CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©
I am listening to Five Hundred Miles Away From Home, written by Hedy West. It may have been passed down to her in oral tradition from her grandmother. It is a perfect combination of words and music, like Mary Did You Know, Mark Lowry’s words and Buddy Greene’s melody.
Folk music spoke to me from the time I was a little boy, because it told a story. Other musical forms tell stories, too, like opera, but Folk not only told them in a way I could understand, but they told the stories of me and my people, poor people, hard scrabble farmers, coal miners. I heard it in my heart, not just my ears.
Folk and Country music are cousins. They have a lot in common. Folk and Country are both Prodigal Son music. You’re a long way off, and you yearn for home.
Folk music, though, has hope, restrained, but still hope. Hard times, come again no more. This land is your land, this land is my land. There is a chance Charley will actually get off the MTA.
Country is more about boozy romance and self-inflicted loss. As someone has said, “You never hear a country song about how my wife loves me, my pickup runs, I’m sober, and my dog didn’t die.” The Prodigal Son has friends in low places, but he’s sort of stuck there.
Folk is, I think, not just about longing for home, but longing for the wholeness that home represents. That is why folk is my genre and Five Hundred Miles is my anthem
I am 500 miles from home here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, quite literally, 500 miles from my spiritual home, the Indiana University campus, where my ashes will eventually reside. It is where Helen and I met and married. It is where my life began and where it will end.
So we are moving home. Even then, though, I will still be 500 miles from home. It is why I look forward to death at the same time that I am willing to put if off as long as possible. Death is the way home. Home is where my spirit belongs, where I will be whole.
Life is 500 ills and thus 500 deaths. Death is the final cure for all ills, because it means, as the great old folk singer, The Rev. Gary Davis put it, “I don’t have to die no more.”
In the meantime, I shall make it easier on both Death and myself by moving to Bloomington, so that it’s just a couple of miles we have to travel together instead of 500. I am sort of hoping that by treating Death kindly and considerately in this way, Death will return the favor.
John Robert McFarland
Okay, so it’s actually 625 miles from Iron Mountain to Bloomington, but Hedy West didn’t write a song about 625 miles.
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]
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