When I was teaching at the University of Cincinnati in the College-Conservatory of Music, I used to listen to the music streaming service, Pandora, while I worked in my office. I liked Pandora because with the free version you never knew what song was coming. I would set up a station like Frank Sinatra or Blue Grass and then the music would simply flow. This opened me up to many new songs and musical artists and I enjoyed this passive engagement.
One artist that I found I really enjoyed was the outstanding American folk, country, bluegrass, and gospel singer and guitarist known as Blind Doc Watson. Blind from an early age, Doc had a sweet, rough-around-the-edges, tenor voice and was an extraordinary guitar player. Bob Dylan said, “Doc Watson plays the guitar like water running.”
I always left my office door open when I was there so students would feel comfortable coming to see me if they had questions, problems, or just needed to talk. Often when a student did come into the office, the music I was listening to came under discussion.
One day one of my graduate students, I will call her Jill, came in while Doc Watson was singing and playing. As I remember, it was a song called Deep River Blues. Jill came in and was asking a question when she noticed the music. She stopped mid-question and we both listened in silence while the music played. When the song ended I paused the music and waited for her question. Jill paused a moment, asked me about the artist, and then she said something I will never forget. She said, “There is a lot of truth in that voice.”
I have thought about Jill’s insightful comment for many years. Doc Watson certainly did not have the most beautiful or most technically accurate voice. I believe what Jill was hearing and responding to was the authenticity and lived experience behind this great artist’s music.
This reminds me of a passage of scripture from the book of John.
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
As we worship together it is important to open our ears and, like Jill, listen for the truth. As we hear scripture read, sing hymns, and hear sermons from our pastors, we need to listen to how God is speaking to us and calling us to be the church at this time. This is important now because I believe we are in the nexus of change. This time of uncertainty is difficult, but I believe God has plans for us as a church and we need to keep our ears and hearts open to the voice of truth.
It is difficult to live in this time of change, and I know we are all weary. But let’s keep on listening, loving, and being the church to our hurting world. God is imbuing our worship and work with the truth of love. Listen with your heart and you will hear it!
Holy God, You are always more ready to hear than we are to pray. Open our hearts to hear the word of God in worship. Then strengthen us to reveal Your love and truth to a broken world. Amen.
Grace & Peace,
- Ray Wheeler, Ph.D.