Monday, October 19, 2009

Road Trip: Day 3 - Exploring History, Experiencing True Worship.....

"The time has come for a revival of public worship as the finest of the fine arts...While there is a call for strong preaching there is even a greater need for uplifting worship."

~Andrew W. Blackwood~

After a luscious moonlit soak in the garden tub under a lavish display of diamonds spilling across the black velvet sky, breathing in fresh mountain air, and a wonderful nights sleep we were ready to explore a little local history. We decided to adventure into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and visit historic Cades Cove.
Being Sunday morning, we wanted to attend a worship service in a tiny country church that is located in the park on the 11 mile one way Cades Cove loop. What we did not count on was the traffic. We were told that October was peak tourist season and to expect heavy traffic, but we were unprepared for bumper to bumper slow crawling stopping to gander at mountain streams and wild turkeys or deer alongside the road traffic. Needless to say the one lane loop does not allow for passing so we missed the service, arriving just as they were letting out. No worries though, an amazing experience of true worship was to present itself.The Cades Cove tour is an auto tour with pull offs at ten historic sites with original buildings used to house and farm the settlement. "Before the first white settles arrived on the scene, Cades Cove had been a part of the Cherokee Indians' domain. Abrams Creek and Abrams Falls are features named for a prominent Cherokee chief named "Old Abram" who at the time lived in a village at Chilhowee on the Little Tennessee River. According to tradition, Old Abrams wife's name was Kate, and Cades (Kate's) Cove was named after her." (source ) Apparently no Cherokees lived in the Cove when the Joshua Jobe family became one of the first to settle there in 1821.
When you enter the Cove you encounter the John Oliver Place, a cabin built in the early 1820's, the oldest log home in Cades Cove. Walking up to the cabin felt like taking steps crossing the barrier of time and history. It gives you a great sense of appreciation for not only the natural beauty of the Cove but of the strength of the people who carved out a life in these rugged mountains. Not much except mules, muscle, simple tools, and neighborly help were used to fell the trees to build homes and clear fields for crops and livestock.The second historic place on the tour is the Primitive Baptist Church that was established by early settlers in 1827. Somehow we missed the sign for this one so we didn't get to experience seeing it.

The next site is the Methodist church. J. C. McCampbell, a blacksmith and carpenter, built this church in 115 days for $115.00. He later served for many years as its minister.
The church was originally established in the 1820's in a log building until it was replaced by the current building in 1902. This quaint church sits in a simple setting without any fancy adornment and it was here that I experienced one of the purest forms of worship I have ever encountered.I wondered at the design of the building, having two sets of front doors, later to learn that this usually indicates the church follows the custom of men sitting on one side of the house and women on the other. But this church didn't follow that custom. The two doors are there because the church borrowed the building plans of another church that did divided its congregation by gender.

Wondering which side was proper to enter, I chose the one on the right, later discovering that my guess had been correct. In the early history of the primitive churches, separation of the sexes in the
church was required. The men occupied the left of the alter, on the south side of the church, while the women occupied the right, on the north side of the church.

The sun began to shine brilliantly through the tall wavy paned windows as I stepped over the threshold, creating a counterpane across the long unused dusty wooden pews. The shuffle of feet across the aged floor could be heard amid soft murmurs of those who entered the sanctuary.
Pews lined both sides of the center aisle leading up to a simple platform with a podium, upon which rested an old Bible. To the left of the platform stood and old upright piano, its finish cracked with age and its ivory keys worn with use. Atop the piano rested a stack of old hymn books, musty with age, dogeared and ragged from much use. The whitewashed walls seemed to hold the hushed sound of holiness.

I am not sure exactly when she entered for I never heard her footfall nor the thump of her cane. I was standing stock still in the back corner by the door envisioning not the people of the present who were milling around, but those of the past. I well imagined the simple costume of homespun or calico, maybe some study denim and a starched white shirt or two. Men and boys with hair slicked into place. Women with hair twisted into buns resting at the nape of their necks, little girls in braids. Sturdy work boots and shoes shined and serviceable for the Lords day.
I thought I could hear the music begin to play on the aged piano, accompanied by hums and snatches of verses being sung. I was drawn back into the present by the cease of activity and the realization that the music was indeed very real. The old church walls began to reverberate with strains of Amazing Grace. It mattered not that the old piano was out of tune if one were to gaze upon the face of the one who played.

