This Sunday, we are hosting a virtual benefit concert that features an array of music and musicians. Our desire is to use our Concert Series format, as always, to turn our hearts and minds to the good, the true, and the beautiful. The upcoming concert has the added feature of being a benefit.
COVID-19 has changed, challenged, and in some cases, devastated us over these past several months. The virus took the life of our brother, Daniel Lee, and the loss is tremendous. The tribute I wrote to the Friends of Music on August 20, 2020 can be found at the bottom of this post.
Today, I'd like to focus on a broader aspect of this loss. To say that Daniel was an amazing architect is a massive understatement. You will see examples of his work opening the virtual concert. As I prepare for the concert, I came across this article, in which Daniel is interviewed by his friend, Duncan Stroik, architect, appointee to U. S. Commission for the Arts, and professor of architecture at University of Notre Dame. Take a moment to get to know the mind of a true artist, whose desire was to glorify and reflect God through his creative work.
I remember our friend and former associate pastor, Robbie Pruitt, often saying that "all art is plagiarism unless it references the Original Creator."
To create is to get a new perspective on the enormity and provision of God. He has created all things well. If you are an artist of any sort, think about the love with which you create, and desire to add beauty to the world. This effort and care tells us something about the closeness and care of our Heavenly Father. If you don't consider yourself to be artistic, consider that there are aesthetic aspects to everything; take a moment to make something in your environment special. This small effort, perhaps for something small, like a tiny corner, a plant, a small display, can bring your heart and thoughts to the degree with which our loving Creator has shown His love in His creation. Many hymns were written out of a sense of awe and wonder at the beauty of creation.
In these next few weeks, the CtK ministries will be supplying devotionals for home use. A small portion of this will be some optional "everyday piety" idea: something to make your home hospitable, or reflective of the heart of Christ in some way. I encourage you to take part in this initiative, and take time to meditate on the reaches of His love for us.
As many of you know, our dear friend, Daniel Lee, lost the battle against COVID-19 this week. As his faithful wife, Leonor, reported, "God answered our prayers and gave Daniel a COVID-free body... His fight with COVID-19 lasted one month from beginning of symptoms to his passing into glory. Give thanks to God with me that this ending was God's perfect plan and is for our good."
As Christians, we love fully out of the abundance of love first given to us by Christ. When we lose a loved one in this life, our grief is in proportion to that love. In His perfect provision, the Holy Spirit comforts and sustains us with the knowledge that this is not the end of the story; that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, that there shall be no more death, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore (Rev. 21:4); and that the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:26). We are thankful that our dear brother is no longer suffering, and know that all of heaven is rejoicing to welcome this fine saint of the LORD.
I've known dear Leonor for many years now, after singing and accompanying alongside her, and sharing in a women's Bible study. Christ shines through her so beautifully and authentically that you feel you know her right away--you recognize that same Spirit as the one that is in you. I actually only had a couple interactions ever with Daniel, but they were life-changing.
I was in a difficult place, transitioning from one job to another, and feeling discouraged both personally and professionally. I knew Daniel by sight as Leonor's husband. He made a point to come talk to me at length, as though he knew my pain, and encouraged me to hang in there; to keep playing; that he believed I had something special to offer. I have to wipe my cheek thinking about how meaningful and timely this was. Daniel was a thoughtful, intellectual, and deeply spiritual man who was, in my experience, rather private; but when he spoke, he made it count.
On another occasion, at a gathering for the CtK choir, Daniel took time to publicly encourage me--a little fledgling in this job, making it up as I went along--and expressed his conviction that I had gifts worth sharing. From such a quiet man (as distinguished from my conversations of all sorts with Leonor: deep, fun, giggly, painful, prayerful, light, what have you), his words were dense and powerful. He made you want to listen. It meant the world to me.
On yet another occasion, Daniel and Leonor made the trek to a McNair Hall at Georgetown University to hear a doctoral lecture recital I was presenting entitled, "Direction in Music." About as geeky as it gets, only my very closest family members and friends braved the hilly and confusing campus to attend. Following the program, Daniel, Leonor and I talked, getting deep into the weeds of aesthetic principles and the "language" of art. We eventually decided we should continue the conversation; we never did.
