Today’s Word from Organist, Sheila Weidendorf…
“Some bright morning,
when this life is over
I’ll fly away,
To that home
on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away.”
I grew up in rural Minnesota, where summers are terribly hot and humid and winters are only for the hardy. One quintessentially hot summer’s day in about 1976 or 77 (I would have been 13 or 14), my grandmother Elsye was out working in her garden. Pausing to wipe the sweat from her brow she looked up hoping to see a cloud or two blowing in to temper the sun.
Instead, she saw a peacock. Thinking she had suffered some sort of sunstroke-induced delirium, she went inside for a cold glass of lemonade before returning to her work weeding the front flower bed. Imagine her surprise upon resuming her post to find standing there an actual peacock! (This was not an expected occurrence in rural 1970s Minnesota.)
Well, word got around that Elsye had received this visitation. Turns out another rancher maybe 6 miles away was raising peacocks as a novelty and this renegade had flown the coop in search of greener pastures. Evidently, Grandma Elsye—known far and wide for her hospitality and good humor—WAS the greener pasture. Upon finding out where his peacock had landed, the novelty rancher just said, “Elsye—he’s yours if you want him!” And so, my grandmother had herself a peacock.
And haven’t we all wished we could fly the coop from time to time? It is said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” All boot-strapping, ego-edifying hyperbole aside, sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to stay the course, especially when the pathway—much less the destination! – isn’t fully visible, or apparent. Sometimes, there’s no place to go and nothing to do when we get there. Sometimes, when the going gets tough and we can’t see our way clear to a solution, one thing we humans have always done is sing.
The world over there are songs for working, songs for idling, songs for playing, songs for praying, songs for sleeping and songs for praising. Included in the Christian liturgy are many a “someday” hymn – songs of longing for the day when the seemingly unsolvable troubles of earthly life can be left behind and the faithful can rest in the loving arms of God forever and ever. One example is a Depression-era song written in 1929 (first published in 1932) by Church of Christ devotee and shape-note tradition composer Albert Brumley. It has been recorded by many artists going back at least to 1941 and has long been a favorite in the evangelical circles. It gained a resurgence in general popularity with the Alison Krauss/Gillian Welch version included in the Cohen brothers’ 2000 hit film, “O Brother, Where Are Thou” and is also a mainstay of the bluegrass repertoire.
To those shackled by circumstance, perhaps unable to experience assurance of grace here on earth, the song offers a promise of brighter days reunited with God beyond this world. Grandma Elsye shed her mortal coil about 20 years ago. The peacock, many years before that. The daughter of Swedish immigrants, she had been a faithful Baptist her entire adult life. At her funeral, we sang I’ll Fly Away as we celebrated the life of one of God’s own, a grand lady, full of grace by all measures.
Click HERE to listen to a version of the song performed by my daughter Ada Rose, our friend Sequoia, and myself.