“When you walk down the road
Heavy burden, heavy load
I will rise and I will walk with you
Walk with you
Til the sun don’t shine
Walk with you every time
Believe me I will walk with you…”
“Touched By An Angel” theme song
Della Reese was a brilliantly funny and profoundly moving actor, an unforgettably talented, mesmerizing singer, a savvy talk-show host, a dedicated minister, and the star of a top-ten television hit. But most of all, she was an undeniable one-woman enterprise selling one precious product – the fierce love of an ever-loving God whom she lived to serve and share. And she shared that unshakeable faith of hers wherever she walked – onto a film set, into an elevator, down an airport concourse or a grocery store aisle. If you saw Della Reese heading your way, you knew something was going to change.
It’s the way she walked into a room that I will remember most. There was the room before Della entered. And then it was us in Della’s room. If the sheer magnitude of her powerful presence wasn’t enough to announce her arrival, there was always the liberal bestowing of hugs and blessings. “God bless you today.” “God bless you today.” “God bless you today.” And when Della said it, it wasn’t a greeting, it was a command – an exhortation to stop and acknowledge that you were, in fact, blessed, so you’d better shape up and live like it.
Once, on the set of “Touched By An Angel,” a guest star found himself unable to continue shooting an emotionally-charged “revelation” scene in which Della’s character, Tess, reveals herself as an angel with a message of forgiveness from God. When I took the actor aside, he broke into tears and said he’d just spent two years writing a play to promote atheism, and in the space of twenty minutes performing one scene on camera with Della Reese, his entire belief system had been shaken. “I may have just wasted two years of my life. That woman really believes. And I’m starting to believe her.”
Della Reese stepped into the role of Tess with the natural ease that the rest of us step into a favorite pair of slippers. Sharing the good news of God’s love was as comfortable and familiar to her as walking and talking and breathing. And yet, her pitch-perfect portrayal for nine years of a no-nonsense, straight-talking, uncompromising angel was formed over decades of struggle and sacrifice and single-minded determination to beat the odds.
During a career that spanned seven decades, through wars and civil rights, hardship and success, she survived. She survived the days when a black woman could sing in a luxury hotel but wasn’t allowed to stay there. She survived life-threatening injuries and a devastating stroke. She survived heartbreaking personal and professional loss. And through it all, she steadfastly held to her faith that she was born with a purpose to fulfill and that each step she took in this life would never be taken alone.
What a blessing that for nine years we got to walk along with her as she and her beloved angel daughter Roma Downey reminded the world every Sunday night that excellence isn’t easy, that love is a choice and must be fought for and defended with truth and integrity and faith. And, of course, that God loves you.
“God bless you today” as you remember Della. And know that even now, she is walking where she was always planning to walk forever – alongside her Creator.