At some point along the way, I became familiar with Daniel's work as an architect. I had always heard he was very good, but I could hardly pull my jaw off the floor when I saw his portfolio. A true artist indeed, with absolutely gorgeous and grand projects under his belt; and he took the time to make sure that I felt encouragement for my journey.
For those who know her, Leonor continues this family legacy at all times with her intimate love and dependence on God. She is a beautiful inspiration, and I wish somehow those who don't know Christ could learn how different grief can be when wrapped in God's love and among His people. I asked Leonor's permission to send my thoughts, and she agreed, adding:
"We must not stop praying for our hurting and dying world. We must be a people of prayer, pleading with the Lord for our world. Our fervent prayers must not stop."
Amen, and amen.
As I mentioned, Leonor herself is a consummate musician, and Daniel at the very least was a music enthusiast; the wonderful nurses in ICU made sure he had Barber's Adagio for Strings and Bach's Air on a G String Pandora stations playing for him around the clock. An idea for a concert began to germinate as to how we might honor this precious family.
This global pandemic has affected each of us in many respects, some of which are mere inconveniences, and others, life-changing and painful. Christ the King parish wants to serve as Christ's hands and feet to each other and to a hurting world. Forthcoming to members of CtK is a notice from our Vestry on how we can contribute practically to the significant needs among our congregation. On Sunday, September 13, 2020, at 5 p.m., we will host a virtual benefit concert to bolster these efforts. We will honor the health care workers in our parish; provide a special tribute to the life and memory of Daniel Lee; and provide a variety of music intended to encourage and uplift during this challenging season. The CtK Choir and Friends of Music Performers will provide sacred and secular music in an array of styles and settings, featuring music of Bach, Bizet, Dvorak, Faure, Handel, Puccini, Williams, original works and arrangements; as well as popular sacred and secular selections performed by vocal soloists, instrumentalists, and choir. Please join us for this special evening.
A young friend forwarded me this article, entitled Secularity and the Problem of Church Music, soliciting my opinion. As we've discussed our ideas, I decided to share some of my thoughts with you. From my original missive:
First, the title made me think that the author was going to equivocate secularity and vernacularism; in the title, it sounds like secularism is a problem (which of course it is). But then he proceeded to talk about how we need to include vernacular attributes into traditional worship (e.g. Bach & Wachet Auf). So as a writer, I found that confusing.
To his overall point about how other periods throughout Christian history have managed to combine both "vernacular" and "authoritative" music in worship, I agree with his description. But I completely disagree with his false dichotomy that vernacular and authoritative are opposites. I do know what he's trying to say, and we definitely perceive them as such. This is in large part due to the particularity and contingency of Postmodern philosophy. Music and art always reflect the times, and our times are characterized by personal truth and fluid reality. Someone in the church told me at the end of a service, when I concluded with a Hillsong song that kind of ended by drifting off (as opposed to a "ta-da" or final-feeling ending) that he hates it when music doesn't resolve. A lack of resolution in music is completely consistent with the current cultural concept that there is no one, firm, reality or truth. So in that regard, our particular vernacular in the 2020s is indeed at odds with music and art that represent a time when the cultural norm was that there is one firm reality and truth.
One caveat: it is fully legitimate to have different interpretations of aesthetic qualities. Current compositions that meander and create an atmosphere, rather than trying to "make a statement" certainly developed out of our current culture. However, meandering, atmospheric, experiential music need not be at odds with the Christian faith. We are indeed on a journey, and see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12). A steady diet of music that represents the human experience, in my opinion, becomes too self-focused and less God-focused. However, it is a legitimate part of our faith. Many other world religions eschew the personal and the experiential in an attempt to divorce from reality; but Christ invites us, in our particular bodies and lives, into His family. Emphasis in worship is a balance.
Even if people don't realize it, they respond to these aesthetic qualities, which is what leads to such heated debates about music style.
Basically, it seems that the author is just advocating for infusion of the new with the old. Nice, creative idea.
