“Sunday Morning with the Sensational Nightingales”
The Christian Century, vol. 120, no. 12, (2003)
“It was not the Five Mississippi Blind Boys who lifted me off the ground that Sunday morning as I drove down for the paper, some oranges, and bread. Nor was it the Dixie Hummingbirds or the Soul Stirrers, despite their quickening name, or even the Swan Silvertones who inspired me to look over the commotion of trees into the open vault of the sky. No, it was the Sensational Nightingales who happened to be singing on the gospel station early that Sunday morning and must be credited with the bumping up of my spirit, the arousal of the mice within. I have always loved this harmony, like four, sometimes five trains running side by side over a contoured landscape– make that a shimmering, red-dirt landscape, wildflowers growing along the silver tracks, lace tablecloths covering the hills, the men and women in white shirts and dresses walking in the direction of a tall steeple. Sunday morning in a perfect Georgia. But I am not here to describe the sound of the falsetto whine, sepulchral bass, alto and tenor fitted snugly in between; only to witness my own minor ascension that morning as they sang, so parallel, about the usual themes, the garden of suffering, the beads of blood on the forehead, the stone before the hillside tomb, and the ancient rolling waters we would all have to cross some day. God bless the Sensational Nightingales, I thought as I turned up the volume, God bless their families and their powder blue suits. They are a far cry from the quiet kneeling I was raised with, a far, hand-clapping cry from the candles that glowed in the alcoves and the fixed eyes of saints staring down from their corners. Oh, my cap was on straight that Sunday morning. And I was fine keeping the car on the road. No one would ever have guessed I was being lifted into the air by nightingales, hoisted by their beaks like a long banner that curls across an empty blue sky, caught up in the annunciation of these high, most encouraging tidings.