Music

What’s Your Response?

Today, let’s do a thought experiment (this phrase is one of my rabbi’s favorite phrases).  Can you do it?  Maybe you don’t know what a thought experiment is?  Another way of saying it is, use your imagination!

 

Imagine you were in a foreign land.  No, you are not a visitor.  You are a citizen.  A national currency doesn’t exist.  Instead wealth is measured two ways: by the size of your family and by how many animals you own.  By both of these definitions, you are fabulously wealthy.  In fact, you are probably the richest person in your country.  Where did all this wealth come from?  Maybe you inherited some from your father?  I don’t know, but I suspect the bulk of it came from your own thriftiness and attention to detail.  Your wife runs a well-ordered household, which frees you to look after your own business.  And what a business!  You excel in agriculture and animal husbandry.  Your herds number into the thousands.  To look after all these animals, you employ a veritable army of servants who are knowledgeable about their job and operate with incredible efficiency.

 

All this wealth does not mean that you abandoned family or religion in order to accumulate it.  Your children are happy and well looked after.  They do not sponge off your wealth and good will.  Rather, they have established their own identity apart from your house. Birthdays cause celebrations and your sons look after their sisters with grace and an admirable chivalry.  You also are active in your faith community and have a deep spiritual connection with your God.  In short, life is good.  No reason exists to complain about the unfairness of life.  Somehow, you have unlocked the secret to having a successful life, while acknowledging the gracious hand of God on your life.

 

BUT . . .

 

The story turns.  It’s your oldest son’s birthday and like always, he is hosting his own party.  All of his siblings gather there for an all day party.  Otherwise, it’s a normal day of work.  Yet by nightfall, you receive word that a storm has flattened your son’s house, killing all inside.  None have survived.  All your wealth now has no heirs but wait!  You have no wealth.  All of your herds and animals have either been destroyed or stolen by roving bands of thieves and marauders.  Remember that entire army of servants?  All are dead, except for a few.  Every single, cultural signifier of wealth and greatness that you once had is gone.  Zip, zilch, nada.  In less than 24 hours, you have gone from being among the greatest men in your country to one of the poorest.  Now to complete this thought experiment . . . having gone through all that, what is your response?

 

By now you’ve probably caught on that I’ve asked you to imagine yourself as the Biblical Job.  But that is alright.  The life of Job teaches us many things but here is one small lesson I caught from a recent devotional given in my church.  Job’s response to the loss of his wealth and family is stunning.  Bear in mind, he lost everything.  In modern parlance, he didn’t have two nickels to rub together.  His response, in effect, was this: “I came with nothing and I’ll take nothing with me.  God can give and take as it pleases Him.  Praise his name!

 

I really doubt that anyone of us will lose, like Job, all of our possessions and family in one day.  Indeed the chances of complete loss is very nil.  But what is a given is the loss of something we hold dear.  It doesn’t matter the why or how we lose something dear.  In the case of Job it was Satan attacking his household.  Other ways of loss might be God refining us, God redirecting our lives, or natural circumstances.  However we want to look at it, we choose our response.  In our response, we choose to focus on ourselves and what we have created OR we can choose to glorify God with the response we give.  While we often would like to think our response to the BIG things would be God-honoring, our response to daily happenings is equally important.  We need to recognize our responses to the smaller things ultimately makes the difference.  To use another thought experiment.  If I were a parent whose daughter had been killed in the Nickel Mines schoolhouse shooting, I will be less likely to extend forgiveness if I don’t practice forgiving others or overlooking their selfish actions on a daily basis.  But, if I DO forgive and look past someone else’s selfishness, I build my “God-honoring response muscle” and that makes the choice to forgive my daughter’s murderer so much easier.

 

To build to those “mega life moments” like what Job or the Nickel Mines community faced is as simple as a choice that is made in the moment and as difficult as living a lifetime of choices that lead you to those moments.  So tomorrow, when a commuter cuts you off in traffic or your coworker is unpleasant to you, what’s your choice?  If Job can respond the way he did in the aftermath of such over whelming loss, can we not have a similar response when we forget our phone charger at home, or we’ve gone into overdraft in our bank account or any number of smaller things we might face in a normal day?

 

What choice are you trying to build toward?  A selfish response or one which exquisitely reveals the Father, though it is shrouded in mystery and pain?

 

Ignite the discussion,

EJ

Categories: About life, Music, Sunday's Musings | 2 Comments

Come O Thou Traveller Unknown

Today I spent an hour in a gorgeous stone cathedral here in Meadville. What a treat! Have you ever spent time in an atmosphere with a soaring vaulted ceiling and stone walls? It is inspiring to say the least, especially while singing. No one was around. It was purely worshipful. I walked the aisles, singing songs as they came to mind or as I found them in the hymnal.