But the overall idea of having variety, the old and the new, is a position in which I stand firmly with him. There are two theological reasons for this. First, the Church is one body that shares communion with all the saints (1 Cor. 12). To share facets of worship with the entire Holy Church throughout time is a powerful and beautiful thing. The pathology of the Spirit is the same for all believers, regardless of any socio-temporal considerations. So I advocate remembering that unity by keeping quality music and practices from other times and places. Second, our Christian and one true God is not (though most of academia would disagree with me) a social construct made by white people in the recent past. God is not a style. He doesn't reflect us, we reflect Him. To say it's only relevant (for example) to sing songs that are current, right this minute, limits God to only making sense or being relevant right this minute. And then His nature seems to change when our culture changes. Nope, nope, nope. I'm all for using the best of what we know, new styles, new technology (that's what Bach's organ was after all) or culturally relevant and accessible styles. I do think that in addition to making a lot of work and heartache for the Body, it just doesn't fit the faith to force the one-size-fits-all, regardless of the chosen style.
I will say that we all have our own upbringings and backgrounds that inform what is comfortable and familiar to us. That alone can be extremely heartening and strengthening. I think there is nothing wrong whatsoever with people gravitating toward a style of worship that makes sense to them, and having a pretty steady diet of that, assuming it is grounded in the faith. What I do not agree with is that different expressions of the one true faith are somehow an ethical imperative. Sure, we musician snobs will critique hokey or poorly done performances all day long, but that is a result of training and personality. I might have difficulty identifying with a backwoods church, but this does not mean their faith is less than mine; certainly not their eternal worth. I do of course believe that we bring the firstfruits, our best offerings. I always remember being surprised as a child, learning that God was so displeased with Cain's offering. I thought, goodness, that's what he had! But the glib, lukewarm second-tier offering is actually a sin. So it's a high calling for the heart and how we steward our gifts.
Back to this blog post: when you feel emotional about your taste in church music, I pray that you will remember these two factors: what you like matters, because it's reflective of who you are, and God loves you--you in particular. He knew you before you were born, and knows the number of hairs on your head. He made you the way you are, and wants you to thrive. At the same time, remember that He is much, much bigger than you. He laid the foundations of the earth and sustains it for all time, and for all people. Praise God that we can rest securely in the arms of the One who is the static Way, the Truth, and the Life, yesterday, today, and forever.
I wonder what this title evoked in you readers... I know my husband would sardonically think, "Allergies." The big challenge to all of our lives these days is the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's affecting us all differently. Some are busier, some are bored; some will be glad to be free of a noisy household, others are lonely. It's feast or famine. Younger folks might associate the stress of final exams or final papers with this title. Over the years, I've come to realize just how much suffering surrounds the spring holidays as well: Mother's Day, Memorial Day, and Father's Day. In my inner circle of friends and family, I've seen these "holidays" evoke memories of abandonment, infertility, death of a parent, death of a child, exhaustion from too many family obligations, disappointing relationships, chronic illness and pain, years of hurt, and in some cases, abuse.
Memorial Day is the most obviously and unilaterally difficult. The pain is so great, even when one has the luxury of being personally removed, that we find ourselves asking why. Why must this be? No one should ever have to endure losing a son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, or sibling, or friend in warfare. One look at a photo of Arlington, and I'm about done for. When we consider the selflessness of this sacrifice, it is overwhelming. It's not quite so simple, but in a sense, someone died so I could have my barbecue in peace. When I meditate on this even for a moment, I feel viscerally as though my heart is bleeding and breaking.
I had this feeling as a child too, learning about Abraham and Isaac. I breezily accepted all manner of difficult stories from the Bible growing up, but this one, I remember thinking, "WHAT???" I was incredulous. What on earth might God be doing? Why play with them? It seemed so mean! There simply must be another way to test Abraham's faith. This did not seem to fit into the loving shepherd painting we had hanging in our hall.
I've grown to the understanding that is the exact reaction we ought to have. What? NO! That is too much to ask. That is cruel and he doesn't deserve it! Isn't there another way? How horrible!
Yes. How horrible.
If you're like me, you memorized John 3:16 as a child. I said it in a sing-songy rhythm. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life. John threeeee, six, teen." It became commonplace. But waking up to the complexities of adulthood and allowing the Holy Spirit's leading, the fact of God sending His only Son to take the punishment of death for you, in particular, and for me, in particular, is just too much to fathom. He didn't deserve it. It was horrible. There was no other way to save us from what we indeed deserve. And He did it out of love for you and me, willingly.
