Nearer, My God, to Thee

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While enjoying some quiet time on my new pergola swing, I listened to the hymn β€œNearer, My God, to Thee” sung by Brigham Young University’s male choral group, Vocal Point. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I was transported to a sacred place in those few moments. The hymn I had sung for so many years took on fresh, new meaning for me. It could be because of my aging, my illness, my need for a closer relationship with God. Perhaps the hymn spoke to me simply because I needed it.Β I have long loved this old hymn and its simple, but profound, message.

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee.

Refrain:
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
Darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
Yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God, to Thee.

There let the way appear, steps unto Heav’n;
All that Thou sendest me, in mercy giv’n;
Angels to beckon me nearer, my God, to Thee.

Then, with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;
So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee.

Or, if on joyful wing cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I’ll fly,
Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee.

– Lyrics by Sarah F. Adams, 1805–1848
Music by Lowell Mason, 1792–1872
Published 1841, Hymn in public domain.

What makes this particular performance of the hymn so compelling is the inclusion of a counter melody. While a solo voice sings the words of “Nearer, My God to Thee” and paints a portrait of a life drawing near to God, the chorus sings a counter melody in Latin. The music is stunningly beautiful. The message reaches the depths of a soul in need of God’s presence. One listener described it like this:

So wonderful. It feels like angels paying a visit to earth with a hymn.

So I want to share with you the Latin text and the translation, which brings new meaning to the hymn.

In articulo mortis // At the moment of death

Caelitus mihi vires // My strength is from heaven

Deo adjuvante non timendum // God helping, nothing should be feared

In perpetuum // Forever

Dirige nos Domine // Direct us, O Lord

Ad augusta per angusta // To high places by narrow roads

Sic itur ad astra // Such is the path to the stars

Excelsior // Ever upward

Why, you might ask, am I writing a music review on my blog today? I suppose my words are an attempt to describe a need for the nearness of God. In times of grief, when sorrow overwhelms, when darkness is all we see, drawing near to a God of compassion is our healing balm and our highest hope. As I contemplate this truth, I am thinking of what was called the greatest disaster in maritime history β€” April 14, 1912 β€” the S.S. Titanic sank after striking an iceberg. As the ship disappeared into the vast ocean, Mr. W. Hartley, the ship’s bandmaster, led the band in playing “Nearer, My God, To Thee.”

I pray that, in whatever crisis you face, you will rest in the nearness of God. And I invite you to listen to BYU Vocal Point’s performance of this hymn:

 

Raising Cain

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“The Resurrection of Lazarus.” Oil on canvas painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1896Β 

As someone born and raised in the south, I know a lot about β€œpiddlin’ around.” I do it all the time, and when the day’s light comes to an end, I always wonder if I have done anything at all worthwhile.

Don’t get me wrong. I heartily approve of some piddlin’ around in life. Especially holy piddlin’ like getting quiet and getting in touch with God. Holy piddlin’ like sitting in silent contemplation can bring God close to me. Praying can take me to a special place for sensing God’s touch. Listening to sacred music opens my soul to the whisper of God.

Piddlin’ can be a very life-giving pastime.Β On the other hand, some of us God followers long to change the world, to face off against oppression, to do justice, to end wars . . . to do something of eternal meaning.

Our problem is that changing the world can be a heavy burden that we simply cannot carry around for long. The secret, I think, is a balance between pensive spiritual moments with God and those once-in-a-while moments of sparkling mission and calling, those moments when we rise courageously above ourselves and almost see miracles. Truth is, it is not a common happening for us to find ourselves raising anyone from the dead or healing someone who is suffering illness.

It seems that the best we can do is to say to God, β€œI offer you, God, my silent devotion. And I offer you my willingness to follow your highest calling and your most extraordinary mission, wherever it leads and whatever the cost. Here’s my heart. Do with my life as you will.”

I very much enjoy the writing of Annie Dillard, and she has written eloquently on this very subject. Here’s what she writes.

