We stood in a half-moon around his bed, as the white sheet rose and fell with each slow breath. They say the hearing is the last thing to go, so we gathered bedside to sing an old farmer home.
I don’t think the bachelor-farmer would mind me saying that we were part of his family—this ragtag choir of thirtysomethings with hymnals open. We came to worship, and to remind each other what it means to live, and then to leave.
We pressed open our church hymnals to sing the first song:
Just as I am without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me
and that thou bidst me come to thee
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
I remember watching our old friend as we sang over him that day. He was a holy marvel. I remember how his eyes seemed to cut holes straight through the ceiling toward Heaven. I looked up, too, hoping to steal a shared glimpse of what captivated him so.
I wonder now if maybe this is a final earthly grace of God. I wonder if the Father grants the dying a vision of what waits up ahead, before we step through the door?
We sang hymn after hymn in the nursing-home room that day, but I only realized it today: Even though I couldn’t see Heaven with my eyes, I could “see” it with my ears.
The Psalms tell us that music can usher us into the presence of God, to help us see kingdom-come more clearly. And this, I believe, is a sort of human echolocation.
Maybe you’ve heard of certain animals—dolphins and bats, for instance—that use echolocation to know where they are, and where they’re headed. They make a sound, and through the use of echoes, they know their location.
We sang a capella that day around the bed of a dying man. Our words echoed through a room, and it was as if God peeled back the heavens and offered us a glimpse of the Throne Room. I couldn’t see God with my eyes that day, hard as I tried. But I could see Him with my ears.
Some might say we witnessed the early stages of death; five days later the old man went home. But this I know: we were really witnessing the miracle of a birth. And in the echo of a song, if I pinch my eyes shut real tight, I can see it right there: the sandaled feet of a Savior welcoming a farmer home.
While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
clouds will overspread the sky;
but when traveling days are over,
not a shadow, not a sigh.