Rick and I have talked at times about shifting political alignments and associations, especially where it involves evangelical Christians and the military. One past member of his unit, an atheist, was incensed that there would be any crossover between the two, and vociferously complained about even the most general Christian reference. As someone who has never felt an interest or call to government and policy making, and as someone who is concerned with classic religious freedom as outlined by our Constitution, and not one to conflate the love of my country with a religious experience, I think the overlap is too significant to pretend it doesn't exist. No other god, tradition, or religion upholds the example of self sacrifice for others as Christ does. Other religions might focus on ethics and/or the greater good, to some extent, but at the heart, other traditions focus on simply being able to cope with the world. God calls us to more.
On Memorial Day, we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. There is indeed no greater sacrifice, than for a man to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
Here is a tribute by members of the U.S. Army Band, which includes the Brass Quintet and some historic footage as well.
As far as Mother's Day and Father's Day, I think some of us have had the experience that our mothers and fathers gave us our first introduction to what the love of God is. If I were to write tributes to my parents, we'd be here all day. (Although I must add that my mother always tried to get me to learn organ and conducting, to which I rebelled. Awkwardly going back now at middle age and doing what my mom told me to do in the first place... Kids, listen to your moms!)
For some of us, relationships with our parents are more complicated; for still others, perhaps our parents' inadequacies or errors made us understand all too well that there is only one perfect Father.
I would like to turn our attention to Henri Nouwen's discussion of the Prodigal Son story in his short book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. He outlines his own journey to the understanding that we are all both of the brothers at times, but the Father is the likeness to which we should all aspire. We are all the ones who messed up at some point; we are all frustrated and self-righteous when things seem unfair to us; but knowing and experiencing all of this, we are to mature into someone who has been well-loved by our Heavenly Father, and in turn attend to our responsibilities with grace, justice, and love. That is the whole parent gig. The young are parented, and one day, must learn to parent themselves. In so doing, we acknowledge the enormity of Christ's sacrifice for us, and rightly steward what He has given us.
I was the biggest overachiever while I was expecting Laura--I did not have one drop of caffeine, one remotely unhealthy food, one medication... I stayed physically active, listened to (and played) Mozart, and read stories to my swelling belly. It was my joy to do so. I'd still do anything for her and her family.
For myself, I care much less. There's always tomorrow to get in shape, prioritize sleep, or start eating better. If I could see myself as the Father does, I would have to acknowledge the price at which I was bought, and start to "parent" myself through His eyes. His love is truly perfect, in the way I wanted to give it to my child. He who did not spare His only Son, but gave Him up for all, will He not with Him freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:32)
Years ago, a close friend sought counseling about a pain and frustration in her life. After many weeks of gentle counsel, the counselor said, "Another thing just to think about is contentment." Well. She was LIVID. How can someone who has not experienced this dare say to be content!?
You know how desperate parents always try to redirect their children's attention to something that's good? If they're small, perhaps with a toy, if they're older, perhaps a discussion of perspective. Parents know that passing difficulties are not the big picture. As we seek to leave behind childhood things (1 Cor. 13:11), and think God's thoughts toward ourselves, I'd gently encourage you all to parent yourselves through life's inevitable pain and disappointments. Consider contentment. Direct your attention to the good, the true, and the beautiful. (Phil. 4:8) Know that in the exact way you've always needed to be loved, the way you want to love your children, God is advocating for YOU that way.
The end of the story for my friend is that she came to realize the wisdom of those words, and has since been blessed beautifully with answered prayers and depth of wisdom.
I took a walk this blue crystal day, full of giant puffy clouds lazily moving across the sky, sun kissed warmth, birds singing, and the smell of flowers on the air. At some point, a glorious circling wind blew all the dandelion cottons around, and for a good couple minutes, I was surrounded by their delightful swirling. God didn't have to make the world beautiful, but He did, out of an unfailing love for us.
For those suffering this spring, know our prayers go with you. Know He loves you beyond compare, and wants to hold you through your pain. For all of us, take a moment to parent yourselves with nurture and encouragement that we learn from our perfect Father.
It is Well. Spafford, 1873. The choir of CtK.
