Saturday, March 5, 2016

Day 22: Saturday: Down deep in the sea

From the onset my minister … was elated at Oscar’s request. It was the minister then, who chose the day and hour, who seemed blessed with foreknowledge, because that Wednesday afternoon in early August seemed created for outdoor baptism—warm and windless, with last night’s shower rising damp and aromatic from the bunchgrass…
    I had a cheeseburger and french fries; Oscar opted for the hot beef sandwich. I sipped at my iced tea and helped Oscar with his coffee. We had barely finished when I saw the minister’s black Ford pull up to the curb. I pushed Oscar in his wheelchair outside and the preacher and I helped him into the car. Actually, Oscar could manage by himself, but with great effort; even then, he could not straighten himself, so he had to waddle close to the ground, using his arms like a skier uses poles for balance.
    The preacher… was a jolly obese man whose sermons were a lot like most Kansas waterways, neither deep nor wide. I don’t believe he cared. He preferred the song to the word; on Sunday nights, in fact, that’s all we did— sing. “Shall We Gather at the River?” “When the Roll is Called up Yonder.” “In the Garden.”  I still know all three verses to “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.” One of my favorites is “Down Deep in the Sea”:

My sins have been cast in the depths of the sea,
Down deep in the sea.
So deep they can never be brought against me,
Down deep in the sea.

Isn’t that a helluva concept…? You take all of your sins and secure them in a gunnysack, say, then affix a flatiron and toss the whole shebang into the sea, into water so deep they can never be brought against you. I try to imagine how deep that might be … but the mind boggles.

Anyway, it’s a song that the basso profundo loves to sing, because its last notes are maybe almost as low as the seabottom:

Down, down, down, down, down in the depths of the sea –
The sins of the past are all gone at last,
Down in the depths of the sea.

We sang this song as we rode south towards Shannon’s pasture and its meandering creek. Oscar strained to bring forth several grunts and a narrow assortment of gutturals, most of them uttered at the wrong times, but nobody, including the cattle near the barbed-wire fences at the roadside, seemed to mind. Before we had finished more than a couple of other hymns we were there.

What was sung at your baptism? Does it continue to have significance for you? Give thanks for the gift of song, and for the power of music to convey meaning.

Extra: To listen to ‘Down in the depths of the sea,’ click here.

This Death by Drowning
Reading from William Kloefkorn This Death by Drowning (Lincoln, NE/London: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 71-2.

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