Thursday, April 2

I Don't Want Nails in My Hands

The light of the nightstand lamp bathed her little face in a golden, day’s end glow. She had picked out a library book and brought it to bed with her, asking that I read the page with a picture of Jesus on the cross. 

Before I even looked at the text to see how appropriate it was for a five year old, she looked at me with big eyes, waving her little hand close to my face and pleaded, “Grandma, I don’t want nails in my hands!”

Christ on the Cross - Rembrandt
On this Thursday before Easter Sunday, Maundy Thursday, the day we remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, the praying in the garden, the arrest, the trial, beating, and on Friday morning, the via dolorosa . . . isn’t that exclamation from the sincere heart of my granddaughter what all of us want to speak in reverent tones? “Lord, I don’t want nails in my hands!”

He knows. He knew. In deepest love, he took the nails in our place.

For such love and so great a salvation, won’t you join me in saying, “Thanks be to God!”

Head of Christ - Rembrandt

Postscript:  A simple explanation and assurance of how much God and Jesus love her, (along with a follow-up reading of another favorite story) sent my little princess to sleep in confident peace. If you too have piercing questions about the historical events of Holy Week, you may want to read the account from an eyewitness here

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Selections below sung by the choir at Resurrection Lutheran Church, Cary, NC

God So Loved the World – by John Stainer

Agnus Dei – Hans Leo Hassler  

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
    Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
Miserere nobis. Have mercy on us.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
   Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
Dona nobis pacem. Grant us peace.

Lamb of God Most Holy - Melius Christiansen
Lamb of God most holy!
Who on the cross didst suffer;
Patient still and lowly,
Thyself to scorn didst offer;
Our sins by Thee were taken,
Or Hope had us forsaken:
Have mercy on us, Jesus!
       Text:  Nicolaus Decius, 1485-1546

Sunday, January 25

Tread Softly

Sunrise in Marble CO by Jerry Begly
This evening I ran across the lovely poem by William Butler Yeats, "Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven." What a delight to discover it is also beautifully set to music by several current day composers. Do you know the poem or one of the compositions?

This discovery reminded me of something Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said:  "A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul."

How many of us take that advice to heart even on a weekly basis? I would add that the beauty of nature, such as a sunrise, the song of a bird, the laughter of children at play, and so on are part of this "sense of the beautiful" too.

This concept was expanded in beautiful depth, many years before Goethe. The apostle Paul wrote with a flourish of rhetorical anaphora
"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8)
And so I offer this lovely poem and its modern compositions as a golden whatever for this day, a way to keep alive the "sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul." 
Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
by William Butler Yeats 

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Yes! Jesus help me to tread softly on my loved one's dreams!

Photograph by Katherine Micks

you tread
on my

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

The poem read by Anthony Hopkins

Karl Jenkins' setting for soprano solo and orchestra

Bradley Ellingboe's setting for choir 

Martin Sedak's setting for choir

A Different Take  

Saturday, January 24

Cross Country Hearts

Marti with Grandson
Yesterday something on my Facebook wall caught my eye; beautiful stained glass heart figures by an artist I've been following for some time, Jay at Sticky Fingers Glass Works in Knightdale, NC. I am leaving in a few days for a visit to see my sister-in-law Marti, brother Jerry, and four beautiful children in the high Colorado Rockies. Looking for a gift to take along for her had not yielded just what I was looking for. Until I saw these hearts.

Marti is a vivacious, beautiful woman of deep Christian faith. An amazing mother of seven beautiful children, she has joyed to see two daughters walk down the aisle in marriage, and follows a college son with delight and cheers.  Teaching all seven, not just as a home-school mom, but much music, and so many life-skills has kept her happily busy for many years. Her soprano voice has soared in beauty over many people's ears and hearts in places all across the country. 

The current chapter in Marti and Jerry's life includes a hard challenge. In the past year, Marti has sung a new, difficult song as she bravely fights the battle of cancer. Her faith and honesty throughout this journey has inspired so many, many people.

My last visit was in the spring of 2014 right after she was diagnosed and had surgery. During my stay, the pastor at the church there in Marble welcomed me from the pulpit as Aunt Mary Poppins. With four children at the house to love up in a big way, it was an experience that changed me in profound ways.

