Saturday, February 10, 2007

Jimmy Carter and The Music of Our Souls

In his book "An Hour Before Daylight", former President Jimmy Carter tells about himself as a young boy growing up in Depression-era Georgia. One day, his compassionate mother brings cool drink to prisoners and young Jimmy is at first fascinated by the thought of seeing real-life prisoners, only to discover their faces were no different than many of the faces of the the boys and men that attended Sunday services at his own church.

Step back, for just a moment, into young Jimmy's world. You'll begin to understand how rhythm and music brought joy and understanding into his world.

We boys were fascinated with criminals and their punishment, and would observe the chained men from a distance, imagining them to be mysterious gangsters and discussing Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, Al Capone, or John Dillinger, who were all very famous and whose exploits we followed closely. [..]

[...] One day, Mama stopped her car near one of the chain gangs. She spoke briefly to the guard, and after a few minutes called me and one of my playmates to the kitchen and had us take a bucketful of lemonade to the guard and then to the chained men. It was quite an adventure being this close to them, and we were somewhat disappointed to find that they resembled the older boys and young men who went to church with our families on Sundays. Most of them were guilty of crimes such as theft that resulted from abject poverty, and most of the folks in Archery felt some sympathy for them as they swung their axes, bush hooks, mattocks, or scythes, not singing a lyrical song, as in the movies, but keeping time to a fundamental rhythm that they hummed or chanted in unison.

[..] The best music came not from prisoners, but from the railroad section gang, a half dozen black men who worked under the supervision of Mr. Watson. He and the workers would leave their homes in the center of Archery and ride to their work site on a little car that they propelled down the track by pumping up and down on both ends of a wooden shaft. After setting their vehicles aside so the trains could go by, the workers would begin the task of methodically checking each wooden crosstie, replacing those that had deteriorated and driving spikes to hold the rail in place. Theirs were the most cherished jobs in the community, and they wore their work clothes with pride - all issued by and bearing the insignia of the Seaboard Airline Railroad. These fortunate men had worked together all their adult lives, and knew that their best sons could someday inherit their jobs. They all attended St. Mark AME Church, near their homes in Archery, and we would recognize them in the choir when we attended services there. It was a pleasure to be near them as they sang and worked in perfect harmony.

Singing and working in perfect harmony is something a rare few of us can say we do with regularity when we go to our job each day. How lucky we are, rich or poor, if we can sing and work in harmony with life.

Song, within the scope of its context to the dance of life, was obviously a very important part of young Jimmy Carter's spiritual development.

It was in the days of prevailing Jim Crow segregation practices, and the Carter family made a point of attending services at St. Mark AME, the African American church in Archery, at least once a year:

As a little boy, I was accustomed to the relatively sedate and time-constrained services of our own congregation at Plains Baptist Church, so our own family's visits to St. Mark were strange experiences. The small white clapboard building was always overflowing with worshipers and would rock with music and with religious spirit far exceeding anything we ever experienced. We knew the words to many of the hymns, but we had to struggle to keep the proper time with the strange, slow rhythms, with syllables often stretched into words, and words into entire verses. Soon, however, we would be rocking back and forth in harmony with the swaying bodies of the beautifully dressed choir behind the altar.

What about music we cannot hear through the ear, but instead in the soul? It can be a struggle to keep time to rhythms we do not understand, but once we allow them to enter and transform us, we can learn to fly.

In one very special and mystical place, I recall rocking back and forth to a rhythm that could not be heard, but could be felt not just by me, but by others around me. I was in the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, Arizona with my mother, my father, and my son, who was then about five years old. Designed by Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright, the Chapel appears to rise out of the surrounding red rocks of Sedona. An awesome panorama of buttes, valley and big blue sky are a source of inspiration inviting rest and reflection to all who come to pray.

A serene, quiet, and safe setting, I allowed my son to wander the chapel while my parents and I knelt to pray. [During which time my son blew out one of the devotional candles burning in the chapel, coming to me proudly afterwards to tell me he'd done it and said he'd thought it was 'one of Jesus' birthday candles'.]

The confluence of earth, rock, sky, and spirit cause a powerful vibration within the Chapel that eyes cannot see, ears cannot hear, and my mouth has had difficulty translating to our reality. It caused my soul to sing and my body to move to an alien rhythm. All that I can tell you is that I believe that I experienced just a brief glimpse of another world in those few precious and rare moments, and it was a beautiful knowing - shared with my parents.

I wish I could go back there to that time and place and to that experience. I believe that my own mother is experiencing that bliss now and that I can still reach to her when I pray. I feel that she's not far away for I am mysteriously with her when I hear the hymns and songs we shared and when I enter the deep quiet of either sanctuary or spirit, where the physical is given permission to fall away in return for a simple yet near-miraculous and soul-sustaining abundance.

