I just attended the funeral of a friend’s father. At the service, a twelve-year-old girl stood before us and sang, “Beulah Land,” before they closed the casket. There wasn’t a dry eye in the county. I hardly knew the man who died, but I wore a necktie for him just the same.
My father loved that gospel song. Whenever we’d float the river in a leaky fishing skiff—in bad need of caulking—his shaky voice would bellow, “Beulah land, I’m longing for you…” His singing would bounce off the water and scare fish away for miles. He’d carry on until you begged him to stop.
One day, he finally did.
I suppose I believe in these kinds of church songs. And I believe in singers that sing them. Like that twelve-year-old. Or any unprofessional song-man, struggling to earn a five-digit income.
Take, for instance, Roberta, who worked in a carpet factory. Whenever she sang, “Lay My Burden Down,” for church, you’d swear the roof was detaching.
Roberta lived at a Salvation Army shelter, with three children. One of whom was blind. When someone like her opens her mouth to sing about hard times, by God, you listen.
Once, I watched a group of singing construction workers at a small church in DeKalb County, Alabama. They performed forty-five minutes worth of a capella gospel. They sounded like housecats singing Dixie. They were god-awful. But it didn’t matter. These men were like me.
And when one of them started on, “Beulah Land, I’m longing for you…”
You might not care about this kind of music, and I wouldn’t blame you. It’s not exactly the kind of stuff you’ll find on iTunes. God knows, it doesn’t make you want to thrust your hips or dye your hair pink. After all, no one gives a flying flannel about a hymn sang by some blue-collar worker with a voice like a fog horn.
Still, whenever I hear a song about a place beyond the river; where home will be eternal; where time won’t matter anymore; where no sad goodbyes are spoken, I wonder if such a place exists.
And when I hear a twelve-year-old with white-hot vocal cords sing, “Beulah Land,” I start wondering if they have good fishing up in heaven.
Then I loosen my necktie.
And I’m sorry I ever asked Daddy to stop singing.