When I saw these hearts yesterday, I knew this would be a lovely piece of art to hang in one of the windows at this family home which they aptly call, "The Chalet."

Here is a photo of the heart I ordered, and following that is the beautiful post the artist posted this morning on Facebook. Made me weep, but they are tears of love where there are no words to say what's on one's heart. 

"Chalet Hearts" collection from Sticky Fingers Glass Works

Jay says:  'When I found this heart design, and adapted it to fit my needs of lots of color, I had only one ideal in mind, making some money during my slowest business time of year. What I got in return touched my own heart. I had made a dozen or so before I began to sell, I started getting messages about price, shipping, colors etc as soon as I posted the pictures. 
Then the very first one I sold, made them much more than that, much more than a simple money maker, sold to a woman here in NC, a lady I do not know, going to a sister in law in CO battle [battling] cancer, a simple colorful glass heart, filled with love. A simple act of kindness that happens every day, but with it boxed and shipped, a piece of my heart will be sent today to CO to become a part of some one else. 
My work has never been a million dollar money maker, but more of making people happy, so with this being what it is I feel honored to name my newest project "Chalets Hearts". Thank you Nancy Gerst for making me remember.'

If you are interested in purchasing one of these hearts, which is about 5" high, (or other stained glass work by this North Carolina artist) you can find him on Facebook by searching for Sticky Fingers Glass Works or at this link. Thanks Jay for your beautiful work and for such a caring response to my order!

Thanks to all who remember my sister-in-love Marti, brother Jerry, and the children in prayer.  

See what great love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!  I John 3:1

Marti and me at the Raleigh Rose Garden a decade ago

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

The Lord's Prayer - Malotte, sung here by Marti with me accompanying her.

Greater Love Hath No Man - John Ireland, a song about the greatest heart of all, God's love for the world.

Friday, January 23

Here She Comes!

On the Horizon - Katherine Micks

This week I had the privilege of serving as organist for the funeral of a new friend, Eleanor Dunn. I never met her until the day of her memorial service. At age 99, her life story was rich and so compelling. I found myself wiping away tears over someone so joyful, so full of Christ, who touched everyone she met with beauty and meaningful conversation. I wished with all my heart that I had known her.

Mrs. Dunn, happily married for many years, lived more than a decade after her husband’s death. She selected the following poem to include on the last page of the printed Order of Worship for her own funeral. 

Dr. Mel Wines read this poem with depth of feeling at the end of his sermon. He had spent many hours visiting this dear parishioner. The friendship that developed shone in his reading. She always refreshed him more than she did him, or so he said, even praying for him every visit after he prayed for her. What a lovely, faith-filled practice.

Written by American clergyman Henry Van Dyke for his wife, these lines are a beautiful picture of the Christian’s transition from the edge of earth's shore to heaven’s welcoming port . . .

Gone From My Sight 
by Henry van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails
to the moving breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until,
at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky
come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says,
"There, she is gone."
Gone where?
Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear
her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me – not in her.
And, just at the moment
when someone says,
"There, she is gone,"
there are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up
the glad shout,
"Here she comes!"
And that is dying...

Isn't that so beautiful? "Here she comes!" "Here she comes!" Wow. I look forward to hearing that someday, don't you? 

May the God of peace . . .  preserve us whole and entire, spirit, soul, and body, irreproachable at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. 
(I Thessalonians 5:23

Photo by Katherine Micks

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

The Call (Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life) - Ralph Vaughan Williams

Shall We Gather at the River - Copland's setting, sung by Marilyn Horne

Going Home - sung by Bryn Terfel

How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place - Johannes Brahms (sung in English)

Pilgrim's Hymn - Stephen Paulus 

The Road Home - Stephen Paulus

I Shall Know Him - new setting of Fanny Crosby's text by Ben Everson

Thursday, December 25

Why Christmas Touches Everyone So Deeply

Why does Christmas seem to reach out arms that embrace and touch people all around the world? 

There are certainly lots of reasons, but, as we were eating a late brunch and listening to "Fantasia on Christmas Carols" (Ralph Vaughan Williams) I realized that at Christmas the world is especially, remarkably, uniquely touched by heaven...

