The Search

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

I am not musically gifted, though I fancy that I sing “well” in the shower.  I hum along or sing by ear, not by training.  It’s fortunate that I sit next to my wife in church because she reads music and this allows me to follow her lead.  I know I don’t do service to the beautiful Methodist hymns that I love, but they nonetheless move my spirit.  To musical people the notes in the hymnal give detailed instructions regarding how the hymn should be sung.  However, these cryptic musical notes are Greek to me.

I’ve come to understand that reading and playing music involves a significant component of mathematics which is especially true of composing.  Music majors must be well versed in the mathematics of meter and must learn a new language of musical notes.  However, experiencing and enjoying music – as well as singing in the shower –  is less of science and more of soul.

Becky has tried to explain quarter notes and measures to me many times, and though I get an inkling of the perspective, it quickly fades, I guess it just doesn’t register deeply enough to stick.  Becky has the same problem with historical perspectives that I have with musical notes and chords.  I do know when something sounds good, perhaps because it resonates at that deeper and more primal level in my soul.  The legendary Count Basie recognized this.  He observed, “If it sounds good, it is.”  And I say don’t let anyone tell you differently!

My grandson Oakley is now talking a mile a minute, and is transitioning from a toddler to a little boy.  His arms now swing when he walks and his body turns ever so slightly with each step mimicking the fluid gait of an adult.  The stiffness of a toddler’s stride is giving way to that of a little boy.  He is also learning to sing and he likes the Alphabet song.  The musicality is not there yet, but as I listen I sense that it’s coming.  Oakley actually taught me something last week.  He was singing the Twinkle Twinkle Little Star song and, it dawned on me that it’s the same melody as the Alphabet song.  How did I miss that in my education?

I believe Becky knows at least a thousand nursery songs.  As she sings them to Oakley, I remember the tunes and rhymes she used to sing to our girls when they were children.  The process of Oakley learning to sing fascinates me.  We don’t come into this world singing.  Apparently, it is learned and the nurture side of life’s equation must be operative.  However, there must also be a genetic or nature component to singing because there are prodigies like Mozart and others like me who are less musically gifted.

Language has a rhythm just like music.  If you doubt me, consider the rhythmic (musical) cadence of Italian.  Our Burundi friends speak Kirundi and the cadence of their native tongue is readily apparent when they speak to us in English.  I guess our Southern sounds odd to them as well.  And I love to hear an Irishman, like the golf announcer David Feherty, speak.  In his lyrical language each sentence ends on a high note rather than a downward inflection as we Englishmen do.

I love to watch base players in a band.  They seem to be in a world of their own as they play the base line above which the melody floats.  Drums are much the same and impart a visceral feeling in us.  Perhaps we were wired to the rhythmic beating of drums.  Our developing nervous system and ears must have registered and imprinted our mother’s heart beat as the baseline upon which the melody of our life would be played.

Fanny Crosby was the author of 8000 songs and hymns.  This remarkable 19th century woman has touched uncountable lives with her musical gift.  What is even more remarkable is that Ms. Crosby wrote all her poems and hymns despite being blind from infancy.  Two of my favorite Crosby hymns are To God Be the Glory and Blessed Assurance.  If you’re not familiar with these great hymns you should Google them and listen to words astride the beautiful melodies.  Or I guess you could ride with me in my truck while I sing them for you.  Be assured, this venue would be safer than my shower!

Hymns and music are important in the Methodist Church.  Many of these melodious songs originated in camp meetings of spiritual revival so important in England and in 18th century America.  John Wesley was an Anglican minister and Oxford scholar.  He is credited as being the father of Methodism, the protestant denomination where Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush and Jim Ferguson worship.  Wesley’s theology embraced both heart and mind; balancing these perspectives resonates with me.  The doctrines of love and praise are preached throughout the Methodist hymnal in words and chords.  The songs are reverential and worthy as worshipful aids.

The great 5th century church father St. Augustine once wrote that “Our souls remain restless until they rest in thee, Oh Lord.”  His point is that each of us has a basic need for The Spirit that can’t be replaced by the State or the idols of money, power, and prestige. There are lots of ways to experience God. I find that music aids me to “get in the zone to go to the throne!”  This is my only rap!

Others may experience God through service, through contemplation, or reading the Bible or praying.  My recommendation for physical and mental health is that you seek Him/Her/Spirit – God is after all not limited by the human notions of gender.

Some years ago as I stood with my brother on the deck of a ship watching Alaskan glaciers calve, a poem by Emily Dickinson came to mind.  It is called “Some Keep the Sabbath;” you should read it.  Though I stumbled through the words, we agreed that nature is a good place to begin seeking the Creator.  And the most important journey of your life begins with a single step.

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