’ll still see you at the Little House event in June, right?)


  4. Karma, yes — very interesting! I’ll have to check out that book. I know I’ve heard of it. I’m glad to know you’re a Laura fan. Do check back. I’ll be posting every day! 😉

    Friends, just so the opportunity doesn’t go by — especially if you’re parents who read to your kids — the commenter here is Karma Wilson, author of the ever-popular Bear Snores On. And lots of others!

  5. […] participant Sandra Hume maintains a blog about Laura Ingalls Wilder called Only Laura. (Read a recent post) Right before Spring Break, my daughter’s first grade class did a unit on Little House on the […]

  6. Connie says:

    What a beautiful thought – Psalm 121 playing through Laura’s mind as she is traveling by wagon, train, automobile, plane. This is one of my favorite Psalms ever since I was a little Texas girl who would come to the cool Colorado mountains for summer vacation. I loved my first look at the mountains on the horizon and now that I live nearby, I love to see the majesty climbing high just to the west of my little town on the prairie. I have a plaque with the first verse imprinted over blue columbines (the Colorado state flower) and moutains towering behind.

    But, even moreso, the words of David were truly a reminder for all that we did not create this heaven and earth, but the Lord did and He will protect and keep you “from this time forth and forever.” With all of the moves the Ingalls and Wilders made, that must have been a comforting passage not only to memorize and to meditate upon but to treasure in their hearts. One doesn’t have to be ‘preachy’ to have a close relationahip with the Creator God. I think Laura possessed that firm character and belief.

    Thank you for sharing your epiphany, while following your toddling Wilder around. That was a precious picture in my mind.


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