Friday, December 12

Joy of the Season

During the busy season of Advent and Christmas, it's a unique and special thing to spend time alone in beautiful spaces preparing one's part. Here is an excerpt from a recent practice session at Winthrop University. Byrnes Auditorium is home to a very special Aeolian-Skinner. Even though spaces like this are often cold (and it was true to expectations, especially during our recent cold snap), and scheduling at a busy music conservatory can be a challenge, all went well. I bundled up and spent some happy hours here. 

This accompaniment features the marvelous string and celeste stops on this fine instrument. It just blessed my heart to hear these in this space and imagine the choir singing words that are beloved and precious. 

You can see the entire clip of this accompaniment (if you're interested in using this anthem) at this link on my youtube channel. This video here is a shorter sampling ...


He Taught the World to Sing

Here is a poem for the season of Advent or Christmas. The stanzas move through the retelling of the birth of Christ to his work of redemption and coming again. The first line reminds us that the story of Christ's birth is our story, too, because of the succeeding chapters in his life and work. If you are unfamiliar with the entire story of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of John is a great place to read about it.

May be sung to the tune: IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR

The Christmas story is our own
It is our story of peace
When hearts were troubled, love unknown
God’s love, our own increased.
In humble birth, in family tree,
We see the way to know
How love can be a mystery
Yet bloom in time and grow.

A manger bed, an angel’s voice
Announced the baby was born
In Bethlehem they knelt, rejoiced
When Love came down that morn.

Monday, December 1

Tippy's Private Sermon

I started out my career in church ministry as an itinerant Baptist evangelist preacher. While I only preached one sermon, my memory tells me it was a pretty good one, even for a six-year old. 

One bright summer day found me standing tall in my mother’s high heels, with her hat, jewelry, and gloves, a little pocket New Testament opened and held just right in front of me. My airy pulpit paralleled the side of the garage where the snapdragons bloomed in
Granddaughter by my petunias.
riotous profusion. 

Waiting in full regalia, I just knew that rugged, rebellious sinner-man would show up soon.  I was ready for him, ready to smack him between the eyes with fiery rhetoric that would surely have him on his knees in anguished, tearful repentance.

A flash of fur and wide, wild eyes brought Tippy, the maverick neighborhood junk-yard dog, to an abrupt halt right in the first row of my imaginary country church.  I stared him down until he took his place like a gentleman, cleared my throat, and holding his puzzled gaze, proceeded to share my six-year-old version of the gospel with him.

Saturday, November 22

Practice Tips from a Pro and St. James

LOVELY Christmas decorations are already in place on the light poles along the streets of Pineville. Driving through this quaint downtown, I mused that, although some lament that Thanksgiving isn’t even over before the December bombardment begins, any church musician worth their salt has been Christmas-ing away for months now.

Practice in the Spring of 2013
Church organists will confirm that this time of year finds them putting in extra hours at the bench in preparation for all the beautiful music to come during Advent and Christmas. Practice. Practice. Practice. Repeat until it’s not just okay, but excellent. (Don’t go into a career in music if you can’t stand long hours by yourself in repetitions of minutia that might drive many sane people crazy.)

This morning while meditating on a section in the book of James, a lovely “a-ha bolt” struck me. Here staring at me was a bold encouragement for my own organ practice. How so, you ask. Here is the section that got my attention:

Friday, October 3

She Responds in Kind

One evening last week while we were clearing up after dinner together, Larry pulled his head out of the pantry (where his cookies hide) and cheerfully commented, "You make my life so pleasant." "Aww, thank you Larry! What a nice thing to say."

I've thought about that off and on since then. That kind little offhand remark made me feel like gold. You know the feeling? When someone says something small in a complimentary way, but your heart hears it as if it were a just makes your world seem ripe with juiciness and meaning. 

A couple nights ago I was restless and couldn't sleep, so I got up and wrote poetry. Here's the poem that was born of that pleasant comment and a 2 a.m. meeting at the computer keyboard...

Sunday, September 14

Intersecting Planes

In the arborestum. Noting a flower up above.
She walked along the 
   heightened ridge
While I took a meandering path

Through thickets and 
   deep pools

Of reflected dusk 
   and dying days

Where shadows 
   offered bittersweet

Comfort of familiar ways,

Memories and the 
   years of my life.