Hello Friends, I write, wondering how today finds each of you. I think most folks with whom I've talked express that their moods and/or stress comes and goes in waves. Some are overwhelmed with work, others boredom; some are overwhelmed by being together all the time, and others are lonely. For the most part, I've been elated to finally have some margins in my over-scheduled life, and embrace a healthier pace and lifestyle. After years of nonstop racing to the finish line of every day, it feels great to have the time to exercise, cook at home, catch up on some projects, and actually spend time with my husband! The last week has been, inexplicably, a bit of a downer for me. I want to come out of this quarantine, whenever that is, healthier and better rested than I started. I can't say I don't have the time now!
Perhaps ironically, what is grating at me is what so many people finds valuable and essential right now: virtual, responsibly distant social events. As an introvert who has found herself in front of people constantly, and as a student who is constantly being graded and assessed, crawling into my turtle shell is immensely appealing. People are different, it's not a right or wrong thing. For my part, I felt defeated when I realized that I had no less than 6 social engagements this past weekend. At the end of the queue was the virtual Lowland Hum concert from CtK's Concert Series. Rick and I absolutely LOVED every minute of their show for us last year (seems like 10 years ago now!). But this Sunday, I felt depleted. I found myself thinking, okay, I'm staff, I need to put a good foot forward. I just don't want to interact anymore. I don't! I'm Zoomed out! I want to eat comfort food, watch a show with my husband, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Like 7:30. (wink).
But then I tuned in, and listened. Daniel and Lauren are a young married couple whose musical creativity and excellence are matched only by their own calm, warmly inviting demeanors. They are funny and kind. Their pieces are thoughtful and engaging. Within the first minute, I was frustrated with myself for not inviting everyone I know to join in. For myriad reasons, life feels edgy and stressful now, and their music and presence was nothing short of a balm. I realized early on that I was breathing the way I otherwise only might during yoga or rest: slowly, calmly, and deeply, and simply enjoying a feeling of well-being.
While talking and connecting is intrinsic to our humanity and health, there is a large body of evidence growing that treating the physiological symptoms of stress is at least equally, if not more powerful, than are talk therapy or drugs. (See Bessel van der Kolk's excellent book, The Body Keeps the Score - www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/313183/the-body-keeps-the-score-by-bessel-van-der-kolk-md/. Beyond that, the arts, especially music, happen to address the physiological needs in exactly the ways that are therapeutic to stress, even in extreme cases.
Just thinking about their name evokes images of quiet, sprawling country: comfortable, homey, comforting, resonating throughout your being. God's provision comes in so many interesting "packages." Unsurprisingly, they've thought of many creative ways to build you up during this time; not ways to grab life by the horns, but ways to enjoy contentment, and just be. It is well with my soul, indeed.
Visit their website lowlandhum.com for more information; you can stream their music from your service of choice.
I received two forwarded messages from friends first thing this morning. You will have to wait for one at the end of this blog post. The other was an article just for my (and the staff's) information. The title of the article got my immediate attention: "A choir decided to go ahead with rehearsal. Now dozens of members have COVID-19 and two are dead." You can read the entire article here.
The status and statistics of this pandemic are changing constantly. Granted, this story did not take place in Northern Virginia. However, it did give me pause. That same week, after finally--finally!--resuming choir rehearsals for two weeks, I felt under the weather. On March 11 and 12, recommendations were much looser and more relaxed than they are now. I kept thinking about powering through, and doing the rehearsal. I felt utterly defeated by my poor health. What on earth else, after a four month hiatus, could possibly prevent choir from moving forward? But with the rumblings of Coronavirus and the stubborn symptoms, I just felt the need to cancel.
There must be something about the way singers breathe and project that made rehearsing so dangerous and deadly for this group in Seattle. I felt a shiver of gratitude at what turned out to be my serendipitous illness. It reminded me of a passage from The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom; certainly not in scale, but in perspective. Here is the excerpt:
The move to permanent quarters came the second week in October 1944. Betsie and I stared at the long gray front of Barracks 28. Half its windows had been broken and replaced with rags. A door in the center let us into a large room where two hundred or more women bent over knitting needles. On tables between them were piles of gray woolen socks.
Our noses told us, first, that the place was filthy. Somewhere plumbing had backed up, and the bedding was soiled and rancid. Then as our eyes adjusted to the gloom, we saw that there were no individual beds at all, but great square piers stacked three high, wedged side by side and end to end with an occasional narrow aisle slicing through.
