Thursday, July 07, 2005
"But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn't convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature."
- Flannery O'Connor
Reckon that's why we don't find too many atheists in the South.
We've talked a lot about the South lately and even a little about atheism. Somehow by God's providence the South, for all its many faults over the centuries, is a land soaked in the Gospel. There is no escaping it in literature or in music, for those of us who believe are constantly drawn to the Cross. Those who don't are still cast in its shadow.
I sat around this weekend with some new friends and few old ones, singing Southern folk songs. It brought a smile to my face to share in the tradition of a steady faith, those dixie saints who came before us in the faith and in the land. They survived through hard times of war and depression with, as one song says, the Good Shepherd leading the way.
The whole thing reminds me of my grandfather. My mother's father has been dead since 1990; I was nine when PawPaw died. He worked in a U.S. Steel plant for three decades. He was from the country and, like a lot of men from his time, he could be a bit cantankerous. But he was always gentle with his grandchildren, and full of folksy wisdom. His family was from the last foothills of the Appalachians in East Alabama, but I can trace our family all the way back to England. Even though he spent most of his life with my grandmother just outside of Birmingham, he raised cows and chickens. He was a fine craftsman, making all sort of things out of wood. I had a bow and arrow once, and I can still find a couple of slingshots if I look hard enough. There's a table and chairs in my parents' basement. Pawpaw wasn't perfect, but in his own way he proudly embodied the working class South. Somewhere in my short time with him, he ingrained in me a love of my Southern heritage. So much so that now I'm prone to walk around humming or even singing a line or two from an old mountain song that was likely sung while young men cleared fields and trudged off down into the coal mines. When a friend asks, "what are you humming, Matt," it's always good to know that the song comes from Pawpaw's repetoire.
It has only dawned on me in the last few months, but I miss my grandaddy. I know he was proud of me and would still be. I'm thankful for his witness; the prayers before dinner, the Bible on the lampstand, church on Sundays and prayer meetin' on Wednesdays. I just wish we could sit on the porch and sing "Angel Band" one last time, now that I know all the words.
Ah well. We'll do that soon enough, in a place where there is no forgetting the words and the band of which we sing is standing with us.