taking the words of Jesus seriously

Dale and I became fast friends a few years ago because of our love for the music of that Missouri band of rural hippie farmers known as the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Their song “Beauty in the River” is one of my favorite all-time hymns (of the “not-actually-a-hymn” variety).

there’s a beauty in the river
there’s a beauty in the stream
there’s a beauty in the forest at night
when the lonely nightbird screams

Dale and his wife, Mary, loved the song “Beauty in the River” so much that the lyrics were printed on the back of their 1979 wedding program. He and his groomsmen even sang it after the ceremony.

there’s a truth in the eyes of my woman
that no mortal ever knew
she lights my way like the coming of the day
when the sun shines on the dew

Dale told me he always joked with Mary that since he sang to her at their wedding, he’d also sing at her funeral if he got the chance …

and there’s so much time for livin’
and so much time to die
there’s so much time for laughin’
and so much time to cry

Dale lost Mary and one of their daughters in a car wreck the day after Christmas in 2005; the lyrics to “Beauty in the River” were printed in Mary’s funeral bulletin. Dale did his best to sing it at her visitation; “It was probably one of the hardest, most emotional, and coolest things I ever did.”

we must all stand in the water
we must find it when we roam
it don’t matter what is said
we can wake up from the dead
and roll away the stone

Words from the Ozark Mountain Daredevils are forever treasured in Dale’s heart. They don’t explain the death of his wife and daughter, and I doubt they ease the pain much, but for Dale they are far, far more than song lyrics … they reach down, down, down into the mystery of his soul where words and understanding cease to exist; where his spirit speaks mysteriously with the Spirit of God; where somehow someway Dale senses his wife and daughter aren’t really lost to him after all.

From the same band that gives us the foot-stompin’ anthem “If You Wanna Get to Heaven” (according to the Ozarks, “if you wanna get to heaven, you gotta” … well, you know) and the always exciting “Chicken Train” (sing along if you know the words: “laser beam, in my dream”) we also get the worshipful “Beauty in the River” (as I said earlier, it’s one of my favorite hymns of the “not-actually-a-hymn” variety).

we must all stand in the water
we must find it when we roam
it don’t matter what is said
we can wake up from the dead
and roll away the stone

I love the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and I’m thankful God doesn’t rely solely on respectable, proper, seminary-trained professional clergy to speak to us (as a seminary-trained sort-of professional clergy myself, I confess the Daredevils are just a whole lot more fun).

For Dale, there’s a connection with the Daredevils that goes beyond a catchy tune and great lyrics. It’s a connection that is at once book-ends marking the physical beginning and the end of a stage of his journey, and at the same time a connection with the Eternal which transcends time, space, understanding, and even life and death.

You can say what you want about God and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, but I trust Dale.

You can say what you want, but as Dale himself will tell you …

it don’t matter what is said
we can wake up from the dead
and roll away the stone …

Bert Montgomery is a writer, minister and college lecturer living in Starkville, Mississippi. His new book is Psychic Pancakes & Communion Pizza (2011, Smyth & Helwys).

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About The Author


Bert Montgomery grew up outside of New Orleans, lived in Memphis, and dearly loves the state that connects the two. He has interviewed legendary folksinger Arlo Guthrie, members of the Allman Brothers and Tedeschi Trucks Bands, and even the deceased monk Thomas Merton. Bert has written about everything from prayer to great hymns, from gender identity to board games, from horror movies and classic comedies to Mardi Gras and sports, and a whole lot about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the midst of it all. His book include Of Mice and Ministers, Psychic Pancakes & Communion Pizza, and Elvis, Willie, Jesus & Me. His day jobs (most writers have day jobs) involve teaching sociology and religion courses at Mississippi State University and also pastoring University Baptist Church, Starkville.

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