Reflections . . .
“His Master’s Voice”
When the fall foliage starts to flame, a blanket of nostalgia descends upon our household. I rummage around in closets and turn up an assortment of old things. There is no accounting for such behavior. It is the obverse of spring-cleaning, I suppose.
One fall I transposed old LPs onto CDs, for I did not have the heart to toss out our collection of vinyl platters begun nearly fifty years ago without preserving the music my wife and I treasure as a chronicle of our lives. So it was that I spent a Saturday morning listening to an old record with the title “His Master’s Voice.” The singer was George Beverly Shea, better known as “Bev” to his legions of fans.
We had three Shea records, the oldest of which, “Christmas Hymns,” dates back to 1959, when Jan and I were beginning our senior years in high school, unaware of each other but apparently predisposed to liking the sound of a deep and velvety bass singing the message of the Good Book.
Bev Shea is not, as I long thought, a good ol’ southern boy, though he has long been associated with gospel music and Billy Graham, products of the religious culture of the American South. He was born in Winchester, Ontario, Canada, the son of a Methodist minister. One of the original members of the Graham crusade team and longtime gospel singer on the Graham “the Hour of Decision” radio series, Bev aged before our eyes.
Shea passed away in Asheville, North Carolina, on April 16, 2013, at the remarkable age of 104. Inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary had the honor of making the casket in which Shea was buried. Shea visited the prison prior to his death to inspect the handiwork of the inmates. One of them approached Shea, shoke his hand and said in a voice filled with awe, “I have never met a man who is 104.” Bev Shea deadpanned, “I haven’t either.”
For readers who are too young to have heard George Beverly Shea in his prime, I can only say that his voice, so deep and resonant, was the perfect instrument to capture the power of the old hymns he favored. I cannot sing “Nearer My God to Thee” or “Sweet Hour of Prayer” without hearing Bev in my head and wishing God had given me such a voice with which to bring legions of the unrepentant to their knees. It is said that when the Graham crusade went to Australia many years ago, Shea’s records outsold rock-and-roll ones during the height of the rock-and-roll craze.
I know that it is the message and not the medium that is important. God uses many means to communicate the truth that “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Still each of us wishes that we were more gifted, more eloquent in sharing “The Wonder of It All.” In our media-saturated age, where preachers have taken to Power-Point sermons and electronic gadgetry fills the newest temples of the Lord, it is hard to see how Christians gifted with a so-so voice and only a Sunday school knowledge of “What God has Promised” can be heard through the din of modernity.
“The Wonder of It All,” to borrow the title of another of Bev’s favorite hymns, is that God does not require us to be gold-plated winners, only gold-plated faithful. When Shea was once asked where he would like to be when Christ returned, he said “On pitch!” Given his musical gifts, Shea might have been a star of stage and screen, but he chose instead to use his talent in the service of the Lord. “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” his song says.
We live in a noisy world.
With so much to distract us from being faithful witnesses for Jesus, it is all the more important to listen for the Master’s voice. Then “Standing on His Promises,” we shall be “Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep.”
Dr. Milton C. Sernett