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Dec. 18 Christmas Jelly: The Heavenly Choir

            

Christmas Jelly is our latest book of short stories. Learn more at http://www.creekbank.net
Christmas Jelly.. Learn more at www.creekbank.net

   

The Heavenly Choir

Christmas season—The Dry Creek Church choir sings beautifully in a way beyond description. It’s much more than a musical . . . it’s a production . . . replete with drama, stories, and best of all, inspiring music.

 

Joseph and Mary enter the back of our sanctuary. It’s Tom and Konnie Humphreys. Tom and Konnie are former hippies and always look the part of Joseph and Mary. Konnie with her long flowing hair. Tom with his long hair and beard, kind eyes, and broad shoulders

Tom is holding baby Jesus, but it’s actually Libby, their infant daughter. He touches me on the shoulder. “Brother Curt, I want you to see my baby son, Jesus.”

His emotional introduction catches me off guard and touches my soul. It’s as if we’re in the first century Jerusalem temple on baby Jesus’ first visit there.

Tom’s next stop is at Uncle Rob McCracken’s seat. He’s the oldest man in our church at ninety. Tom holds baby Jesus in front of the old man. “Uncle Rob, aren’t you proud of my son Jesus?”

Uncle Rob, in the early stages of dementia, sweetly strokes the baby’s hair as he hums a tune.

It’s as if old Simeon is at last touching the long awaited Messiah he’s waited a lifetime to see. Simeon’s words ring out. Lord, dismiss your servant in peace. I’ve seen the Messiah.

I know two things. Uncle Rob will soon be gone, and I’ll never forget this touching moment.

The choir breaks into wonderful praise as Joseph and Mary reach the front of the auditorium. I’m reminded how music can move our soul like nothing else. It’s such a precious gift from God.

Joe Aguillard is leading the choir. He’s wearing an orange prison jumpsuit instead of his usual suit and tie. This year’s musical is about Jesus being for everyone and each choir member is dressed as common people. There’s a mailman, housewife with a mop and bucket, hard-hatted construction worker.

And Joe Aguillard, property of the Beauregard Parish Jail, leads it all. For nearly thirty years, Joe has been my best friend. He’s stood by me through thick and thin. He’s that faithful lifetime friend that is priceless.

Joe’s strong voice soars above the choir as he sings with emotion and praise.

And for some strange reason I think of Carl Mosley.

Carl loved to sing as much as any member of our choir, but the fact is he couldn’t carry a tune in the proverbial bucket. He was consistently off key.

There’s a link between Joe Aguillard and Carl Mosley, and it’s the heart of this story.

Carl and his family were the most faithful members of Dry Creek Baptist Church. The entire family once had perfect Sunday School attendance for over ten years.

The Mosley family was one of Dry Creek’s most interesting families. Curtis Mosley, a large kindly man, was a World War I vet who’d later been a Texas Ranger. His wife, Lucille, was my beloved Sunday School teacher. Their two grown sons, Carl and John, lived at home. The entire hard-working Mosley family truly lived off the land, growing and producing practically everything they needed.

Carl was slightly retarded. He couldn’t read and his speech was halting and slurred. However, he could take apart any engine and quickly put it back together in working order.

He and John supplemented the family income by cutting firewood and doing menial chores. They were something to watch at work. Even in their forties they could outwork men half their age.

Carl could sure cut firewood, but he couldn’t sing well at all. I do not mean it unkindly, but Carl was by far the worst singer I’d ever heard. He had a dull monotone voice that was so off key it could always be heard above all the other singers.

So when Joe Aguillard came to Dry Creek as choir director, he inherited Carl Mosley.

Carl sang from his heart. I am confident that Carl’s singing sounded “perfect to God’s perfect ears.”

But Sunday after Sunday, as Carl’s bland monotone made “a joyful noise,” it was more noise than note to human ears. It reminded me of the Andy Griffith episode where they try to remove Barney Fife from the choir. That would have been a solution to Carl Mosley. Give him another job. Talk him kindly out of the choir.

But none of these things happened.

On choir specials, you could always pick out Glenda Hagan’s soaring high soprano, Judy Aguillard’s beautiful alto, the echoing enthusiastic bass of Donnie Reeves and my dad. All these voices blended in a beautiful way . . . but the indescribable sound of Carl’s toneless voice hovered above them.

