Swearing at mules, singing hymns of praise
I get a weekly newspaper from Westcliffe, Colo. It’s called the Wet Mountain Tribune. A college classmate of mine sends it to me with the hope, I think, that I will retire there. I might have considered it but for the windstorm chronicled in one of the latest editions: winds of more than 150 mph, trees down, cars crushed, decks demolished. It’s a wild place.
But what caught my eye in the latest edition is a column by Willdra Walker, which she calls “The Will to Worship.” It’s about an old guy — William Berry — who lived from 1869 to 1956 and settled in the Wet Mountain Valley. He apparently came from England at age 30, bought a ranch, and with his wife and their sons worked the ranch.
Their circumstances were austere: the farm/ranch was some miles from the nearest town, so they had to rely on their own ingenuity — raising a garden, taking care of cattle. There was no church nearby but apparently Mr. Berry was a deeply religious man worshipped in what Walker refers to as a “sincere Christian way.”
He was gifted with an ear and voice for music, taking especially to the old hymns, which he boomed out at the top of his voice as he plowed. Walker describes him as singing, “Bringing in the sheaves … bringing in the sheaves,” as he worked and worshipped.
At some point, a mule or horse would not be doing what it was supposed to be doing, so Mr. Berry is said to have stopped in mid-sentence of his song/praise and swear mightily at the offending beast: “You (expletive) ol’ cuss!” which was followed by another song.
Berry was described as a Bible reader, keeping a Bible in a small woodshed where he chopped and stacked wood. When he tired of chopping, he is said to have pulled a Bible from under an eave to read and contemplate the Scripture. Restored, he would return to work.
I thought about William Berry on Advent Sunday: swearing at mules and singing hymns of praise; reading his Bible, sitting on a stump in woods next to a pile of wood that he had chopped; stashing that Bible carefully under the eaves in a special place. Weary from work, he stopped to find restoration in reading the Bible.
It’s what we seek, isn’t it? A time to praise our Creator when we can, lament the stubbornness in our lives that pulls us away from songs of joy to rediscover hidden treasures of verse and hope that we have tucked away safely. Advent gives us that time, the opportunity to pull away from the day’s labor and find restoration and peace. It is the promise inherent in the season. There is a book, tucked up under the eaves … waiting.