There is always the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end… But I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous…more extravagant and bright. We are…raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

– Annie Dillard

I hope that you will find many of those sacred β€œbe still, my soul” moments with God. But I pray also that you will, along the way, have eyes wide open for those bright and extravagant miracle moments when it just might be possible to raise Cain or raise Lazarus.

Pleading for the Future

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Attorney and prominent advocate for economic reform Clarence Darrow used a compelling statement as a part of his closing argument in the 1924 Leopold-Loeb trial in Chicago. β€œI am pleading for the future,” he said.

I am pleading for the future; I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men. When we can learn by reason and justice and understanding and faith that all life is worth saving and that mercy is the highest attribute of man.

– Clarence Darrow
April 18, 1857 – March 13, 1938

Perhaps we should engage in some sincere pleading for the future in light of the recent and very disturbing news reports that describe our world as a precarious one.

A serious opioid epidemic is swamping hospitals, with government data showing 1.27 million emergency room visits or inpatient stays for opioid-related issues in a single year. (The Washington Post)

Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea for nearly a year and a half, died Monday afternoon, days after he returned home in a coma. (The Washington Post)

Two “terrorist incidents” include reports of a van plowing into pedestrians on London Bridge and stabbings at the nearby Borough Market. (ABC News)

U.S. Representative Steve Scalise and three others were shot at a GOP baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia. The shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, was killed by police after firing dozens of bullets during the congressional practice session. (NPR)

A suicide terrorist killed 22 people outside of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. (Fox News)

To the God who knows the woes of our world, who is our refuge and strength, we do plead for the future. As Clarence Darrow wrote, “we have learned by reason and justice and understanding and faith that all life is worth saving and that mercy is the highest attribute of humankind.” So, in spite of the world’s troubles that threaten us, we persevere in faith, inspired by the Psalmist who speaks this good news.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging . . .

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress . . .

He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.

He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

He says, β€œBe still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

– From Psalm 46

Prayers in the Night

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Remembering Libby Scott Hankins and Celebrating Her Life

Libby died at noon on March 17 at age 23 after a lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis. Diagnosed with the disease at age 2, she lived a full and productive life. She was just months from graduating with a degree in special education from the University of West Alabama, where she was homecoming queen and captain of the cheerleading squad.

Libby had a double lung transplant last year, but had to return to Duke University Medical Center in February. On February 25, Libby was moved to ICU because of AMR-antibody mediated rejection. Her body fought against the rejection and the many serious complications she was experiencing until March 17 when she lost her battle against cystic fibrosis.

In her final weeks, more than 50,000 people prayed and kept vigil for her day and night. Those people are now continuing their prayers for Libby’s grieving family and friends, believing that “God heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 14)

On Wednesday, the celebration of her life will be held at the stadium in Gordo, Alabama. Her mother and father will likely re-experience their loss. When night falls, their minds may be flooded with memories. Mourning might well overcome them in the darkness of the night. Those 50,000 friends will keep watch as they did during Libby’s final struggle. They will fervently pray for her parents through the night, all night,Β until the light of morning.

This prayer is for Libby’s family:

Keep watch, dear Lord,
with those who watch or weep this night,
and give your angels charge over those who sleep.

Tend the sick, Lord Christ;
give rest to the weary,
soothe the suffering,
give grace to those who mourn;
and all for your love’s sake.

Amen

A Lenten Hymn

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Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days

Lord, Who throughout these forty days
For us didst fast and pray,
Teach us with Thee to mourn our sins
And close by Thee to stay.

As Thou with Satan didst contend,
And didst the victory win,
O give us strength in Thee to fight,
In Thee to conquer sin.

As Thou didst hunger bear, and thirst,
So teach us, gracious Lord,
To die to self, and chiefly live
By Thy most holy Word.

And through these days of penitence,
And through Thy passiontide,
Yea, evermore in life and death,
Jesus, with us abide.

