He Who Sings
“He who sings prays twice.” Saint Augustine
Beyond the ritual dyeing of a couple of dozen hard boiled eggs and hunting for hidden treasures in my Grandmother’s backyard, I don’t have a lot of vivid childhood memories about Easter. One thing that does stand out in the hazy recesses of my memory is my Uncle Pete. Uncle Pete was my mother’s favorite uncle in an extended family which included seven brothers and three sisters. Uncle Pete was known for two things, raising and selling hundreds of watermelons to those who stopped by his farm each year, and along with three of his brothers who formed the “Yelken Quartet,” for singing hymns at weddings and funerals among the communities of German immigrants and their descendants who settled the grassy prairies of central and southern Nebraska.
Uncle Pete loved to lead the singing in our little congregation, and on Easter Sunday we could always count on closing our service with a rousing, but loving rendition of “The Old Rugged Cross.” Even today, there is nothing that transports my consciousness back more effectively than to listen to that old favorite hymn. If I close my eyes, I can imagine I’m back there, my mother playing the old upright piano, and Uncle Pete standing next to his favorite pew. If I concentrate, I can almost hear his voice:
“On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross
The emblem of suff'ring and shame
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
*Refrain: So I'll cherish the old rugged cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it some day for a crown.”
Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world
Has a wondrous attraction for me
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.
In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine
Such a wonderful beauty I see
For 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died
To pardon and sanctify me.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true
Its shame and reproach gladly bear
Then He'll call me someday to my home far away
Where His glory forever I'll share.
I’ve spent my entire academic and working life dealing much more with numbers than with words or musical notes, but even I can recognize that there is something about music that can touch the soul in unique and lasting ways. Plato said it well, “Music is an art imbued with the power to penetrate into the very depths of the soul.”
In an article for the online magazine “Mind and Spirit,” author BJ Gonzalvo wrote:
Music is a gift. It’s a wonderful gift. We offer back this gift to our Creator also as a gift by our singing and praising. Music, with our voices singing, our ears listening, and hands creating music, enables us to physically express the spiritual joy of our heart. Music has the power to bring the mind, body, and spirit in unison as we reach out to God.
“How Music Leads to God” - B.J. Gonzalvo, September 14, 2018
Uncle Pete, your music may not have transformed my life, but for sure it touched my soul.
Have a blessed Holy Week,
P.S. No, I don’t have any old recordings of Uncle Pete and his brothers, but perhaps you can enjoy your favorite version of “The Old Rugged Cross” at one of these links:
Johnny & June Cash: Click here
Glen Penrod: Click here
Al Green: Click here