In this story from February 1952, actor Gene Lockhart shares how he came to know God’s blessings, His mercies and His presence.
When I was four my brother, myself and another boy were clearing the ice for “curling,” a game played in our native Ontario. While sweeping, the ice broke, and the three of us plunged into the freezing water.
A passer-by saw the accident. He quickly got a long pole and fished out our companion, who was so frozen and frightened he could not tell the man that there were still two other children under the ice. The man pushed the pole out again to retrieve what looked like the boy’s cap, but it was the belt around my coat. He hauled me to the surface, and to the shore.
My brother drowned. I was thought dead. With frantic work it was hours before a sign of life appeared.
Later, while holding me in her arms, I heard my mother murmur, “Thank you, dear God, for being with him.”
I was puzzled, “Where had God been? Where was He now?” Today, almost half a lifetime later, I have searched my mind and heart to reassemble the jigsaw pieces of yesterday—and to answer the question, “Where is God?”
God was certainly in the love my mother bore me when I first saw light. She loved people. For her no one could do wrong. If they did, she would find ample reason to prove it was not their fault.
No matter how empty our larder was, neither Mother nor Father could ever turn anyone away from our door. And many came. Mother loved the nearness of friends and children. At the least provocation she would stage a concert or a show in the town hall, or even in our living room, and almost always for children, from 7 to 70.
For example, one day a stray collie dog came to our door. Mother chatted with him, patted him, and fed him. Before he ate his food, he jumped up in gratitude, rolled over, leaped over a chair, and played dead. Mother laughed with delight.
“Children! Come and see the star of our show next Saturday".
At the age of eight I started dancing with the famous “Kilties Band of Canada,” for which my father sang. Between engagements I received coaching in comedy from Harry Rich, who had another pupil at that time, my friend Beatrice Lillie. Today God finds in her His perfect instrument of laughter.
As I grew up and was preparing for a career on the stage, my mother advised me: “Arm yourself with another skill to take up the long intervals of searching for work.”
At De La Salle College, I enrolled in a business course. Later I worked in the Toronto ticket office of the New York Central Railway, and then for the Underwood Typewriter Company. I am still wondering why I was hired. But the ways of the Lord are not our ways. He had something in mind.
The son of the president was Ernest Seitz, who became my good friend and collaborator in writing songs. After my discharge from the Canadian Army at the end of World War I, we completed six songs. One of the songs was, “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise.” That was in 1921 and I believe it is still a popular song to this day.
In one’s heart there is always a God of hope.
At the age of 22 I decided to besiege New York. In due course my pockets were empty. I was too proud to write home for money, so I did what I had been taught from childhood: I got on my knees and prayed. A day later I was given a job installing a filing system for a milling company. While there I continued my studies, took singing lessons and knocked on many doors looking for stage work.
Then came a break—my first professional job in America—on a Chatauqua and Lyceum circuit. It lasted for 90 weeks. Since then, I have played an astonishing variety of roles. The One who notes the fall of a sparrow has tempered me with a multitude of failures and humbled me with a small measure of success.
One of my successes was my marriage to Kathleen Arthur, an actress and musician of great merit in her own right. Shortly after our marriage we were twice blessed: I appeared in my first Broadway hit, Sun-Up, which ran for two and a half years. We were given a lovely daughter, June. She began dancing in the Metropolitan Opera ballet school at eight. Today she is a television and stage actress.
There has always been a sweetness in the life and work Kathleen and I have had together that could only come through the guidance of a Divine Power.
For a number of years we gave our own recitals and prepared the material ourselves. We were in New York with the advent of radio. I wrote five programs a week, and we appeared in two of them. Every Sunday night for two years, we were in “Sunday Nights at Nine,” an informal revue where artists with new ideas and faith could find a platform. Among the artists who appeared and went on to fame were Shirley Booth and Van Heflin.
Yes, He manifests Himself in actions large and small: in a helpful letter, a small service to another, an expression of sympathy, a sincere handshake. It may even be a simple: “Good evening.”
One night in August, 1933, I was walking down a New York Avenue when I passed one of the directors of the Theatre Guild, head down, lost in thought. When I hailed him with a hearty, “Good evening,” he looked up, but did not reply.
The Theatre Guild summoned me the next morning. After a reading I was assigned the part of Uncle Sid in Eugene O’Neill’s tender comedy, Ah, Wilderness. The success of the play led me to Hollywood and the beginning of a long and happy career that still endures.
So, the God I know is a God of bounty and laughter, of hope and kindness, of testing and trusting. He is, above all, a God of mercy.
Fourteen years ago I went swimming off Laguna Beach, in California, and was caught in a fierce rip tide. I couldn’t find bottom, nor could I struggle out of the undertow.
I had two thoughts then: First, I asked God’s forgiveness. Second, I wondered how long the struggle would continue. I was sinking for what seemed to be the last time when a hand yanked me out. He was there again, in a watchful lifeguard.
Sometimes, before and after my skirmishes with death, I’ve forgotten to give thanks to the Saving Hand that swept me back to life. Thoughtlessly, I patted myself, egotistically praising my own luck, or vigor, or talent. Now I know. In each instance the circumstances of rescue implied intervention that was more than human.
The God of mercy was with me.
Inching slowly toward what is called “Success,” we are all restless with ambition. But, in my later years, as my thoughts turn to the end of my life, I know I have received, through the fire of time, a deeper sense of His power, a glimmer of the gentle way He molds a soul. I have felt the touch of His sure hand in human friendships and in the eternal beauty of nature.
Whenever one hears the song of a bird, the turning of leaves, the moving of waters, the silence of mountains, there is God.
In the agony of doubt, in the peace of mind, in the turmoil of life and in the peace of soul; in all of these there is God.
My life has proved to me that God is everywhere. I know now that the heart is ever restless, until it rests in God. Yes, all the world is waiting … for His presence.
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