Friday, July 31

Catching the Holy Whisper

God whispered my name
As the sound of words
Sublimely wrapped
In golden tones of Graceful song
Filled cathedral space
Yet nestled soft as down
In my heart’s sacristy.

Is God‑love this warm?
Is Christ‑joy this knowing?
Is Spirit‑hope this near?
Does that which is far beyond
Find its way to these light‑dappled chambers
Of personal cloistered space
When angelic sounds
Soar high and low?

Blessed music!
Charioteer that swoops low
Endewing faith’s mysteries
Deep into the heart’s corners.

Grace is stirred up, imprinted deep
And the soul’s window
Set ajar to catch the
Echo of Spirited‑song
And things deeper than
Engraver’s page of dots and lines.

Lord, continue to fire the singing messengers
Who possess wisdom and skill,
Rejoicing as image‑bearers of the
Full Breathed One
As they breathe life into
Words and melodies,
Golden‑aged like finest wine
Or unseasoned yet flavorful
Like daily bread
Baked fresh from harvest's finest grain.

Heavenly Singing Flame!
Chanting troubadors of clay!
Listening gallery of saints and angels!
Music alive and faith‑infused!
Thanks be to God!

                    © 2007,  Nancy Gerst

"Be still and know that I am God" comes from Psalm 46, one of the Psalms that was written for the temple musicians in the time of the Old Testament, "a song for the songs of Korah." The sons of Korah were the rather large guild of musicians in the Jewish temple, a dynasty of musicians born into family lines, begun in the times of King David. It is both fascinating and humbling to read about these musicians who served during times of plenty, peace, incredibly rich worship services, and on through intrigues, betrayals, war, exile, and more.

Who are the musicians that have followed in the line of the sons of Korah after the time of Christ and into the beginnings of the Christian church? A 3rd century martyr, St. Cecilia, is interesting to read about because of the musical legacy that followed her martyrdom. While her martyrdom is likely a true story, the legends surrounding her and her musical interests are perhaps not totally verifiable in ancient records. That doesn't diminish the fact that whatever her passion for music in the worship of God, it was at least significant enough that legends were spun about it after her death. 

Following are some of the plethora of classical artworks featuring St. Cecilia, who has become the patron saint of church musicians, along with several paintings of angel musicians. Note that in some, both the human and angelic are worshiping as one. 

For discussion:  If artists depicted church musicians of today in works of arts, what might these look like? Why was music making in worship a common subject of artwork in former days, but not so much (hardly at all?) in our own day? I like to visualize in my heart sometimes during worship the invisible choirs of angel musicians who are adding their voices and instruments to our own God-ward praise. Someday our eyes will be opened around the throne of God where we will see the heavenly choir of saints and angels. What a glorious day that will be!


Thursday, May 21

Heaven's Books of Prayers

Libraries are one of life’s fine companions, aren’t they? How many pleasant hours in childhood are spent nestled in these corners exploring the world through the pages of books? How many paths to adulthood and discovery are spent perusing and devouring a gamut of subjects? Books widen our understanding, fears, knowledge. They invoke new questions, confirm or deny old suspicions, give us new frameworks for life. Books that are good, true, noble, lovely, admirable, sobering, enlightening, or excellent enlarge us and grow us as individuals, citizens, and communities. 

Clementinum, Prague

Among all the authors of books, my very favorite and awe-inspiring author is God. Yours too? The sixty-six books contained in the Bible contain history, poetry, prophecy, song, and much more in their telling of God’s works of creation and salvation. These books even refer to each other (search here). To call oneself a Christian pleads the corollary that the Bible is a part of the warp and woof of one's daily life.

The theme of this post bends here toward a pondering of books one cannot check out to read this side of heaven. The Bible gives intriguing hints about these books, ones that are not of this world, but housed in a world beyond the one we see. Books that might be read when we arrive on heaven’s shore: the Book of Life, the books of God’s plans for individuals, the books containing accounts of our tears. Sobering references to books of judgment, which will determine final destinies of all whose names are not recorded in the Book of life.