We followed our guide single file to the center of a large block. She pointed to the second tier. To reach it we had to stand on the bottom level, haul ourselves up, and then crawl across three other straw-covered platforms to reach the one that we would share with—how many? The deck above us was too close to let us sit up. We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw. We could hear other women finding their places.
Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.
“Fleas!” I cried. “The place is swarming with them!
We scrambled across the platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle, and edged our way to a patch of light.
"Betsie, how can we live in such a place?” I wailed.
"Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. The distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.
“Corrie!” she said excitedly. “In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”
I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. “It was in First Thessalonians,” I said. “Here it is: ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. . . .’”
“Go on,” said Betsie.
“Oh, yes. ‘To one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances—’”
“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can thank God for everything about this new barracks!”
I stared at her, then around me at the foul-aired room.
“Such as?” I said.
“Such as being assigned here together.”
I bit my lip. “Oh, yes, Lord Jesus!”
“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.”
I looked down at the Bible. “Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”
“Yes,” said Betsie. “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at me expectantly.
“Oh, all right,” I said. “Thank You for the jammed, crammed, packed, suffocating crowds.”
“Thank You,” Betsie went on, “for the fleas and for--"
This was too much. "Betsie, there's no way even God can make me grateful for a flea."
"'Give thanks in all circumstances,'" she quoted. "Fleas are part of this place where God has put us."
So we gave thanks for fleas.
At day’s end back at the barracks, we received our ladle of turnip soup. Then, as quickly as we could, Betsie and I made our way to the rear of the dormitory room, where we held our worship “service.” Back here a small lightbulb cast a wan yellow circle on the wall, allowing us to read the Bible. An ever larger group of women gathered.
They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28. A meeting might include a recital in Latin by a group of Roman Catholics, a whispered hymn by some Lutherans, and a soft-voiced chant by Eastern Orthodox women. The women around us packed the platforms, hanging over the edges. Then either Betsie or I would open the Bible. Because only the Hollanders could understand the Dutch text, we would translate aloud in German. We would hear the words passed back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, back into Dutch. They were previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the lightbulb. I would know again that in darkness God’s truth shines most clear.
No guard ever came near us. So many women now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call. On the Lagerstrasse we were under rigid surveillance. It was the same in the center room of the barracks: half a dozen guards or camp police always present. Yet in the large dormitory room there was almost no supervision at all. We did not understand it.
. . .
One evening when I got back to the barracks, Betsie was waiting for me, eyes twinkling. “You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” she said. “I’ve found out.”
That afternoon, she said, there had been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes, so they asked the supervisor to come and settle it.
“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?” Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: “Because of the fleas!”
My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.
The hymn Amazing Grace comes to mind. Not only does God's grace save our eternal souls, but He provides for our daily lives in ways that we may never understand.
I have just returned from Convergence, having recorded organ accompaniments for Holy Week. (I like to work ahead, but as this is either the fourth or fifth plan, and the decision was made midday today, I worked about as quickly as I could). Just now, as I write, a loud buzzer on my silenced phone startled me with the emergency message that Alexandria residents are to stay at home, with the single exception of what is absolutely essential.
From our solitude, we will gather virtually in the next weeks to remember Christ's sacrifice, and His victory over sin and death. In the mean time, we will wait for His second coming in this imperfect world. I want to encourage us all to look for and find the blessings where they are.
The second forwarded message was a much shorter excerpt based on The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis:
Satan: "I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down business, schools, places of worship, and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil."
Jesus: "I will bring together neighbors, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not on the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources."
Enjoy the listening link below, and my prayers for health and abundant life go with each of you.
Amazing Grace. Charles Calotta, soloist. P.D.
The Hiding Place
Corrie ten Boom
Greetings from the inside of the four walls of the Lee household. You are all in our prayers for health and safety.
I think we're all learning a lot about ourselves these days: our priorities, our thresholds, our needs. Some of us have much more human contact in our homes than what we are used to, and others are lonely. Some of us are busier than ever, and our jobs have become a health vulnerability, and others are bored, looking to fill the time. We are all adjusting.
