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Pat's poem, Barry Moser's illustration. Proceeds to AWA outreach. For the text of the poem, click here.

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My mother telling stories on her last Christmas day

Yesterday I received a card from my daughter, Bethany, that was beautiful. On the cover, the words: When Peace, Like a River.

A rush of memories came, as she knew they would. My mother, whom I have finally written myself into forgiving and loving truly with all my heart, had a hard, hard life. And countless times I heard her singing to herself an old hymn, When peace like a river, attendeth my way . . .

Her father was a southern Missouri fundamentalist Christian who walked the floor at night struggling with what he perceived (rightly) were contradictions in the Bible — which to him meant the whole thing was worthless. He gave it up, embraced Darwin, and told my mother as a young girl, “I’d rather see you in your grave than baptized.” When she was an early teenager, she put Sunday clothes in a paper bag, changed into them behind bushes alongside the country road, walked to a Methodist camp meeting and got herself secretly baptized. Then in her late teens she joined a deep-down fundamentalist sect called “Mount Zion Holiness community.” Women there never cut their hair, wore their skirts to their boot tops, their sleeves to their wrists – almost unimaginable in those hot, southern summers. Their belief was that there are “two works of grace — salvation sand anctification.”
After sanctification, it was impossible for believers to sin.

My mother, Lelah Ridgway Vought, in earnest discussion with our theologian daughter, Laurel Schneider

Then she married my father, had two kids, and four years later divorced him for his drinking and whoring. (Another telling, for another time: he, too, has his story.)

She returned to the holiness community, rented a farmhouse on their land, across a two-track dirt road from their tabernacle. They considered her a fallen sinner for divorcing; they loved her and set themselves to trying to redeem her. She told me they were “the little, stingin’ kind,” and to stay away from them. But on summer evenings she sat on the porch during camp meetings in the tabernacle, and sang along as they sang hymns in four-part harmony – the music that Garrison Keillor has called the most sensual music in the world. Only once, in her entire life, did she ever again go to a church.

Granddaughter Sarah’s first violin

But she had a favorite hymn. Only the first verse, as the others are full of the theology she had fled. The words she sang are remarkable, given her story. It was written by Isaac Watts, who wrote some 600 hymns, among which is “Joy to the World.”

The card from Bethany brought my mother so strongly back to my mind and heart, I looked for a recording of the song, and was surprised not to find only one poor one in English, but a good number, both sung in Korean and instrumental. (Inserted at the end of this post). I chose a beautiful instrumental recording: When Peace, Like a River, Taiwan Gospel Book Room, Hymns of Praise 6.

Here are the words:
***
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows, like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul!

***

Bless your heart. Whatever your tradition, may you be able to find joy in it, or in the memory of it, in this holy season. May it be well with your soul. May you be blessed with music and with peace, like a river.

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Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) is the organization that is carrying on the work Pat established and carried on for more than 30 years. To discover how you can write with an AWA Method Group, or become trained as an AWA facilitator, please click this link.