The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


October 14, 2005

Hearing Joan Baez tonight

I didn't read the newspaper Wednesday till evening—but when I did I recognized the woman holding a guitar before my eyes even saw the headline "Baez, activist: 'It feels like coming home'" Joan Baez looks different than she did 35 years ago: her long dark hair is short and gray. And she looks the same: bright eyes in an open and calm face. Tonight we'll hear her, listening for that voice that's always described as "crystalline soprano" and also for the words she's going to sing. Yesterday when I called the Chicago theater where she'll perform, just a one-night during a national tour, I was amazed that 200 of the 1,200 tickets were still available. My husband laughed that Baez won't be the only one there with gray hair.

We first heard her when she gave free concerts at Stanford University in the late 1960s and early 70s—singing out her protest of the Vietnam War. She told the Chicago Tribune this week that it is the Iraq war that has moved her to raise her wonderous voice again. She's 64 years old and a grandmother who says her priority is spending time with her grandson.

But then she visited Cindy Sheehan during her Crawford, Texas, vigil: "I went for an evening and stayed for a week." That led to her performing as part of the Operation Ceasefire Concert, held Sept. 25 in Washington, D.C. And now she's on tour with her message, saying about her activism, "It feels like coming home."

Home, indeed, is where Baez' values were formed: "It started with my family being Quaker." she said. "I was subject to hearing the non-violence debate my whole childhood, and it sunk in."

We took fresh hope listening to her all those years ago, when we were so young and she was too. She sang of a world of peace, of a world like the one I believe God wants for all people and of how we are called to work to help bring that about. And we joined in when she lifted her voice, and our spirits, "O happy day, when Jesus washed our sins away. ...He taught me how to watch and how to pray. ...Oh happy day!"

In this time of war,  we watch and we pray as Jesus taught us. And tonight—we'll hear Joan Baez sing!

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