After nearly a year of musical plans that did not come to fruition, I confess I am a bit numb to change, which seems to be the one constant in my life. I deeply appreciate the patience, encouragement, and flexibility of the staff, all involved in the music ministry, and this parish. Giving into defeat and despondency might have been tempting, otherwise.
And why not just make it easy? Why bother rerouting at each new challenge?
Even as a musician, I roll my eyes at the rather self-congratulatory language used to justify arts education and arts funding. It always sounds corny to me. ("Music is the language of the soul.") At the same time, my husband and I make our livings as musicians, and certainly paid a lot of money to be able and qualified to do our jobs, scholarships notwithstanding. As a military musician, Rick never questions the value and importance of his work. He and his group are frequently repaid by words and tears of gratitude. As a church musician, and the grateful recipient of many years of great church music experiences, I don't doubt the importance of my work either. But in a time like this, is it really essential?
As Christians, we look to the Bible for direction and authority. To read the volume of search results on the topic of worship music in the Bible is to be occupied for a long time. The Scripture is full from beginning to end. Music is covered in narrative, command, invitation, personal prayer, exhortation.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, current research in neuroscience sheds some light on why music is so important to humans, and underscores the magnitude of this sacred gift. Without getting too technical, here's the Reader's Digest explanation. First, knowledge is embodied, meaning that information has to pass through the senses to be processed. While academic philosophy and colloquial usage have traditionally separated knowledge and feeling, intellect and emotion, the reality is that they are fully integrated functions of the brain. Second, we take in sensory information as it acts upon us, and understand through an "as-if," mimetic process. We entrain our thoughts to imagine ourselves as though they were engaged in what is conveyed to us sensually. This is how we understand each other socially. If I see your face fall, mine falls too, mimetically, in an effort to understand, by feeling, what it is you're feeling. Perhaps you see a pastoral or tropical landscape painting. Perhaps you imagine yourself there, but even before that, the horizontal line means rest to you, as though you were lying down, and the light colors, with smaller, shorter light rays, are easy on the eyes. In music, a rising line or high note may make you feel euphoric! Why? If you were very high, you might be floating or flying, or you might feel that you have transcended the earth, and thus your thoughts are drawn to the sacred. Thirdly, the sensory information immediately and pre-consciously makes changes in our physiology, tightening or loosening muscles, maintaining inner homeostasis in the presence of safety or danger. Fourth, and even more fascinating, is that this is a reciprocal relationship; anyone familiar with EMDR, dance therapy, yoga or similar practices, or walk and talk therapy knows that by retraining your physical reactions, you can learn to think differently and heal trauma.
When we make or listen to music, even alone, this complicated, pre-conscious process takes place in a millisecond. We take it in, and we physically entrain to it. Our physiology adapts to the sense data, whether it is exhilarating, calming, meditative, sad, or something else. Before we've even begun to make conscious associations and employ higher-level, "top-down" thoughts about interpretation, we have united empathetically with the music. This explains why we sometimes have visceral reactions we can't explain, immediately hating or rejecting some song or style. And it explains our fierce loyalty to the music we love. We've united with it in our whole being, and by extension, the others engaged in it. When the music is for worship, it becomes a prayer and a connection of our entire being to God. When we are together in corporate worship, the unity of heart and purpose is all-encompassing.
I remember having the realization at a young age that God did not have to make food (or anything else) good. It could have been some vitamin that we took to refuel. Instead, he made food a delight. He could have restricted our ability to connect with others or Him to conveyance of fact, and our relationship to Him could have been defined by duty. Instead, He gifted us with hints of His divine creativity and ways beyond our comprehension to love and be loved.
During this season of isolation, I hope you will enjoy the online musical offerings here at ctkfriendsofmusic.com; and I look forward to joining you all in worship and praise as soon as we can safely be back together.
My dad has brought many souls to Christ. One particular seeker accepted much of the Christian faith and witness, but got stuck at the doctrine of our sin nature. This individual just felt strongly that we are basically good, and the term "sinner" is extreme. My dad replied that, if we are honest with ourselves, we cannot say that every deed we've ever done, and every thought we've ever had, has been good, just and right. The individual conceded this point, and has continued to grow in faith in Christ over many years.
