Carrol Vertrees: Mom’s advice still good: ‘Be still. Listen to the music.’
Carrol Vertrees September 15, 2012 5:18PM
Updated: October 17, 2012 6:20AM
I learned almost all I need to know about basic theology as a kid on the farm.
Not book theology. Heart theology — the kind you feel without knowing exactly why.
My mother was a teacher but she did not know it. She was an avid pianist, and that helped her through lonely days during hard times.
One day I was listening to her play something called “Falling Waters.” I liked it, but when I asked why there were no words, she said six words that I have never forgotten:
“Be still. Listen to the music.” She said it in her kindly way. I was only 5, and her advice has stuck with me through the long years. I always remember that when we sing the hymn that begins “Be still my soul.”
In memory it seems like an admonition from on high, a bit of down-home theology with a deep, eternal meaning.
Some hymns have simple lyrics that urge us to do something — if we listen, the lesson and admonition will be clear. Like one that I remember with ringing clarity from my childhood — a favorite in our little country church. It calls on us to “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.”
It is a profoundly simple hymn that we all understood. Sadly, it can rarely be found in modern hymnals. It is, well, you know — unsophisticated. Even I, back on the farm, understood that one. The scholarly experts who prefer more modern theology did us no favors when they excluded that one from hymnals. I wish I could hear a theological explanation, if there is one.
Ina Ogdon wrote the words to that hymn years ago. She seemed to be saying “Make the best of where you find yourself.” Understanding that does not require expertise in deep theology. It does not require denominational preference, church membership or biblical knowledge.
Becoming theologically sophisticated is OK, but it is not the only way to seek answers about the meaning of it all. No way will work unless we get quiet and listen to the music of life all around us.
In the still of the night back home we could hear the excited hounds chasing foxes. Crickets and other insects singing their songs in the quiet darkness. Roosters announcing the coming of the day, waking us before we were ready. On Sunday mornings with our church windows open, I thought the birds were singing too, but maybe that was my imagination. Those sounds were part of our culture — they and the telephone party lines kept us connected, a vital part of any theology.
Neighbors cared for one another. They were there to help when it was needed. No, it was not a perfect edenic enclave, but there was a common civility that linked us. People tried to brighten the corners where they were — in the darkness of tough times, caring about one another was a kind of home-grown theology. An elixir for troubled souls.
Back home when storms threatened, many of us went to our cellars to wait out the angry weather. I may be in my dotage, wherever that is, but I believe that we all need the security of cellars, real or figurative, in times of crisis.
I respect theologians. People who spend their lives seeking the meaning of it all, and trying to help us understand. But I will not be separated from my childhood culture. Those memories are essential.
The quiet words my mother said to me decades ago? No theologian has ever said it better.