I’m going to start with a nod to a friend that I don’t want to get lost at the end of the post. My friend, Nathan Brown, whose poetry I have quoted a couple of times, has a website where you can find his work and contact him. Check it out at www.brownlines.com.
Today has surprised me.
This was going to be the day I finished the details for Mission Trip, planted my tomatoes and herbs, and got ready to head out for Birmingham tomorrow to celebrate my in-laws’ fiftieth wedding anniversary on Friday (I’m the caterer). Items one and three are still on schedule, but a raging rainstorm has kept me out of the garden and tucked inside the house with the Schnauzers. Ginger is already in Alabama and called this morning with a list of songs for me to create a mix CD for the party. Her folks were calling out song titles in the background. After I hung up, I set iTunes searching for Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams, Roger Miller, Patsy Cline, and Alan Jackson.
Hearing some of those songs opened up memories I had not touched in years.
“Little Green Apples” was one of my father’s favorite songs when I was a kid. We had the Roger Miller version. In what may have been my first encounter with cover songs, I heard O.C. Smith sing it at a friend’s house one day and changed what I thought about the song. I found both versions today. I already had Ray Charles singing “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” I chased down “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” (Paul Anka), “Over the Rainbow” (Judy Garland), “The Way You Look Tonight” (Tony Bennett), “Hey, Good Lookin’” (Hank Williams), “Tall, Tall Trees” (Roger Miller), “Cattle Call” (Eddy Arnold) and “All Shook Up” (Elvis). I also downloaded “Remember When” by Alan Jackson, at my mother-in-law’s request.
When iTunes showed my all the songs by Alan Jackson, I saw he had recently released a CD of hymns. The songs he chose are ones deeply imbedded in my bones from years of singing them in Baptist churches. I clicked on a couple of them to hear the previews and before long I sent my ten bucks through cyberspace to but the whole record. He’s been singing in the background ever since. The songs take me back to Sunday night services where we got to call out hymn numbers and sing favorites for half of the service. Those songs are what taught me how to harmonize, how to feel moved by the Spirit, and how to love going to church. They also taught me to look beyond the familiar tunes for other songs. One I found as we sang one night was William Cowper’s hymn, “Sometimes a Light Surprises”:
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in his wings:
When comforts are declining, he grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.
One this day of rain, I did find a season of clear in those songs.
Faith is funny sometimes. There are good reasons why I don’t sit in Baptist services on a regular basis. As my journey going from God to God has unfolded, I’ve found a home in the UCC where I am deeply fed. And I hear these songs and wish for the heart and emotion of the worship services in Baptist life where people – at least some of them – came to church expecting to be changed in the encounter. I worship each Sunday, now, with people of deep and committed faith, but we hold our emotions close. And, I have to admit, there aren’t many hymns in the New Century Hymnal designed to move people to much of anything. We have a lot to learn about congregational singing.
Once again, the Spirit moves in the creative tension between the poles. God has a better shot at my heart when I’m reaching back with one had and forward with the other; I leave myself open and unguarded. In between the raw emotion and personal sentiment of the gospel harmonies and the deliberate intentionality of a faith that pushes out into the world seeking justice are the thin places (as Marcus Borg describes) where the Spirit breaks through. Who knew, on a cloudy day when I was looking for old love songs, the guy who sang “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” would remind me
I love to tell the story for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
The gospel song that moves me most is “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”
I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me
I’m writing today to capture a moment more than make a point. A song blew in with the storm today and surprised me.
Feel free to sing along.
PS — I’m off to Birmingham tomorrow and will be back late Saturday. You’ll hear from me again Sunday or Monday.