Was it the glow of the Northern Lights or was our cruise ship rocking along with an electrifying burst of joy?
Oh, howdy-doody-mercy-daisy-great-balls-of-fire. It was the ship!
From time to time, Bill and Gloria Gaither, along with the Gaither Vocal Band and other mega-talented musicians spend a week with their fans, cruising and singing in beautiful locations. After cancelling the trip for a few years due to the pandemic, they were back on the boat and this time, headed to Alaska.
It felt like grown-up summer church camp (with white tablecloths and little chocolates on your pillow). My kind of camp.
You’ll remember I’ve been collaborating on Andy Andrew’s Wisdom Harbour project and when I was in the studio recording a story a few months ago, he mentioned, “Hey, why don’t you and Bob come on the Gaither . . . “ “YES!” . . . “cruise to . . . “ “YES!” . . . "Alaska?” “YES!” . . . “Don’t you want to ask . . .” "NO.” “Bob?” “No need. He’ll say, YES!” . . .
He had me at “Gaither.”
My grandparents and parents loved the Gaither’s music. It was toe-tapping, hum-worthy and worshipful. My Grandfather insisted we sing “Because He Lives” at his funeral. He left instructions not to leave out a single verse. It was heartbreakingly beautiful. But the music I heard last week on the Holland America Eurodam was thumping with a soul-filled jam session better than anything I’ve heard in New Orleans.
Many of you will remember my father was the Minister of Music at my church, and like everyone else in the 1970’s and 80’s, was a fan of the Gaithers. When I inherited my Dad’s ecumenical collection of hymnals, the first one I picked up listed 17 hymns that were composed by Bill and Gloria. (Look at me being cool and using their first names!) The Gaither’s are revered musicians and for years have gathered an incredibly talented group that performs in churches and fills enormous concert venues around the world.
My local PBS station features Gaither concerts every Saturday night and although their music in these older performances was beautiful with tight harmonies of old favorites, this new sound I heard last week rocked my world. They've done an excellent job over the years of keeping their music fresh. I kept thinking my 20-something year old sons would love it — as well as my Dad.
I told Bob, “We could have sailed around Lake DeFuniak all week for all I cared. The music was the highlight of the trip for me.” Better than Alaska? Well . . . in a way. I mean, the eagle swooping over my head was pretty awesome, but I truly loved the music.
Ken Davis and Andy Andrews led devotions most mornings and the entertainment line up was headlined by the Gaither Vocal Band that includes Wes Hampton, Adam Crabb, Todd Suttles and Reggie Smith. Adding to the joyful noise was Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Jimmy Fortune, The Martins, Karen Peck and New River, The Easters, The Hoppers, Angela Primm, Bradley Walker, Jason Crabb, Gene McDonald, Ladye Love Smith, Joseph Habedank, The Nelons, Lynda Randle, Russ Taff, and Woody Wright. Accompanying the group was the incredible Gordon Mote, Matthew Holt and Kevin Williams. Many are Grammy and Dove Award winners. (Link overload, so if you don't see their link, they are easy to find in a search).
Literally a boat load of talent.
Morning, noon and night, every time we turned around, we were treated to one kind of concert or another.
Divided into two groups in order to accommodate the crowd, half of us would eat while the other half enjoyed a concert, then we’d switch places. It was nice for us, and grueling for those on stage. But what professionals they were. After working and singing on a sometimes swaying boat, they’d still have a smile and kind word for those they saw on the ship and ashore.
And yes, I got to meet Bill and Gloria. They kept a low profile off stage, since everyone would probably paw at them like an Alaskan Grizzly in order to tell them the same thing . . . “we love you!”
As I was eating dinner one night, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and it was Bill Gaither. He had stopped by our table to ask how everything was going and if we were having a good time. It was the equivalent of a protestant papal blessing mixed with a sprinkle of Holy Hallelujah. I could almost feel my Dad’s hand on my other shoulder. Ahhh. The power of our earthly and heavenly father’s love.
On the final day of the cruise, Bill Gaither introduced, “Because He Lives” by first showing a video of people around the world singing the iconic hymn in different languages. From a hidden church in China, to Russians, Germans, Ukranians, and Brazilians all singing, “And life is worth the living, just because He lives.” And then . . . on stage, all the musicians joined together and belted it out. I was stunned. It was so beautiful I couldn’t move. Tears were running down my cheeks. And then, Mr. Gaither was close enough, he moved in my direction, and for a brief moment, looked into my eyes.
And then one day, I'll cross the river,
I'll fight life's final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to victory,
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives!
A breathless Amen.