I have sung this song before but only four select verses or so. I did not know this poem was so long or so majestic. The author’s name I do not recall nor can I access it currently. Using metaphor he has written a beautiful prose that parallels Jacob’s struggle with his Heavenly visitor at the Jabbok River. I considered condensing it but doing so won’t give it its full justice. Singing this song in its fullness today was deeply moving. In a small way, I entered into the author’s struggle to know Love. It’s a struggle that will always be there; a struggle to know, to draw close, and define Love. Ultimately we can’t but through persistence, Love will show itself to us.

 

Come, O thou Traveler unknown,

whom still I hold, but cannot see!

My company before is gone,

and I am left alone with thee;

with thee all night I mean to stay

and wrestle till the break of day.

 

I need not tell thee who I am,

my misery and sin declare;

thyself hast called me by my name,

look on they hands and read it there,

But who, I ask thee, who art thou?

Tell me thy name, and tell me now.

 

In vain thou strugglest to get free,

I never will unloose my hold;

art thou the man that died for me?

The secret of thy love unfold;

wrestling, I will not let thee go,

till I thy name, thy nature know.

 

Wilt thou not yet to me reveal

thy new, unutterable name?

Tell me, I still beseech thee, tell,

to know it now resolved I am;

wrestling, I will not let thee go,

till I thy name, thy nature know.

 

Tis all in vain to hold thy tongue

or touch the hollow of my thigh;

though every sinew be unstrung,

out of my arms thou shalt not fly;

wrestling I will not let thee go

till I thy name, thy nature know.

 

What though my shrinking flesh complain

and murmur to contend so long?

I rise superior to my pain:

when I am weak then I am strong,

and when my all of strength shall fail

I shall with the God-man prevail

 

Contented now upon my thigh

I halt, till life’s short journey end;

all helplessness, all weakness I

on thee alone for strength depend;

nor have I power from thee to move;

thy nature, and thy name is Love.

 

My strength is gone, my nature dies,

I sink beneath thy weighty hand,

faint to revive, and fall to rise;

I fall, and yet by faith I stand;

I stand and will not let thee go

till I thy name, thy nature know.

 

Yield to me now – for I am weak

but confident in self-despair!

Speak to my heart, in blessing speak,

be conquered by my instant prayer:

speak, or thou never hence shalt move,

and tell me if thy name is Love.

 

‘Tis Love! ’tis Love! thou diedst for me,

I hear thy whisper in my heart.

The morning breaks, the shadows flee,

pure Universal Love thou art:

to me, to all, thy mercies move –

thy nature, and thy name is Love.

 

My prayer hath power with God; the grace

unspeakable I now receive;

through faith I see thee face to face,

I see thee face to face, and live!

In vain I have not wept and strove –

thy nature, and thy name is Love.

 

I know thee, Savior, who thou art,

Jesus, the feeble sinner’s friend;

nor wilt thou with the night depart,

but stay and love me to the end:

thy mercies never shall remove,

thy nature, and thy name is Love.

 

The Sun of Righteousness on me

hath risen with healing in his wings:

withered my nature’s strength; from thee

my soul its life and succor brings;

my help is all laid up above;

thy nature, and thy name is Love.

 

Lame as I am, I take the prey,

hell, earth, and sin with ease overcome;

I leap for joy, pursue my way,

and as a bounding hart fly home,

through all eternity to prove

thy nature, and thy name is Love.

EJ

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Sunday’s Musings 2/2

Lately, I’ve a singular song running through my head. To every regular church goer, it’s a familiar hymn. But every now and then, a group sings familiar songs in a new and fresh way and it enthralls the soul. Such is the case with this song. It is the song Nearer, My God to Thee and James Stevens arranged it for Vocal Point of Brigham Young University. I think it is proverbial ear candy! I fell in love with the song a few months ago when I heard it sung by my friends, One By Grace. Lately, in the last week and a half, Spotify has played this song for me numerous times. Whether I checked emails or worked on a bead belt design, this was the backdrop.

This is one of those songs that just gets into your system and pumps you up! It pulls you all over a vast vocal range. Beginning in a gentle Latin harmony, it moves into a gentle ooh while a solo begins. Pleadingly the cry of the song is uttered “God, draw me closer to you.” From there the tempo elevates and and this time the backdrop is the Latin verse that opened the song. While the solo, and at times duet, are at the fore front of the song, there are multiple parts in the back creating a rich and exotic background. At 2:25, the soloist soars into a bridge that flavors the song and propels it into the last verse. The song terminates with another bridge as the backdrop marches to the finish. The tempo of the song never feels too fast or out of hand. Instead of a contemporary pop feel that so many groups give to older songs, this version adds a richness to the song that is not there when sung straight, that is, sung as originally written. You owe it to yourself to listen to this version if you are unacquainted with the song. Listen to it twice. The first time with the volume set to a regular level; the second time, turn it up and let your spirit soar!Anyway, I’ve written more about the song than what caught my attention one night as I was listening to it.

