Saturday, February 6

"Our Father" on Maynard Drive

Do your prayers ever get cut short in a good way? One of mine did this morning.

As I left for a funeral, my mind was mulling over the music to be set up at the organ, what to say during the short choir warm-up, routine tasks to be done pre-funeral as the organist for this solemn service in the life of a church congregation. 

Strains of a Schubert violin sonata over the radio divided my attention, until a red light ahead awakened me to the valuable minutes I had between home and the church. Pastor Joe Vought remarked once in a sermon that being in a car alone offers such a rich opportunity for prayer. As example, he said he had been practicing the habit of praying through the Lord’s Prayer when he came to a red stop light. [Pastors, take heart in that we your parishioners often remember small things you said even years later!]

Slowing to a stop at the intersection of Maynard and Kildaire Farm Road, I began to pray. “Our Father . . .” And that is where I stopped for the remainder of the drive. The funeral today would be especially hard because it was for a woman five years younger than I am. No signs of what was about to happen had been evident. On a night when she normally came to choir practice, something snapped and she took her own life.

Oh Lord! Oh my Father! Of Father of all your children!

The Holy Spirit prays for us when we can only groan. These loving prayers go too deep for words, holding us close to the heart of God. Surely the Holy Spirit was there, praying for this troubled child in her hour of deepest need.

Our Father. Yes, Lord, my Father and the Father of this troubled woman, and the Father of those who loved her deeply and are swimming in grief and unanswered questions. 

My prayer continued with thoughts about my own Dad. How much he cared for me and loved me! How I miss him now that he is home in heaven! How deeply God loves me in a far greater measure! 

The deep, deep love of Jesus. The amazing love of God. The tender care of the Holy Spirit. All of this love is present, true, and holy even in life’s worst moments. Even when this daughter of the heavenly Father, one who had professed Christ all her life, became despondent or perhaps insane in her final moments. Her struggle did not erase God’s love or his care for her in having angels at the ready to escort her home.

How very comforting to look at the light shining through these words. To know this child of God had prayed these same words countless times in faith and solidarity with her brothers and sisters in Christ. That God the Father was and is her Father. To know that nothing she thought or did would diminish God's love for her in Christ her Lord. 

As Pastor Kevin Johnson would say in his beautiful funeral sermon, “Nothing shall separate us from the love of God. . . not anything in all creation. Or to paraphrase for today, not mental illness, or suicide.” These beautiful and true words will have the final word over tragedy!

This deep, fatherly love is what all people of all times yearn for and long for above all else! Even if they can’t quite put their finger on the longing. On this day, I was especially reminded what a privilege it is to address the Creator of all that is as “Our Father” and “My Father.”

Turning into the church parking lot, I prayed that God would infuse all of us serving in this hour, so that, in small ways, our echoes of God’s love would give comfort and bring peace to those gathered.

It is a warm, sunny, spring-like day. It has been another day in my own history when deep truths have shone amid the rubble. 

The lessons of these kinds of day are hard, aren’t they? 

Times like this make being 

a choir member, 
or a pastor, 
or a member of a church, 
or a friend,
or a church organist,

very difficult. And yet, exceedingly rewarding by living through them held in the embrace of God's great love.

Blessings of peace to all who are reading this reflection.

You are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10


Beautiful Savior - piano solo by Nancy Gerst

"The peace may be exchanged" - from "Rubrics" by Dan Locklair, with Nancy Gerst, organist

Baby bird and sunset photos by Katharine Micks
Used by permission. 

Tuesday, January 5

Hymn for the Baptism of Jesus

John and Jesus in the Jordan 

87 87 88(77) / Suggested tune:  IRBY, Once in David’s Royal City*

THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST, Joachim Patinir, c.a. 1510-20
John and Jesus in the Jordan                       
Prophet lowly with the Lord.                      
God the Father speaks in love,                   
Spirit dove shines from above.                   
Water on the Word is showering,              
Death drowned wholly, life affirming.

Jesus, Savior, loves his own,
For our sin he did atone,
Takes our place, stands with us in the waters;
Flood of death embracing he defeats.
Life eternal! blood-washed saints,
Baptized Lord, death’s flood constrains!

And our own baptism shows our love
For the Son’s full payment, end of
Our great debt, our life now free and full;
Free to serve, to grow, to show
All that Christ for us has done,
Praise to God’s most holy Son!

© 2016, Nancy Gerst 
Permission is granted to use this hymn for worship services in Christian churches around the world. For permission to use in magazine articles, blog posts, or hymnals, please contact Nancy directly. For worship service use, please note permission in bulletin or slide presentation as:    Text © 2016, Nancy Gerst. Used by permission. 

