To Initiate a Contemplative Mood

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Thom Hickey’s The Immortal Jukebox is like no other jukebox. Tune out the noise and turn up the volume. Enjoy this gift for the season from a blogger in Surrey, England. Click the link at the bottom for all the music of this lovely post.

And breathe! To initiate the contemplative mood I turn to the contemporary Estonian Composer, Arvo Part with his luminous, liminal setting of Mary’s eternal prayer, ‘The Magnificat’. Part has been labelled a Minimalist and a retro Medievalist. I prefer to think of him as having the gift to make time past, time present and time […]

via Contemplative Christmas 1 — The Immortal Jukebox

The World at Christmas

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“He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove….” (“Joy to the World“) will ring out again this Christmas. But, does “He”?

Isaac Watts‘ Christmas carol celebrates faith in the future by looking back at the most unlikely of places: an animal feeding trough, a manger, in Bethlehem, on the outskirts of the Roman Empire.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

In 2017 it’s hard to sing. In too many ways, it’s not true. Not yet. Herod’s search for the child, Herod’s lies and the slaughter of children that led Mary and Joseph to become refugees in Egypt feel more familiar than the rule of grace and truth. The nations do not prove the glories of His righteousness or the wonders of His love. The world continues to be ruled by deception and greed.

Even so, whether singing “Joy to the World” or listening to Handel’s Messiah, as Martha Ann Kennedy shared in her “The Messiah” post, we sometimes find ourselves going where only music takes us — the longing of the human heart whose aching seems to echo a promise that evokes it, a subjectivity inspired by a longer objectivity, as it were — the victory of goodness over evil, beauty over ugliness, and truth over falsehood.

The curse is not yet removed, but it is countered by a promise and a command: the hope for the rule of grace and truth over the nations.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

It falls to us to act responsibly in the face of the sins and sorrows that still grow, the thorns that infest the ground and threaten the planet; to be channels of truth and grace through which His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 22, 2017.

Grandpa, what’s joy?

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Grandpa, what’s joy? Is it like happiness?

Good morning, Elijah! What brought that up?

Mom keeps singing “Joy to the world”! What’s joy? What’s the world?

Joy is deep gladness, Elijah. Happiness is like joy, but joy is deeper. It has to do with who you and and an inexplainable assurance about you, your Mom, and the world. It’s a deep inner gladness. You show it to me every day.  Don’t let the world take away your gladness, Elijah!

Okay, Grandpa! But what’s with that third stanza, that thing about the curse?

Oh, that! “No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make his blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as, the curse is found.”

Yeah, that. What’s the curse, Grandpa? We’re not supposed to curse, right?

Right. But this is a different kind of curse. It’s the curse of selfishness and greed that bring sorrow to the world.

Isaac Watts — he’s the one who wrote the words to “Joy to the World” for Christmas — knew all about selfishness and greed when he wrote “Joy to the World” way back in 1719. Isaac was English. He knew all about colonialism and the nations.

Yeah, my baby-sitter really loves that last stanza about the nations! She says American exceptionalism is a curse. She really likes that fourth stanza. “He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders, wonders, of His love.”

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, December 20, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hymn for Houston

Watching rescue workers, the Red Cross, FEMA workers, and volunteers serving in Houston brings to mind a rare hymn that focuses on the city in a time of despair.

Click HERE for the lyrics.

Erik Routley’s rendering of Charleston, an American folk tune, honors all who love and serve the city, all who bear its daily stress.

Across America — from tiny churches in Appalachia, the bayous of Louisiana, and Sitka, Alaska to Memorial Church at Harvard — prayers are lifted and hymns are being sung in thanks for all who love and serve the city.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 30, 2017.

 

 

A Moment of National Decision

Pastors sometimes view the world differently. Pondering the President’s visit to Houston today, the lines from three hymns come to mind.

“In an age of twisted values we have lost the truth we need. In sophisticated language we have justified our greed.”

“We have built discrimination on our prejudices and fear. Hatred swiftly turns to cruelty if we hold resentments dear.”

And these lines from James Russell Lowell‘s old chestnut, “Once to Every Man and Nation”:

“Once to every man and nation/ Comes the moment to decide/ In the strife of truth with falsehood/ For the good or evil side;/ Some great cause, some great decision/ Offering each the bloom or blight,/ And the choice goes by forever/ ‘Twixt that darkness and that light.”

If John Newton, the former slave ship captain, could be turned into an abolitionist by the amazing grace “that saved a wretch like me,” who’s to say amazing things can’t happen on August 29, 2017?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 29, 2017.

Singing through the storm?

Watching the floods in Texas, I don’t feel like singing. But, while weeping for the people of south Texas, I hear the song of Pete Seeger wading through the storms and lamentations.

When Robert Lowry (1826-1899) wrote “How Can I Keep from Singing,” Pete Seeger (1919-2014) hadn’t been born, but Lowry’s music found a voice in Pete and others who listen amid life’s storms and lamentations.

Robert_Lowry

Rev’d Robert Lowry, preacher and hymn writer

A reporter once asked him what was his method of composition— “Do you write the words to fit the music, or the music to fit the words?” His reply was:

“I have no method. Sometimes the music comes and the words follow, fitted insensibly to the melody. I watch my moods, and when anything good strikes me, whether words or music, and no matter where I am, at home or on the street, I jot it down. Often the margin of a newspaper or the back of an envelope serves as a notebook. My brain is a sort of spinning machine, I think, for there is music running through it all the time. I do not pick out my music on the keys of an instrument. The tunes of nearly all the hymns I have written have been completed on paper before I tried them on the organ. Frequently the words of the hymn and the music have been written at the same time.”

Robert Lowry regarded “Weeping Will Not Save Me” as the best hymn he ever wrote.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 29, 2017.

 

Big Yellow Taxi and climate science

Songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” rise from memory so many years later when an EPA climate scientist report reaches the New York Times before it gets edited or killed and all the scientists get the word “You’re fired!”

We won’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 9, 2017.

This Is Home!

“An ancient gift to you this morning,” read the email from my friend Wayne with a link to Gaelic Psalm-singing.

You can be pretty sure someone with the name Gordon Campbell Stewart is a Scot, or, at least, has a Scottish heritage. Three clans – and not all of them friendly to each other – combined in one name, is perhaps its own kind of DNA symbol of worldly reconciliation.

Seeing the YouTube of the Gaelic Psalm-singing that lives in my DNA brings tears to my eyes. Watching the faces, hearing the voices, longing for the simplicity of the Psalm-singing takes me to another place. This is home!

While visiting a church like this on the Isle of Skye, the faces and voices were much the same. Before the Presenter began the congregational singing, you could hear a pin drop. The worshipers observed a sacred silence. The singing voiced a Word that speaks to a noisy world out of a Deep Silence. This is home!

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 20, 2017.

Blind Christopher opens eyes

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Some things bring tears to even the hardest of hearts. Christopher Duffley, the blind autistic 11 year-old does that here. Even those with hearts of stone might shed a tear “seeing” Christopher sing “Open the Eyes of My Heart”.

Whoo-woo! I hear a rumblin’

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.