“Country Gospel”

Abbie and Jerry in Nashville

Abbie and Jerry Martin at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville

“Country Gospel”

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.

Thanks, Red.

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.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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2 Responses to “Country Gospel”

  1. M&JD says:

    Girlfriend: You are a constant delightful surprise to me! You and Jerry performing country gospel, no less! And that the lyrics speak so directly to you. Yes indeed.

    So I never got into white people’s gospel (will have to be given advice on this by you) but listened to Al Green’s Greatest Gospel Hits the whole way down to DC. Best track EVER: “Straighten out your Life” replayed 1000 times. And as one sings along, a [co-religionist] can just replace the word Jesus with Jah. And Amazing Grace in all it’s versions is the best.

    Joy: you and me, kid, will never run out of topics to explore. Big surprises keep emerging!

    • Abigail says:

      It’s inexhaustible, I do second that. BTW, it’s not me and Jerry singing at the Ryman. It’s Jerry & me posing for the photographer at the Ryman. Hey, you do what you can!

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