Tapestry at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, Los Angeles, by John Nava


* For stanza one, use the phrasing to stanza 2 of "Once in Royal David's City" which begins "He came down to earth..."  This shows the use of two quarter notes at the end of each of the last two lines. Most people will sing this intuitively, but the accompanist should be sure to lead with two quarter notes rather than a tie or half note. 

 A JPG of this hymn with the melody for printing in bulletins is available for a one-time fee of $8. 


A number of movies have been made on the life of Jesus Christ. Here's one clip on the baptism of Jesus. Do you have another one you prefer?  
Jesus Is Baptized by John

O Blessed Spring - Text by Susan Palo Cherwein, sung by the National Lutheran Choir, with extended organ introduction. Text can be seen here.

Tuesday, December 22

The Wide Embrace of Christmas

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...

in the beauty of unparalled music
in love between those who were estranged or distant

in the deep mystery of Christ's love

in the contemplation of angel choirs singing to humble shepherds

by traveling wisemen

in a virgin mother holding the Creator of the stars in her arms

in faithful, trustworthy, caring Joseph
in dusty roads and dirty stables hosting a heavenly Babe-King
What else would you add to this list? Giving and receiving gifts in love, anticipation, and joy? Grandma's house and the aromas coming from the kitchen? The light in a child's eyes? Hugs and kisses all around?

This heavenly glimpse, this thin place where heaven and earth kiss each other, this week's compaction of contemplation can be ours all year long. This is why the Lord of heaven and earth took the form of a baby and became God enrobed in flesh, to make a way for us to heaven and provide an enduring union with him today and every day of our life's journey.

May we embrace Emmanuel, God with us, every day, in every circumstance in 2016.

Fantasia on Christmas Carols - Ralph Vaughan Williams

Hodie - Ralph Vaughan Williams

Tuesday, October 27

Walk in the Woods

Join me in this poem and in this video link for a walk through the woods that I loved during my growing up years. Writing the poem, capturing the place in a video walk, and assembling that into a music video has helped me find my footing in a new role in life. 

This newness came mixed with sadness, as my siblings and I said goodbyes to beloved parents, and then to the family home. Time does not stand still does it?

The movement from one generation to the next, as new patriarchs and matriarchs in a family rise up, will come to all of us. May what I share here help you to reflect in a thoughtful way about your own place in this movement of family generations through time.

It is the end of an era
The beginning of a new way 
Of being in the world,
Time to be family heads now rather than look to parents
As the role models of stability and wisdom.
Even with a fist full of decades in one’s repertoire
This duty beckons with surprise
As footsteps hesitate to
Mount up with wings as eagles,
To walk and not be weary
For the challenges ahead.

And so I take a good-bye walk
Around beloved space,
Listening to the wind and leaves
While adding my own voice in prayers
Of thankfulness for such a richness
In legacy, 
Highlighted by the riotous colors of the
Fall woodland, decked in
Flutters of golden and red whispers.

We are not alone in this world.
The spirit of our loved ones
Salted the earth in their own times,
Paving the way for those who follow.
The Spirit of God ties us with them
In memory, in beauty, in hope of reunion.

The fall woodland reminds all that
Each era of our days on earth
Is spread out in time with
Masterful skill by the Designer
Of changing seasons; springtime, summer, fall.
His intricate weaving of life with life,
Soul with soul, days scattered,
Hours diffused with mundane or majestic centers,
All part of His score for the world.

Our part, however lovely, long, or little,
Is to play note by note, minute by minute,
Breath by breath, the song that
The Composer of our souls
Gives us in love and time.

Bless my frailness, 
My leapings into this or that, Lord.
Help me to play Your music well.
May this arc, the end of summer,
The stepping into the autumn of my life,
This third movement of a life symphony
Be rich and bold with grace,
Celebrating the harvest of life 
That has seen goodness from Your hand,
Taking up each ripe fruit, 
Using it for goodness sake.

Prepare me, Lord, in all these glorious days
For the walk with dignity into the next movement
When the cadence of my Fall is complete,
And the quietness of my Winter breathes
Frost-like on another chapter toward life’s end.
With echoes of golden leaves hindering sadness,
May the boots and mittens of winter
Not inhibit the song,
Hummed softly during long nights
Or bellowed joyfully when
Crystalline flakes dance with delight
Windowing clearly the bluster and beauty
In all of life’s days.

Here are photos from that walk . . . 


A Walk in the Woods - piano solo from my archives on "Faith of Our Fathers" with video from the woods at Spring Hill Farm