Good Friday With Johnny Cash

When I was offered this opportunity to blog here at Catholic Exchange, I was begged not to “get all pious” on y’all.  It seems that whatever gifts I was given to serve the Kingdom lay more in the humor department and less in Theology, and these were the gifts that were being tapped to write here.

That’s fine.  I love getting gifts.  And if the giver is God Himself, I’m certainly not going to gripe because I got “funny” and not “spiritually astute”.

But all this means that on days like today, on days when even a moment’s reflection on the events of 2000 years ago can reduce grown folks to tears, what I have to offer runs the risk of being trivial, if not downright disrespectful.  So I had prudently planned on keeping my mouth shut and my thoughts to myself.  I’d leave the Good Friday posting to people who could do it justice.  Then I ran across a video that a fellow blogger posted on Facebook, and plans changed.

Growing up, I vividly remember an older woman with violently red hair, a little whisp of a grandma, really, who sang in the choir of my childhood church.  Other than her technicolor hair, you’d never notice her among all the other singers- until Palm Sunday.  Then, year after year, she’d come to the front of the church, and perform a solo rendition of “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”  The whole church would remain absolutely silent as this powerhouse soprano voice would pour out of this little old grandma lady, and the only movement would be people wiping tears from their eyes.


At Mass this past Palm Sunday, the same song was chosen as the recessional hymn.  The shameful truth is that I am not a music lover in general, and particularly dislike singing in Church.  Isn’t it enough for me to listen politely to the choir doing it?  Do I have to join in, too?  So when my kids saw me not only belting out the song, but doing so without use of hymnal to refer to, they were stunned.  Then they politely looked away as I teared up, remembering that red haired singer from my youth and realizing that by now, she was probably singing along with me from the other side.

So this Good Friday morning, while I should have been engaging in some lecto divina or a Rosary or at very least a penitential bathroom cleaning, I was instead on Facebook, clicking on the link my friend posted.  Like I wrote in a previous post, I’m super horrible at embedding video in my posts here, and I can’t bring myself to badger Josh the Patient IT guy on a day like this, so I’m just going to link to the song right here.  Go listen to it, then come back for the exciting conclusion (and point!) of this post.

I love Johnny, and I love the song, so I patiently sat through his introduction.  And then Anita Carter’s voice joined in, and I was reminded so strongly of the red haired choir member that I got teary.  I was overwhelmed by the layers of childhood nostalgia, spiritual gravity, and amazement in seeing such a shining example of religious devotion expressed by a rock and roll superstar on a TV variety show.  For a minute, it was hard to breathe, and so I scrolled through the comments while I got myself back together.

Then this comment made me stop:

I’m an atheist, but every time I hear Johnny cash the story telling and devotion around the bible and god is so strong, humane full of dignity, honor, reliance, redemption and forgiveness that I can actually believe in it and learn as a human being what it means to be a true, loving believer.

Don’t know about God,

But I believe in the Man, Johnny Cash.

So here’s my honest confession:  sometimes I am doubtful that I’m serving the Kingdom by writing funny posts about grocery shopping or childbirth or Attending Mass With Lots of Little Crazy People.  Sometimes I suspect that any humorous things I may write do such a shoddy job of expressing my devotion to God that people would be shocked if I told them that’s what I was trying to do.

But then, I listen to Johnny and Anita singing.  And I see that their honest use of the gifts God gave them move hearts that wouldn’t be moved by more “traditionally religious” folks.  The atheist who wrote that comment on YouTube was only willing to be moved by the story in song because he first saw the story lived out in Cash.

There are people you meet who may only be willing to give God a listen because they first saw how you responded to His voice.

On that first Good Friday, Christ didn’t offer Himself solely for the people who were holy enough to stay with Him for the whole thing.  It wasn’t an offering just for the people who obviously aided Him during His Passion- the Veronicas, the Beloved Disciples, the Repentant Thieves and yes, the Converted Soldiers.  That offering was for all of us- the ones who Ran Away, the ones who would Doubt, and the ones whose stories would be known only to God.

And His gifts aren’t limited to atonement for our sins, though if that was the only gift He ever gave us, it would be enough and more.  God is gratuitous in His gifts, and they are as varied as His creation.  The gift He gave St. Augustine was certainly employed to further the Kingdom, but so was the gift he gave Johnny Cash.

The gift He’s given me wasn’t a mistake or a fluke, or something not really very useful.  Humor can reach hearts that theology or music can’t.  And the gifts that God gave you can reach people that wouldn’t be reached in any other way.  So while we spend today thanking Christ Jesus for His gift on the Cross, thank Him also for the other gifts He gave you- ones that can help bring souls to the profound gift of Good Friday.

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Cari Donaldson lives on a New England farm with her high school sweetheart, their six kids, and a menagerie of animals of varying usefulness. She is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories, and has a website for her farm, Ghost Fawn Homestead.

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