Saturday, August 29

Crystal Tears

Many friends know the story of my sister-in-law's struggle with cancer. Marti passed away on August 14 at her home in Marble, Colorado. After her funeral, I spent several days with my brother and four of their children still at home. This poem has been winding its way through my heart since then.

Crystal River at Redstone, CO, a few miles from my brother's home in Marble.


Crystal River catch my salty tears,
Meld them with the melted snows
That pass o’er marbled terrains
Flowing along reddish rocks,
Keepers of tales of love and woe.
Splash these heart-bled gems into a Roar until
They travel far beyond my
House of Joys and Sorrows
And dissipate into the
Crystal Sea where tears
Blossom into fruited trees
Along shining, life-laiden banks.
There sits the 
Golden-haired Beloved,
Celestial harp in hand,
Singing songs of Wonder,
In crystal-glazed notes
Winding higher and higher
Past the earthbound C*;
While I, with mountain-east eyes
Catch their echo
‘Neath the silvery moon. 

My brother Jerry, August 21, 2015

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

*The last note Marti Begly sang during recording sessions on earth was a high C. This was just two weeks before her passing on to glory. The song was “How Great Thou Art,” and is available soon from Studio B Recordings. 

Notes regarding metaphors in this poem:  

EARTHLY:   The Crystal River is a tributary of the Roaring Fork River, approximately 40 mi (64 km) long, in the heart of the Rockies in western Colorado. It rises in northern Gunnison County in the Elk Mountains on the north side of Schofield Pass, passing through the ghost town of Crystal City. It then flows north past the town of Marble, then into Pitkin County past Redstone. It joins the Roaring Fork below Carbondale. The beautiful drive along State Highway 133 follows the river along much of its route north of Marble toward Carbondale. 

HEAVENLY:  The dwelling of God is described near the end of the Bible in Revelation 22.: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” The river mentioned there is also referred to as the crystal river, crystal sea, or sea of glass (also see Revelation 4:6, 15:2). The American hymn “Shall We Gather at the River?” paints a picture of the scene along this heavenly body of water, asking if we will be there too. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 


At the River - Sung by the Sanctuary Choir at Resurrection Lutheran Church, Cary NC

May the Lord - A blessing sung by Marti Begly in a 2014 recording. It was played at her funeral in August 2015 as her casket was wheeled from the sanctuary. What a beautiful gift she left to bless and comfort; what a tear-stained moment in worship!

Crystal River at Redstone, CO on August 22, 2015

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