Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday Soundtrack: Green Pastures

I don't know when I first heard this song. I must have been very young for in my earliest memory of it I was already singing along with the people on stage. Lately, this song has been much in my mind.

The lyrics are evocative. Like a painter using negative space the lyricist calls to mind what we have lost, what we don't have, by telling us what we shall gain, what we shall have. We are told that we are going home, not that where we are is not home. We are told that we are going to green pastures, not that we live in dead brown fields. We are told that "Even the Lord will be in that number" not that all our family has died and left us alone in this place. The contrast is implied and powerful.

The second verse of the song changes perspective. Instead of talking about "we" it talks about "those who have strayed". These are the ones we love who might not be in that number with the Lord. There is danger that we might not see them again. But there is hope. The Shepherd is good. He has left the 99 in the fold and has gone out searching for the one.

This song was written by someone who has experienced loss but not loss of hope. When I was young I thought it was a pretty song. Now I pray it is true, and am strengthened by the last verse that warns against heeding the voice that would lead to despair. As the Creed says, "I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." Wherefore despair?

The best version of this song is on an album released by Maranatha Music in the early 1980s. The name of the album is "Down Home Praise" but it is out of print and Maranatha says they can't re-release it because their rights to some of the songs have expired. I also like the Maharry Trio's version. (They were a bluegrass band based in Louisiana who played in churches and camp meetings in the south east United States in the 1980s.) This performance is by Alison Krauss. She's good but the audience is too rowdy.

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