My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
Thus we sang, in full-throated harmony, to close the memorial service on Monday for Pearl Rodgers, mother of my dear friend Ken, at Whitestone Mennonite Church, in Hesston, Kansas.
While the purpose of my visit was less than ideal — a funeral and some time with a treasured friend — the essence of the visit was lovely.
Saint Louis was a mess last weekend. Escaping to the rural flatlands of Kansas, and touching base with endless sky and the green earth, was a balm for the soul.
I am not a child of the farm, but I feel connected enough, thanks to Grandma Blocher’s greenhouse, the canning that my mother and grandmother did when I was younger, a summer in Tarkio, Missouri, and a year in Willow Springs right after college.
I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it.
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?
This trip brought new and needed reminders of the peace of Christ. I saw love embodied in the family and friends who gathered to celebrate a life well-lived. In their stories of Pearl’s exceptional gift of hospitality, in the tales of her no-nonsense honesty, in the vivid recounting of her faith and life and witness — I was reminded of the fountain ever-springing.
I was reminded too of the astounding beauty of congregational singing at a Mennonite church. These folks know how to sing. Our first hymn lead off with a piano introduction, and I was singing melody on the first verse, as I’m trained to do. But no: the gathered full house was in full four-part harmony. And then the piano dropped out, and the rest of the hymn was sung with four-part harmony, intonation to rival a strong college choir, and attention to the songleader. This was choral heaven.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father.
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not; thy compassions, they fail not.
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.
Just as scent can rekindle a powerful memory, so too did these hymns take me back to First Baptist Church of Lee’s Summit and all the parade of Baptist churches after that. I sang these hymns — chosen by Pearl for her own funeral — from memory . . . as if the words were primally ordained and ordered.
Part of the beauty of this visit, as I think about it now with a day or two of distance, was the slower pace of life — of driving, even! — and the ready smiles of the people I met. And a sermon that included references to wheat prices. And a talk with a Canadian farmer about his life and work in Alberta. And the easy happiness of students at Hesston College, where Ken is a professor.
And the unexpected signs I saw three places, advertising training in how to square dance. (We don’t see these signs in Saint Louis.)
I drove back roads to the Wichita airport on Monday, taking the über-straight Ridge Road south from Hesston, through Sedgewick, and into the west side of Wichita. Along the way, I was reminded of the beauty of this good earth: cotton candy clouds, feed corn dried and brown awaiting harvest, beans still in the ground, some milo along the way, and lots and lots of big round bales of hay tucked away for the winter that is soon to arrive. Windmills and American flags and silos and old barns. An occasional oil pumpjack. And then more corn.
But the real takeaway is the song and story and reminder: morning by morning new mercies I see. Thy compassions, they fail not. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.
Escaping the bitter protests in Saint Louis. Seeing a quieter, less hurried America. Touching base with the good earth. Greeting and supporting a dear friend. Sitting in stocking feet and reminiscing over a drink. As the hymn says, a fresh heart. Thanks be to God for simple graces, and His great faithfulness.