Stepping forward to get a closer look I noted her cane resting against the piano side. The once sturdy bench creaked as she gently swayed to the strains floating upward. Her gnarled work worn fingers
barely able to uncurl enough to tap out the tune. But it was her face that was most arresting. A halo of soft gray curls, illumined from the wavy windows, framed her upturned face. Her eyes were closed, her mouth drawn into a slight bow of a smile. I knew with one glance that she was not present in the room. She was conducting a concert for an audience of one, her Lord.To her right stood an older gentleman softly humming and near the back left door a young man began to sing in a deep baritone voice, yet another began to whistle. A lady soprano standing near the alter joined in. Not a movement could be detected in the room save that of her gentle sway, of fingers tapping out the tune, and lips lifting up praise.

Tears gathered in my eyes and I thought my soul would rise and fly as the last notes died away. Here stood a room half full of perfect strangers, all out sightseeing, stopping at an impromptu gathering to worship together. I cannot fully express the beauty of the moment, the connection of the people in the room, nor the praise or adoration that filled my heart.
I thought of the camera around my neck but could not bring myself to lift it. I so wanted to capture the rapture on her face, the counterpane across her hands as they rested on the keys, the faces of the voices swirling around me, but the moment was too sacred and too holy. It was a moment to be experienced and savored in heart and nothing more.

The soprano approached the pianist and asked her of her training to which she replied, "Lawd child, I've not got no trainin' to speak of. You see, when I's a girl we only went to school a little ways. I don't read sa' well and I never did learn to read music. I just hear it with my heart and play it out on my fingers." The soprano then gushed about the pianist abilities and said she had been classically trained and wanted to give the old piano a try.She dusted off a hymn book and sat down to give it a go. While the music that issued forth was indeed technically correct, it lacked the heart and soul of the previous player. At her touch upon the keys, the spell was broken. We were no longer in the holiest of holies but in an ordinary old church that no longer held services.

I watched her gather her cane as a gentleman helped to steady her. The distinct thump and scuffle could be heard as she exited the building, taking with her the sweet presence that had filled the room just moments before. I watched her through the window as she toured the old cemetery out back, pointing with her cane at three little babies graves.It was at this moment that my husband came in search of me, having lost me in the crowd. We strolled along the gravel path of the cemetery until we were facing the pianist, just about to pass one another. I reached for her hand and leaned in to gently whisper in her ear, "Your music blessed me. Thank you." She bestowed upon me the most angelic of smiles and I felt doubly blessed.There may have been no formal prayers or official preaching but a joyful spirit of true worship did arise within the walls of that little church. I guess I didn't miss the service after all.

Miss Sandy

P.S. I hope you don't mind that I am breaking up the travel posts with other posts in between. I don't want to be like the neighbors I grew up near who would invite us over after their vacation and show us hundreds of slides of their trip which was wonderful to them but not so much for those of us who were not actually there. In other words, I don't want to bore you!


Lori said...

it really is pretty there, isn't it?

SharDon Exclusives said...

Oh, how sweet the sound...I am enjoying your wonderful trip. You have such a beautiful way of expressing your adventures.

Lady Farmer said...

A true blessing, indeed!
Thank you for sharing that beauty with us!

Anonymous said...

Your post truly blessed us tonight Sandy. Nalley and I honeymooned at Cade's Cove 17 years ago (Nov.) and when I clicked on your blog, "Somewhere In Time" was playing - which we had played at our wedding! Not being able to travel now, it is nice to see crisp, clear photos of the beautiful scenery again...our photos were not great then and are even more faded now! Such a beautiful story you shared tonight of the blessing in the church. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Oh Sandy there is no boring here. I loved that story. Your writing is so descriptive and gentle. I kept thinking of "Little House on the Prairie." That was a real blessed event.

