Whoo-woo! I hear a rumblin’

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Some days, when I’m weary, I hear the rumblin’ wheels of the gospel train rolling through the land. The song of the American slaves speaks its hope to me in this later age of collective madness.

The Gospel train’s comin’
I hear it just at hand
I hear the car wheel rumblin’
And rollin’ thro’ the land

Get on board little children
Get on board little children
Get on board little children
There’s room for many more

I hear the train a-comin’
She’s comin’ round the curve
She’s loosened all her steam and brakes
And strainin’ ev’ry nerve

The fare is cheap and all can go
The rich and poor are there
No second class aboard this train
No difference in the fare

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Whoo-wooing for the fairer train from Chaska, MN, May 11, 2017.

 

Christopher Smart was Smart

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Christopher_Smart_Pembroke_portraitChristopher Smart (1722-1771) was an English incurable pauper poet institutionalized in Saint Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics whose poetry, like Vincent Van Gogh’s art, continues long after his death in spite of, or perhaps because of, what we now call mental illness.

Smart’s poetry is not as widely known as Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night. But it is well-known among other poets, musicians like Benjamin Britten, and worshipers who sing from the Episcopal Church Hymnal, as I did yesterday on the Second Sunday of Easter.

The fourth stanza of “Awake, Arise, Lift up your Voice” leaped from the page, as fresh today as it was the day Smart wrote it:

His [Christ’s] enemies had sealed the stone as Pilate gave them leave,

lest dead and friendless and alone he should their skill deceive.

Smart sees Christ as “dead and friendless and alone” under his enemies’ lock and key as the authorities of collective madness had given them leave, lest Christ – locked away dead and friendless and alone – should deceive their power to seal shut the tomb (or asylum cell).

And then the fifth stanza:

O Dead, arise! O Friendless stand by seraphim adored!

O Solitude again command your host from heaven restored!

At the very moment Christopher Smart was coming to my attention, the French were casting their votes, confused and fearful in the wake of England’s Brexit, wailing sirens on the Champs-Élysées, and candidates loudly debating whether sanity demands sealing the nation’s borders.

St_Lukes_Hospital_for_Lunatics,_LondonChristopher Smart’s biographers suggest that today Christopher would be diagnosed as bi-polar. He was committed to the Saint Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics after episodes when, it is said, Christopher would suddenly drop to his knees on the street in prayer, loudly inviting by-standers to join him, a different kind of street preacher who causes saner people to cross to the other side of the street.

But sometimes “the lunatics” are smarter than we. They see what those of us who avoid them often fail to see: the Dead and Friendless One meeting us, like Christopher and Vincent, in times of lock-down madness, until we sing Smart’s hymn two-and-a-half centuries later on the Second Sunday of Easter.

Christopher Smart was smart.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 24, 2017.

Goodness Is Stronger than Evil

The quotation comes from South African Bishop Desmond Tutu; the tune from Scotsman John Bell; the singing from Plymouth Congregational Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. In this moment, it serves as a good reminder for the weary.

The walls of gold entomb us!

The lyrics of G. K. Chesterton are set to the Welsh tune Llangloffan in this YouTube from Lincoln, Nebraska. God help us all in the first year of A.T. 1 (Anno Trump) when we are face with the threat that “the walls of gold [will] entomb us”.

Pete Seeger – Singing toward our inmost calm

In this American time of turmoil and strife, Pete Seeger singing “How Can I Keep from Singing?” restores my faith that “no storm can shake my inmost calm” (Robert Lowry, 1869). RIP, Pete. We’re listening.

Truth alone is strong

In this moment of “the strife of truth and falsehood,” the Notre Dame organ voices the assurance of hope spoken by James Russell Lowell in the hymn “Once to Every Man and Nation.” “Though the cause of evil prosper, Yet truth alone is strong. ”

I Want Jesus to Walk with Me

Yesterday the children at Trinity Episcopal Church sang a beautiful rendering of “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”. This morning, after posting “Seeing with the Ears” about Nicodemus’s night visit with Jesus, this soulful YouTube of “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me” sung by Larry Kinley struck a deep chord.

If you’re not into Jesus, you can still feel the song – listen to the saxophone and Larry Kinley’s baritone longing for companionship and hope in your times of trouble.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 13, 2017.

Seeing with the Ears

Last night the story of Nicodemus‘s night visit with Rabbi Jesus intersected with a quite unexpected introduction to Max Picard’s The World of Silence read aloud on Voetica.com. Click HERE for the audio of David Juda’s reading of Max Picard’s The World of Silence or watch and listen to the re-blogged sermon on Nicodemus,”Seeing with the Ears”for this time when words so often fail the longings of the heart.

Views from the Edge

Nicodemus and Jesus on a rooftop, Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 1859-1937 Nicodemus and Jesus on a rooftop

He comes by night. He slips along the buildings of the city streets in hopes that no one will notice. He is a man of position and authority, a learned teacher with a Ph.D. in religion on his way to the kindergarten teacher. “Everything I need to know in life I learned in Kindergarten,” wrote Robert Fulghum. Nicodemus has a sense that he has lost a thing or two along the way, that he needs to start over again.

He’s sent a private message asking for a confidential meeting. The arrangements have been made for the time and place…under the cover of darkness… at Nicodemus’ request.

Dressed in a hooded sweatshirt pulled up around his face and wearing an old trench coat to blend in with displaced people who spend the night on the street, Nicodemus changes his normally stately gait on the way to his secret meeting.

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