Wayfaring Stranger

As for many others, this global pandemic and its consequences have been difficult. Though I have been blessed enough not to have any close friends or family that have fallen ill, it has nonetheless affected everyone and everything in some way, on a global scale.

For the first few weeks part of me actually enjoyed being confined to home. Being super introverted, and having gotten myself involved in lots of various activities, the peace, quiet, and lack of frenetic pace was welcome. The last couple weeks, though, have been difficult. There’s no need to go into detail, as I’m sure many of you have had similar feelings as the crisis continues.

Last night, though, something happened that I found very encouraging. It’s personal enough that I debated whether or not to share it with anyone, but finally decided that it’s worth it if it may impact someone else. 

It’s not uncommon for me to have lots of dreams during the night; with some of my sleeping problems it often feels like I dreamt more than I rested. Usually I don’t remember them all that well, but every once in a while, I’ll get something that’s creative and/or memorable enough it really sticks in my mind. I had one of those last night. I know, it probably feels a bit weird for someone to be telling you about a dream. It feels weird to say it. It’s irrelevant at this point whether you put any stock in dreams or not; it really encouraged me, and I hope it will you too. Whether it “meant” anything or not is something I’ll let you decide for yourself. Perhaps it’s an odd thing to share. So be it. 

In my dream, I remember that I was on a journey. I don’t remember why, or where exactly I was going, but I was simply walking somewhere. For a while, I was just walking, and nothing extraordinary was happening. I remember seeing other people traveling too, but we never interacted beyond simply acknowledging each other’s presence. It was a bright sunny day, and the weather was cool but pleasant. There was green everywhere, and it seemed like a beautiful spring day. I was walking on a sidewalk in a moderately natural place (something like a park). It wasn’t important to talk to the other people I met on occasion; we all knew we were on a journey, and it we were all focused on our own path. 

This was a very pleasant journey, and I had no doubts about reaching my destination. Imagine yourself on a lazy afternoon stroll with the most pleasant weather imaginable, and you’ll have a good idea what it was like. Like most dreams, time was rather ambiguous. I could have continued this way for several minutes, or several years. Eventually I became aware that things had changed. It wasn’t obvious when this change had happened, but suddenly it just “was.” I noticed I was wearing rubber boots, and instead of walking on a sidewalk I was walking in grass. The grass became damp, then wet. Over time, the ground became softer. I never thought about changing my path; I knew the only way was forward and there was no other alternative. The grass became saturated, then muddy. Before long, walking wasn’t as easy as it had been. I noticed that moving forward took more effort. Instead of walking along without effort, I now had to think about taking the next step. 

Photo by Athena from Pexels

Still, I plodded on, and the mud grew thicker. My progress slowed, and I began to feel the mud holding me back. Instead of looking around, I now was forced to watch my feet and heard nothing but the squelching sound of the mud. My legs began to ache, and I was struggling for each step, waving my arms about to keep my balance. I realized how slowly I was moving, and began to despair of ever reaching my destination. Frustration began to be replaced by panic as I wondered if I would even be able to escape, or if I would be trapped in the mud forever. 

Finally, I looked up and around for some sign of relief. There were still occasional travelers around and near me, but they seemed to be walking without effort through what felt almost impossible to me. I couldn’t believe it! I never called out for help, but I began to wonder why no one stopped to assist. Surely it was obvious to everyone how much difficulty I was having? But each person seemed absorbed in their own journey, and paid no attention. My wonder turned to anger. How could they keep looking so casual and distracted when I could hardly move? But then, an unwelcome but gentle thought intruded into my growing rage. “How do you know they are not struggling, just as you are? Your journey is not theirs. Whether or not they are fighting for each step, you are here for a reason. It’s not your place to look at circumstances in your life (or in others’ lives) and cry, ‘Fair,’ or ‘Unfair!’ Your job is to just keep moving.” 

This thought, though initially resisted, flooded through my consciousness. Strangely, it brought a sense of relief. It didn’t matter how easy things had been in the past, or could be in the future. It didn’t matter whether things looked better (from my perspective) to other people than to me. Those things did not need to matter. My journey was my own, and no one person’s journey would look the same as another’s. This thought process consumed all my focus for some time, and when I came to my senses again I realized that walking was easier.