This all leads me to another library corner, a speculation with weightinessabout heaven's records of our prayers. Will there be such books of record in heaven’s libraries?

Daughter on her birthday
Down the long rows that hold titles beginning with "N," I wonder if there will be a volume or two titled “Nancy’s Prayers.” Will it contain all the formal utterings I made in my lifetime? The childhood prayers of simple or impossible-in-my-view requests? The blessings spoken over meals, or children’s and grandchildren’s bedtime hours? The laughing-out-loud at life prayers? The sensed-based prayers where the joy of the day bubbled up in my heart over the delights of creation and salvation?

Will holy moment prayers abound in this record of my prayer life? The scraps and sighs directed heavenward during weary hours? The rants and rumbles of foolish lips accusing God of not knowing, or caring, or hearing? The questioning, small-faith prayers? The pleading prayers? The sinner’s prayer? The prayer for guidance or understanding? The ensemble, preacher-led prayers that I echoed with my own amens? The glistening eye prayers of bent knees in sanctuaried spaces? The journal prayers written long and intensely during quiet hours?

Will this book of prayers contain the prayerful Psalms I read and sang aloud? Songs and prayers of thanksgiving sung in the company of other saints? Notes of prayer poured through my fingers at piano and organ during practice and in worship services? Other words from the Bible breathed in prayer again and again though out my life’s journey? The Lord’s Prayer spoken countless times in solidarity with other Christians, or ponderingly in quiet moments spent expanding its petitions? The prayers of other Christians I borrowed and made my own? The incomplete prayers of a wandering mind? The mature prayers framed by wrinkled, growing older hands?

Finally, will I be able to read again the prayers at the deathbed of loved ones? The final prayer of my own heart as my spirit let go of my earthly body?

Will each prayer, however spare or misspoken, be followed by the careful, certain answers from the heart of a gracious and loving God? Will I read these answers with gentle nods, get-outta-here delight, growing faith, radiant love? How will the silences be noted, where the Holy Spirit gathered breath and cadenced my own unformed words to His perfect wisdom and will?

Does heaven have place for regrets over blank pages or prayers that could have or should have been prayed? Will there be no blank pages, only thin volumes? Perhaps only earth gives us the opportunity to realize regret and amend our ways before the curtain is drawn, amendments including careless habits of prayer.

In a glimpse of heavenly wonder, we read in St. John’s epistle that the prayers of the saints are not only in the pages of heaven’s records, but they have an honored, Lamb-enabled place in the worship of God in heaven as they are combined with an angel’s golden offering of incense before the throne. (Revelation 8:1-5)

Jesse Tree, Chartes Cathedral
The most surprising book will be the one titled “Jesus Intercedes for Me” wherein is recorded the prayers of the ascended Christ on my behalf before the throne of God. It is beyond my imagining to conceive of the God of all creation praying for me! Yet in the book of Hebrews we read:
Therefore he [the ascended Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 
Heaven’s collection of prayer bookswhat a glorious collection!
Will we have access to the books of other’s prayers? Will we find our name mentioned among the pages of a parent’s, spouse’s, child’s, grandchild’s, sister’s, brother’s, relative's, friend’s, pastor's, neighbor's, co-worker's, or even an assumed enemy's prayers?
Will we surprisingly find our name in the pages of prayers by someone we never knew? Someone who prayed for us before we were even born?
Jesus told us to pray and never stop. If we follow his admonition, those scribing angels will be kept busy for eons as they ponder our privilege and record page after page of the prayers of the saints.
I hope to keep my angel-scribe dipping that pen into the inkbottle at a good clip until we shake hands and with a ruffle of wings, I’m led to the shelf containing the books of prayers I prayed and books containing prayers prayed on my behalf by Jesus and others. What joyful moments those will be to see these prayers and bask in the wise, sweet answers of God with the clarity of heaven!

Roving among the stacks of heaven’s books of prayerssounds like a wonderful way to spend little time in eternity to me. Perhaps I’ll go with my friend Lois and we’ll show each other some of the prayers we prayed for each other. Perhaps I’ll find the prayers my son or daughter prayed for me when they were just wee ones learning to talk to God.