What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,and what has not entered the human heart, is what God has prepared for those who love him."

- 1 Corinthians 2:9


Larry said...

"Although we have been made to believe that if we let go we will end up with nothing, life itself reveals again and again the opposite; that letting go is the path to real freedom."

Soguai Rinpoche

Jude Nagurney Camwell said...

Great quote, larry.

Even though I blog about politics, it can be extremely draining, and since I'm a human being, my battery needs to be recharged - often.

When we fail to consciously direct our efforts to seek real freedom - stepping away from the madness of life for a while to meditate, pray, whatever we do to move us toward freedom - our words come from a constrained and bordered place.

I trust whatever is borne of freedom. I seek transformative methods to find and understand freedom.

When our founding fathers talked about freedom, it wasn't the bastardized version your hear coming from the mealy mouthed BushCo team.

I love a song by my friend Chris Trapper about freedom; it's called Freedom. The lyrics are simple, sweet ... and so is freedom.

Uh...have I used the word freedom enough in this comment? ;)

Larry said...


I couldn't agree more about taking time to meditate and pray, we all need to have something too get us through this mess in life.

Check out this blog for great spiritual quotes.

Bilgeman said...

Hello Iddybud, been a while;

"When our founding fathers talked about freedom, it wasn't the bastardized version your hear coming from the mealy mouthed BushCo team."


What have you to say about your idol John Edwards' hired anti-Christian bloggers?

It seems that you may not be the judge of character of judges of character that you perhaps thought that you were.


Jude Nagurney Camwell said...

I realize that politics can be very ugly and that it's popular for the right wing to spread any negativity they can about Senator Edwards right now.

In truth, he hired some very intelligent and good people and when those people came under fire for comments they'd made while they were bloggers, Senator Edwards chose to forgive them.

There isn't much room for forgiveness in politics. Sen. Edwards showed he was a courageous leader - and a Christian - by forgiving any questionable statements and giving those young women a chance to decide for themselves the path that they would take.

Therefore, I don't see any circumstance in which I'd have to reconcile my faith with these circumstances. If something ao trivial would shake my faith, it wouldn't have been a deep or abiding faith from the start.

By the way, I'm not sure who you are. Bilgeman doesn't ring a bell (?)

Bilgeman said...


"'s popular for the right wing to spread any negativity they can about Senator Edwards right now."

Printing the truth isn't spreading's the truth.

"In truth, he hired some very intelligent and good people"

Did he now? If they are good people, that remains to be seen.
Their anti-Christian, and specifically anti-Catholic postings were anything but "good".

Intelligent? Hardly. Unless you can rationalize your way to the viewpoint that this episode is actually favorable to Edwards' chance at the nomination.

Which apparently, you can:

"Sen. Edwards showed he was a courageous leader - and a Christian - by forgiving any questionable statements and giving those young women a chance to decide for themselves the path that they would take."

Oh for Heaven's sake! One quit and the other was fired, Iddybud.

Edwards' poor decisionmaking just scuttled any chance he might have had at the nomination, and you're whistling past the graveyard.

"If something ao trivial would shake my faith, it wouldn't have been a deep or abiding faith from the start."

I didn't ask if your faith, whatever faith that may be, had been shaken.

I asked you once about your faith, a test directly posed from Scripture.

You failed that test.

This time around, I asked what comment you might have had. I recalled our conversation because of your apparent high opinion of Edwards and your professed Roman Catholicism.

Seemed kinda ironic, y'know.

At least your faith in Edwards still seems unassailable.

And that seems kinda sad.


Jude Nagurney Camwell said...


There's a lot more than "truth" being talked about out there, and I would hope you'd be smart enough to see it. You can go to someone else's blog if you want to spew bullcrap, but it won't fly here.

What the two bloggers decided to do was their own decision, so your argument about Senator Edwards has no basis in rationality.

You may not have "asked me," but what I told you about my own strong faith applies here.

The last part of your comment is extremely bizarre, for I don't even know you and don't believe we've ever spoken.

The only source empowered to tell me if I fail or pass a test of faith is my Lord, my God, my Savior. Unless you are God, and you're surely not, then you have no right, Sir - no right to tell me any of my personal trials are successes or failures.

Jude Nagurney Camwell said...

By the way, neither blogger was fired by the Edwards campaign. Both left of their own accord, with the full knowledge that they'd been publicly embraced and defended by Edwards. If you're going to brag about some hold on truth, I'd suggest that you start by telling it, sir.

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