I once heard a recording of our choir’s Christmas cantata. You could faintly pick out Carl above everyone else.

Being the ‘song-less’ son of a well-known singer, I know all about expectations and a little something about music. I’ve always been what is called a “funeral singer.” When a full choir is needed for a weekday funeral, I’m happy to supply a warm body and a poor voice. I follow my wife DeDe’s advice: if you forget the words or get off key, just keep mouthing “Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon.”

Carl tied to get the words right. I’m sure he thought he was on key. Here’s what I love about my best friend Joe Aguillard: there was never a word said about excluding Carl Mosley from the choir. His faithfulness was appreciated and his singing tolerated.

From time to time, choir members or church leaders suggested ideas on getting Carl out of the choir for the Christmas musical. Make him a shepherd of wise man.

However none of these suggestions made it past our choir leader Joe Aguillard.

Joe was, and is, a tremendous musician and leader. Everything he does is accomplished with quality and excellence. However, what I love best about my best friend Joe is his kind heart and compassion.

Helping the choir by hurting Carl Mosley was not an option.

In 1990, Carl died from a sudden heart attack at age fifty-two. Within two years, his younger brother John and their mother Lucille also died.

The long association of the Mosley family with our church ended. These were faithful members who never missed church and they were greatly missed. There are few traits better than faithfulness.

Now their pew was empty . . . Mrs. Mosley’s red foot cushion disappeared. Carl’s spot in the choir was vacant.

Regardless of whether the choir sounded better or not, we were all poorer for losing this special family of dedicated Christians.

#      #     #

Returning once again to today’s Christmas musical, I scan the large crowd that has filled our nice new sanctuary. I realize that probably not one quarter of those present today would even recognize the names of Curtis, Lucille, John, or Carl Mosley.

But whether our present choir knows it or not, every person singing in this choir, and all of us enjoying it, is connected to Carl . . . . and Joe Aguillard’s early years as choir director at Dry Creek.

Here is where I’m coming from:  experience has taught me that God will give us small tests before He chooses to send us major blessings. It’s as if He wisely says, “I’d like to give him this wonderful thing, but I’d better make sure he can handle it first.”

I call these tests “matters of the heart.” It is the time when we must choose between what the world would do and the right thing to do. These tests most often involve our dealings with people and relationships.

Jesus talked about this in several parables, especially in the story of the talents. We are all familiar with His oft-quoted words in Matthew 25:21: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”

I firmly believe Carl Mosley (and his singing) was just such a test from God. It was a test to our church . . . and it was a specific test to our gifted music leader.

What was most important: a “perfect choir” or heartfelt singing from a simple man who could have easily been brushed aside? It was a test passed with “flying colors” by our church, our choir, and my best friend Joe.

#  #  #

The Christmas musical ends. Baby Jesus has fallen asleep in Tom’s arms.

Uncle Rob McCracken is also snoozing peacefully, leaned over on his wife Iola’s shoulder.

I thank God once again for the gift of music—for how it allows us to come into His presence for communion, fellowship, and worship.

And I thank God for a music leader, who years ago listened with his heart and not just a musical ear.

As we age we naturally think more about heaven. It’s because a lot more of the people we cherish are on that side of eternity. Wouldn’t it be nice to know more about what being in God’s presence is like?

Most Biblical references to heaven include singing and praise. The Bible talks of a heavenly choir singing before God.

Carl Mosley is in that choir.

He’s not there because he was a good man, although he was.

Nor is he in God’s presence because he probably didn’t miss church five times in his adult life.

He is there because in his simple child-like mind he came to Jesus seeking forgiveness and new life. There are a lot of things Carl did not understand, but he had a clear view of God and His son Jesus as the way to Heaven.

In that heavenly choir, Carl Mosley’s voice and key is perfect. He sings there with the same passion he sang with here. In the very presence of God he lifts up his voice.

In perfect tune and perfect communion with God.

              When we’ve been there ten thousand years.

                           Bright shining as the sun

                     We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

                       Than when we first begun.

 

-Amazing Grace

John Newton


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About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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