In the first verse of this song the plea is uttered, “nearer my God to Thee.” That is normal; all Christians have that desire. The desire to be drawn and lifted up closer to God. I have it myself. But it is followed by the permissive phrase “e’en though it be a cross that raises me.” As I was listening to the song that night, I was not looking for this phrase. I was listening for the artistry of the arrangement and the rush that a good song gives to the senses. I was nearly blown back by the significance of that phrase. While I can relate to that desire, I admit I’ve not always had that submissiveness to the method that God uses to bring me closer to Him.

In church last Sunday, we sang the hymn Man of Sorrows. The fourth verse of that song  says “lifted up was He to die.” That is what the cross meant for Jesus. When I think of what that meant for Him and what it potentially could mean for me if I sincerely sing/pray that first verse of  Nearer My God to Thee my flesh shivers. Death is repulsive to our carnal flesh. But if I can not willingly give up, I can not freely receive. This last sentence contains all sorts of implications. I shan’t go into them. It would make my head spin, and this blog would not be able to contain it all. Suffice to say, I see this being worked out in lives around me.

So sing loudly, live richly, give up freely, and willingly receive what God gives you.

EJ

PS: Oops, nearly forgot! Here’s the link. BYU Vocal Point – Nearer My God to Thee (a cappella)

Categories: Music | 1 Comment

Hymn from Today

Slipping into the church pew, I extracted a hymnal from the bench in front of me. The church was empty; the acoustics marvelous. The slightest sound reverberated through the sanctuary. It wasn’t large, but cozy. The traffic on the street outside was muffled. I had seen no one when I entered and found my way to my seat. Another solitude day was here. Attempting to get my mind off of the recent ministry tour and my upcoming studies, I flipped through the hymnal which was now in my hand. Ah, here’s one I know so I sang it. Out loud but quietly lest some one hears me. horrors! But, duh, what other kinds of sounds would you expect coming from a church sanctuary? I sang louder. Finishing that song, my gaze fell on the one across the page. The tune was familiar though the words weren’t. This one I sang as well. When I was done, I examined the words more carefully. Though it does not name the persons of the trinity by name, it names them by their actions. This was the author’s intent in writing these words.

 

Creator God, creating still by will and word and deed,                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Create a new humanity to meet the present need.

 

Redeemer God, redeeming still with overflowing grace,                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Pour out your love on us, through us make this a holy place.

 

Sustainer God, sustaining still with strength for every day,                                                                                                                                                                                                               Empower us now to do your will, correct us when we stray.

 

Great Triune God, for this new day we need your presence still,                                                                                                                                                                                                   Create, redeem, sustain us now to do your work and will.

 

Something about those words went deep into me. We need God. He gives us all we need to do everything He has called us to do. Amen and amen.

EJ

Categories: Music | 2 Comments

A Song

Currently, I’m aboard a bus headed for northern Indiana. Its day three of a 8 day choir tour and the mood aboard is relaxed. Our program last night was in Antrim, Ohio, where we tried a new standing arrangement. It went well and nullified our penchant for sharping our repertoire. One negative was that it spread the parts out, making for choppy entrances and uneven rhythms. Yet all in all, it was a good program.

In the heart of our repertoire are two songs from South Africa. Both these songs are sung in the South African language and in English. The second of the two songs is entitled Woza Nomthwalo Wakho. It’s deceptively simple but oh so powerful! It requires a concentrated focus on the director as it touches the heart of the audience and distracts the singer. It is a simple invitation extended to the listener to bring the cares and burdens to God. For myself it tugs at the heartstrings.

Music is amazing. How can a song so simple be so profound? The bass line only has four notes and four words. The rhythm is relaxed, not a driving, pulsing beat and yet it makes this singer tear up every time he sings it.

EJ

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Come to the Water

Oh let all who thirst, let them come to the water,

And let all who have nothing, let them come to the Lord;

Without money, without price,

Why should you pay the price,

Except for the Lord?

 

And let all who seek, let them come to the water,

And let all who have nothing, let them come to the Lord;

Without money, without strife,

Why should you spend your life,

Except for the Lord?

 

And let all who toil, let them come to the water,

And let all who are weary, let them come to the Lord;

all who labor, without rest,

How can your soul find rest,

Except for the Lord?

 

And let all the poor, let them come to the water,

Bring the ones who are laden, bring them all to the Lord;

Bring the children, without might,

Easy the load and light;

Come to the Lord.

 

EJ

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