Joanne Kennedy said...

What a wonderful post! I could picture it taking place in my mind as if I was watching a wonderful movie. You sure do have a great way with words.


Susie said...

Even tho the traffic was horrible for your visit to Cades Cove sounds like it was well worth going.

What a great experience!

Joanie said...

"Accidentally stumbled upon" your blog today... Not really. The Lord knew exactly what I was in need of and brought me to your precious blog. I was drawn in from the first word I read. You, indeed, have a special gift and I am grateful for your willingness to share it.

What a lovely story of your travels. I, too, was drawn into the wonderful presence of the Lord through your words. I'll be back to visit often. Abundant blessings!

Vickie said...

I enjoyed this post so much, Miss Sandy! What a blessing to be witness to such a praise service by the pianist. I'm glad you got there just in time. If you'd gone to the church service, you'd have probably missed that "Amazing Grace".

Charlene said...

Love you sharing with us. Also loved the $115 in 115 day church story. Aren't Annversary trips fun!!!!! I post a few photos from mine today & I hope you'll come visit. Yours was much longer. Looks like you had a great time.

Let me know when you have a chance to order your soldering kit. I think you will be thrilled with it. So much better than the other one we discussed.

Janet said...

beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. as soon as i saw your first 2 photos, i knew exactly where you were. that truly is God's country.

Millie said...

Thanks for taking me back in time to a visit to the Smokies with my parents. It was at this time of yeart and the fall colors were so beautiful! We also experienced the slow traffic at Cades Cove!

KathyB. said...

Joanie said it, the traffic keeping you from one service was no accident, nor was "stumbling upon" the old church to hear music that lifted you up.

Years ago, when we attended a large church, there were many, many musically gifted people who performed every Sunday. Some of them are famous and most would recognize their name. All performed with voice or instrument, and one Sunday morning it became clear to me THEY PERFORMED, when a brother got up and played the keyboard to accompany his song from his heart. Truly a song for His Beloved, God. Unlike the loud applause the 'performers' got, the brother received hushed silence....then I knew we all knew the difference..

Linda said...

Oh Miss Sandy, Praise God for the beautiful moments you shared there in that most charming place!

To me - that is what I always seek, REAL worship, and sometimes it occurs during a real church service, but most of the time, I find it comes from the unexpected moments of life, such as the one you experienced in this lovely country church.

Your photos are again lovely, but more so, the way that you write really takes me along on the trip. Thanks for sharing!

Shopgirl said...

Since we didn't get a vacation this year, it is so good to see new places. Thank you for taking me along, lovely!
Hugs, Mary

LiLi M. said...

Beautiful post from beginning to end, no nano second boring, but interesting!

maggiegracecreates said...

Many years ago now, I was a one year survivor of breast cancer when we went to Cades Cove on a weekend trip. I sat on the back pew of that very church and thanked God for blessing me with my health. I marveled at the beauty in the simplicity of the building and the beauty streaming from those windows behind the pulpit.

There was no music, no praise lifted song, but the Holy feeling you described in this post took me straight back to a praise lifted by my heart that day.

Thank you for this post.

Vee said...


I've just scrolled quickly through and please know that I will be back to give it a more thorough look. I so enjoy seeing people's journeys and their parts of the country. Yours is particularly lovely.

I tried to send an email using your new address. Hope that I remembered correctly.

Hope to see you again in a week or so.

Anonymous said...

I felt like I was right there with you in that beautiful little church.
You truly have a gift to express yourself in words. Thank you for sharing with all of us...and letting us "take the journey" with you.
God bless,
BB from Ga.

Cheptoek said...

Oh Sandy, how beautiful and so well told! I felt I briefly transported to that church for that special moment you experienced. I believe the Lord specially created that special and blessed you must have felt. That was so sweet of you that you thanked the pianist!
Your photos are always very beautiful. Do you ever consider putting them in a book and publishing them? I have always enjoyed especially the photos you take of nature and the outdoors.

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