Being born and raised a Jewish girl from Manhattan’s old-rent, upper east side, the last thing I’m expected to like is country gospel. Or so I’m often told. People shake their heads. Here comes the dog walking on its hind legs. It’s not done well, as Dr. Johnson said, drawing this analogy with the lady preacher, but the wonder is that it is done at all.
I can never remember a time when I didn’t like it – nay prefer it – to almost anything else that calls itself music. (A limitation, I know, I know.)
There were some excruciating years, when I was a graduate student in philosophy at a lonely American outpost, in the days before it was thought that philosophy and feminine intelligence could ever cross paths. I had private stories I could not confide, hopes I could not articulate, companions I could not find. By then, I had stopped believing in God. Yet, this country hymn said it for me:
He will calm the troubled waters of your soul,
Take your broken heart and make it whole,
When the storms of your life are dark and cold,
He will calm the troubled waters—the dark, troubled waters—of your soul.
Another time – it was years later – and my life very much repaired, yet even a repaired life is not immune from heartbreak. It was the only moment in my life when I felt suddenly threatened – as if by a danger coming from outside and against my will – by suicide. There did not seem time to dial 911. There was, however, just enough margin to put on this Red Foley record:
Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.
How is it that a woman who has read many great and profound books, given papers internationally, traveled far and wide, met people high and low, famous and obscure, can be so reached so directly by such simple tunes and lyrics?
These songs are not trying to impress or persuade. They simply affirm, with solid – even impassive – conviction, God’s caring nearness.