We have so much to look forward to in heaven including a Savior-infused library. For the beautiful gift and privilege of prayer this side of our eternal home, won’t you join me in saying, “Thanks be to God!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 


Christ Be the Lord of All Our Days - St. Paul's Cathedral Choir, text by Timoth-Dudley Smith
Christ be the Lord of all our days,
the swiftly-passing years;
Lord of our unremembered birth,
heirs to the brightness of the earth;
Lord of our griefs and fears.

Christ be the source of all our deeds,
the life our living shares;
the fount which flows from worlds above
to never-failing springs of love;
the ground of all our prayers.

Christ be the goal of all our hopes,
the end to whom we come;
guide of each pilgrim Christian soul
which seeks, as compass seeks the pole,
our many-mansioned home.

Christ be the vision of our lives,
of all we think and are;
to shine upon our spirit's sight
as light of everlasting light:
the bright and morning star.

Morning Prayer - Tchaikovsky, from Children's Album, op. 39, played here by the cello ensemble Cellomanie Croata (a prayer without words)

Evening Prayer - Ola Gjeilo, Phoenix Chorale with saxophonist Ted Belledin

Watch, O Lord,

  with those who wake,

  or watch or weep tonight,

  and give your angels charge over those who sleep.

Tend your sick ones,

O Lord Jesus Christ;

Rest your weary ones;

Bless your dying ones;

Soothe your suffering ones;

Pity your afflicted ones’

Shield your joyous ones;

And all for your love’s sake.


                                St. Augustine

Saturday, May 9

From Our Mother's Arms

Everyone has a mother! Regardless of how one perceives their mother's successes or failures as a mom, everyone can be thankful for the gift of life in the same manner that this hymnist writes . . .
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and bless├Ęd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
                                                                               Martin Rinkart, 1636

These noble and beautiful lines have a remarkable story behind them. Wikipedia says this about Rinkart:
Martin Rinkart was a Lutheran minister who came to Eilenburg, Saxony at the beginning of the Thirty Years' War. The walled city of Eilenburg became the refuge for political and military fugitives, but the result was overcrowding, and deadly pestilence and famine. Armies overran it three times. The Rinkart home was a refuge for the victims, even though he was often hard-pressed to provide for his own family. During the height of a severe plague in 1637, Rinkart was the only surviving pastor in Eilenburg, conducting as many as 50 funerals in a day. He performed more than 4000 funerals in that year, including that of his wife.
Pastor Rinkart wrote the hymn Now Thank We All Our God as a table prayer for his children. Such an astounding poetic affirmation of daring to living fully and thankfully in the midst of chaos, overwhelming grief, and hardships!

The three stanzas of the hymn remind us of the beginning of life, the middle journey, and passing on to eternity with God. Stanza two summarizes the prayers that all godly mothers have for their children.

On this Mother's Day I will once again look back at how God has blessed me throughout my life "from my mother's arms." We could probably sit on my patio in the gentle spring breezes, sip a nice coffee or tea, and share wonderful memories of our mothers. Or we could sing this hymn wherever we might be and add our voices to the stream of sturdy, frail, hopeful, questioning, faithful children of God who have sung these strains for hundreds of years.

Blessings to all who have a mother, and blessings to all mothers! May the Lord help us all to live in thankfulness each day for His countless gifts of love and His presence in our lives every day that we live.

Photos of my mother, one with me at age 12, and crown vetch along Route 35 in southern Ohio, the road I drove many times to visit my parents in their later years. Mom loved flowers, and she so enjoyed this ground cover. It always makes me think of her when I see it.

~ ~ ~

A Choir sings NOW THANK WE ALL OUR GOD (John Rutter's setting with fanfare).

Bach used this chorale as the basis for many works including:

    Nun Danket Alle Gott - Cantata BWV 192, J.S. Bach

    Organ Choral Prelude, BWV 657

    From Cantata BWV 79