Abide with us, that so, this life
Of suffering over past,
An Easter of unending joy
We may attain at last.
Text: Claudia F. Hernaman, 1873 (Mt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13; Lk. 4:1-13)

The Cross Remains

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A Prayer for Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Loving Creator,

This is a hard and holy time, a journey I am compelled to travel.

It is a journey for facing myself and the realities of my life.

It is a journey of losing myself and allowing you to gather me up in your arms of grace.

For it is grace that I need so desperately,
grace that can take me through the shadows of my life and lead me to resurrection.

The cross imposed with ashes remains with me long after the ash is washed away.

I carry it into Lent, feeling almost heavy on my forehead,
a strong reminder of your sacrifice, your death, your resurrection,
and my own.

Amen.

Transformation: The Spiritual Journey

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The labyrinth is a walking meditation, a path of prayer where psyche meets Spirit. It has only one path that leads from the outer edge in a circuitous way to the center. There are no dead ends. Unlike a maze where you can lose your way, the labyrinth is a spiritual tool that can help you find your way.

The life quest of drawing closer to God is best described as a spiritual journey. But it is a journey of our own choosing. We are not forced to take it. God does not coerce us to travel such a path. Each of us must choose it, and in a spirit of prayer embark on an unknown journey.

We cannot predict its path. We can only give ourselves to its gentle turns with confidence that, along the way, we will discover and learn and grow in our faith. It can be transformational. Wendell Berry describes this journey with the words arduous, humbling and joyful, an apt description. Most importantly he describes “arriving at the ground at our own feet” and there learning to be at home. Here’s what he writes:

The world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.

– Wendell Berry

Taking the journey leads us home, a place of peace and comfort, a place where we are comfortable in our own skin, a place where our heart meets God’s heart. The journey can bring transformation within us.

The danger is that we can shrink in fear from transformation because we cannot control the process. Giving up control is always a challenge for humans, but refusing the spiritual journey means that we will wander aimlessly, always searching and never finding our deepest spiritual self.

A Thanksgiving Prayer

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This popular Thanksgiving hymn holds a timeless truth, and speaks to us in these days. It is good news for us that the wicked ones who oppress us will “cease from distressing.” Even in our present time, with God at our side we will escape tribulation. I think mostly this day of the suffering of the families and children of Syria, of those who are the targets of hate in our own country, of our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock, of all who live in fear of losing their cherished freedom.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing;
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be;
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

May our God make it so. Amen.

 

Help Me to Do What Is Right

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When the Christ surprises us all and comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Then He will say to those at his right hand, β€˜Come, you that are blessed by having done what was right, guided by the Creator and the Spirit, inherit the kin-dom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

for I was Muslim and you welcomed me,

I was a refugee and you sheltered me,

I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

I was forced to be counted and you stood to be counted with me,

I am black and you said my life matters,

I was LGBTQ and you performed my wedding.’

Then the righteous will answer him, β€˜Lord, when did we see you Muslim, black, a stranger, a refugee, LGBTQ, Jewish, or a stranger and welcome you?’ And the King of all Souls will answer them, β€˜Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

May it be so for me and for you.

Amen.

Prayer by The Reverend Julia Seymour. She serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit.

Losing Heart

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What does it feel like to lose? How many tears does it take to begin to heal the pain?

I just listened to Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. It was a remarkable testament to all that is good about Hillary Clinton. She is truly a public servant, and she will not stop her efforts to make our country a stronger, kinder place.

I literally grieve this loss. I fear for our country. I fear for our brothers and sisters who fear deportation. I fear for women who have felt disfranchisement and disrespect. I fear for the millions of people who are benefitting from the Affordable Care Act. I fear about our relations with foreign nations. I fear for all of us.

Still, we must never give up on our country. We must remain involved in the political process and we must pray for our nation as we have never prayed before.

Most of all today, I pray for Hillary. I celebrate her life and give thanks for her many decades of service. And I will always remember the closing words of her speech from the sixth chapter of Galatians.

“So let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.”

May God continue to bless Hillary Clinton and may God bless and protect this nation.