Country Music Reclamation Project: Lonely Tombs

As it’s Sunday morning, and much of America is at church, allowing another human being explain God to them, it’s a good opportunity to spotlight one of the thousands of great country gospel songs. There are so many — and none that I’m aware of have prosperity theology as its subject.

Most of these country gospel songs address the concerns of regular people: what will become of loved ones who die, will the afterlife be less painful than life on earth, will I be accepted into Heaven despite being a relentless sinner. There are few country gospel songs that are less than sure about the existence of God — these were songs meant to give strength and comfort, not explore intellectual issues.

The Stanley Brothers recorded many of the standards. The combination of Ralph Stanley’s high harmony and Carter Stanley’s steady tenor provided a mix of longing and gravity that made their versions especially poignant. The song that I’ve chosen from the many, Lonely Tombs, describes a graveyard epiphany that is chilling and reassuring.

Lonely Tombs (recorded by the Stanley Brothers)

I was strolling one day in a lonely graveyard
When a voice from the tomb seemed to say
I once lived as you lived, walked and talked as you talk
But from earth I was soon called away

Oh those tombs, lonely tombs,
Seemed to say in a low gentle tone
Oh how sweet is the rest,
In our beautiful Heavenly home

Every voice from the tomb seemed to whisper and say
Living man you must soon follow me
And I thought as I looked on those cold marble slabs
What a dark lonely place that must be

Then I came to the place where my mother was laid
And in silence I stood by her tomb
And her voice seemed to say in a low gentle tone
I am safe with my Savior at home

I’ve spent a lot of time in cemeteries as part of the genealogy research I’ve done, and I never fail to think of this song. You can read the names on the gravestones, but when you imagine the lives and trials that each of those names represent, and consider that you are no different — and will have no different fate — it puts life into perspective like few sermons could.