As we enter the season of Lent, sin and temptation take a front and center position in our liturgical focus. I find the variety of reactions to this interesting, especially as pertains to music. Parishioners asked a director colleague of mine, "Why does it seem like everything is in a minor key??" Ruffled, he replied, "Well, I mean, it's Lent." I know of a few families who returned to their Roman Catholic roots either temporarily or permanently, explicitly because they felt the Protestant denominations did not address Lent fully and properly. In general, however, I find that most of us get uncomfortable when we focus on our sin and temptations, and the suffering and sacrifice of Christ. Generally speaking, there is no mass mutiny on church music during Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas, where we joyfully celebrate the hope and fulfillment of God's promises.
I find a couple different approaches to be helpful in sorting this out: one is moderation; another is understanding who God is, and who He is to us. Philippians 4:5-7 (KJV) says,
5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
In terms of our understanding of Lent, I believe we should moderate between our more extreme tendencies, either to be overly self-deprecating, allowing shame to dictate our sense of ourselves; or to be prideful and glib about our sin, ignoring the heavier aspects of our faith, in favor of the parts that feel better. Often, the extreme we tend toward is driven by personality, and/or upbringing, which includes our respective understandings of theology. Some of us, by nature and nurture, identify more with justice and fairness; others, with compassion and grace. We probably attend the church that speaks to our comfort zone with that regard. By exercising moderation, and praying for wisdom, we may avoid falling into characterizing ourselves or God in a way that is dishonoring to Him.
This leads into the second approach that I find helpful in sorting out our attitudes toward Lent: understanding who God is, and who we are in relationship to Him. God is perfect and holy, and He sent His Son Jesus to be our Savior. We are His beloved creation, but we have estranged ourselves from Him through our sin (Romans 3:23). Truth and mercy characterize God's identity and ours. He is the perfect, sinless one, who is our eternal judge; but He lavished His mercy and love on us, "in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). We are separate from God because of our sin, but we are sought by Him, infinitely loved by Him, cherished by Him, saved by Him. It is not His will that any one of us should perish (2 Peter 3:9).
Thus, to believe on the one hand that God is an angry punisher, or on the other, that His merciful sacrifice was not a big deal, is to greatly dishonor Him. Likewise, to believe that we are worthless, shameful beings on the one hand, or basically good people with no need of salvation, not only dishonors God, but it dishonors Christ's sacrifice, and dishonors ourselves as His beloved children. God alone holds the tension between justice and mercy perfectly. To understand this more is to understand Him more.
Circling back to music during Lent: not every song or hymn will be in a minor key, that I can promise you. Music will overall be a bit more introspective, and as always, it will support the spoken word. It is my prayer that during this solemn season, your corporate worship and personal devotion will be filled with awareness of the gravity of Christ's sacrifice for us, the depth of God's love for us, and a renewed desire to live more fully to Him.
Our closing hymn this past Sunday was a selection from the new hymnal, entitled “Not by the Wisdom of This World,” set to the hymn tune, JERUSALEM. I fell in love with this hymn tune after hearing it sung at Reagan’s funeral. Even though we are, especially at the moment, not equipped like a cathedral--complete with mighty pipe organ and vaulted ceilings--the expansive composition itself speaks to my heart. Through the expansive range and texture, God’s grandeur, strength, and ultimate glory are replicated musically. The momentary dip to a lower tessitura and color change to a neighboring minor key climbs out to a glorious return to the original tonality. As David explained in his sermon, returning to The Source is what our Lord asks of us, and the source of our hope. Joel 2:13b says, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” Music has a marvelously visceral way of helping us experience this truth.
I have a friend in the congregation who has two particularly bright daughters—no surprise, as she and her husband are erudite, accomplished, and keenly intellectual. The little four year old took issue with part of verse 1 in this hymn, where it references the coming of the kingdom of the Father as coming through the “foolishness of God.” If I understood correctly, she refused to sing it. (Speaking of hope for the future—wow!). I was tickled and impressed.
This disconcerting language comes from 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (emphasis mine). Paul writes:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach[b] to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
My doctoral studies have been engaging, motivating, and challenging. It is clear that, now as ever, the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world. My prayer for each of you this week is that our seeking, saving Lord equips you with His armor, and that through the joys and challenges of your week, you may rest comfortably, perhaps misunderstood by some, but wrapped in the love, protection, and wisdom of God.