The mud was gone. Instead of walking on a sidewalk again, I was now walking on solid ground, but in a pool of water. The water was crisp and clear, with a clean, bright scent. I looked down and watched as the water gently lapped about my feet and slowly, with each step, cleansed the mud from my boots. Eventually I realized that I could feel the cool freshness of the water in my feet. It was not icy cold, but rather refreshingly cool, and I could feel my strength and spirits returning as I marveled at the twinkling sunlight refracting from the water. Refreshed and encouraged, I looked up. My destination was not in sight. I still had no idea how far I had to travel, or where I was going, but I knew that I could continue onward.

Image by Taliesi from Pixabay.

It was about this point that the dream ended and I awoke… but there’s one key detail I haven’t mentioned. I was aware of it throughout the entire dream, but until the very end I didn’t realize its significance. During this entire journey, I was singing. I knew precisely what I was singing, and the song never changed. I did not know all the words, but I knew the meaning, and that was enough. When I was caught in the mud, I myself don’t remember vocalizing the music, but it never left me just the same. The song is an old spiritual called “Wayfaring Stranger.” If you’re not familiar with it, have a listen here: 

I can’t explain why this song, of all things, was permeating the dream. I have only heard it once in the past few years. For my part, I awoke encouraged and thoughtful about the implications of the dream. I will not try to explain or “interpret” anything about it. Make of it what you will; but I hope you find it encouraging.

The main part of my post is finished, but if you’re still here, thanks for sticking with me through that bizarre story. Now, I’m going to “geek out” just a tad. After I woke this morning I simply had to find various recordings of the song, and I’ll share some of my favorites here. If you’re interested enough to watch several of them, you’ll notice that each version has its own flavor and particular beauty. It’s one of the many things I love about music!

Johnny Cash
Tennessee Ernie Ford

This one was in the recent movie “1917,” and probably where my memory of the song came from. Its place in the film is haunting, yet strangely comforting. The entire film is well worth watching, but this video is a good second choice.

Jos Slovick

I’m going full-on history/music nerd with this one. If you’ve never heard of The Sacred Harp, it’s worth listening to, at least once. A traditional Southern American phenomenon, it expanded far beyond a simple collection of spirituals to become an important part of culture in rural areas of the Deep South during the 19th century. While it nearly died out in the 20th century, it’s been enjoying a resurgence in recent years (not only in the South, but also throughout the country, and even around the world).

Be warned: this does not sound like the polished, clean singing that our 21st-century ears are accustomed to hearing. It’s raw, earthy, wild. It’s anything but subtle, and is traditionally sung fully-voiced and without abandon. Some people find it difficult to listen to, but I find it has its own special beauty. Whether you decide you enjoy the sound or not, it’s worth experiencing. 

Sacred Harp singing

In case you’re wondering, traditionally the singers sing through the first verse without words, and on modified solfege (“do, fa, sol, “etc.). After this first “warm up,” they sing through the song with the actual text.

I’ve included the text for the song below (there are some minor variations between versions). Thank you for reading today, and I hope you found this quirky post uplifting. You are welcome to share any thoughts publicly below, or with me privately. If you listened to several recordings of the song, which was your favorite?

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger,
I’m trav’ling through this world below;
There is no sickness, toil, nor danger,
In that bright world to which I go.
I’m going there to see my father,
I’m going there no more to roam;
I’m just a going over Jordan,
I’m just a going over home.

I know dark clouds will gather o’er me,
I know my pathway’s rough and steep;
But golden fields lie out before me,
Where weary eyes no more shall weep.
I’m going there to see my mother,
She said she’d meet me when I come;
I’m just a going over Jordan,
I’m just a going over home.

I want to sing salvations story,
In concert with the blood-washed band;
I want to wear a crown of glory,
When I get home to that good land.
I’m going there to see my brothers,
They passed before me one by one;
I’m just a going over Jordan,
I’m just a going over home.

I’ll soon be free from every trial,
This form will rest beneath the sod;
I’ll drop the cross of self-denial,
And enter in my home with God.
I’m going there to see my Saviour,
Who shed for me His precious blood;
I’m just a going over Jordan,
I’m just a going over home.

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