Tag Archive | Amazing Grace

Let’s Pray, Floey

Floey sitting - profile cropped“Hey, Mom. We need to have a talk.”

“OK, Floey. What’s on your mind?”

“Ever since you stopped writing your blog every week, I feel that we don’t talk at all. Oh, I know we still talk about the birds and the bees and the gophers when we’re on our walks – how beautiful the goldfinches are, how annoying the wasps are, and how fast the gophers can run when I chase them… But we don’t have deep conversations like we used to have. I miss that.”

“Well, I’ve got some time now. What do you want to talk about?”

“I don’t really care. I just want to spend some time with you, talking about some of the things we’ve each been thinking about. I know. Last month you played the piano in jail twice for the women’s worship service again. How did that go?”

“Oh, that was really something, Floey. The main theme we talked about both weeks was God’s healing. We sang There is a Balm in Gilead and Amazing Grace. You know what was the best part of those services?”

“I bet it was singing those beautiful hymns!”

“Nope. It was when we prayed for each other. Remember we all sit in chairs arranged in a circle, and near the end of the service we pray out loud for the person sitting on our right. That means the person on my left prays out loud for me. When she’s finished, everyone says Amen, and then I pray for the person on my right, and so on.”

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Inmates are no longer permitted to hold hands while praying, as pictured. Internet image.

“Well, the first week, Marie, the woman on my left, prayed a long prayer for me. She thanked God for bringing me to play the piano to help them sing hymns. She asked God to bless me and my family. She thanked God for all kinds of wonderful attributes that she thinks I have. I felt really blessed as I heard her pray. Silently, I thanked God for letting me participate in a worship service with these kind, caring women.”

“That must have felt really good, Mom, to be prayed for like that. The woman who prayed for you sounds like a really nice woman.”

“It did feel good, Floey. And Marie seems like a good, kind, Christian woman.”

“After the service I told the chaplain how surprised I was at the long, glowing prayer Marie prayed for me.”

“The chaplain then told me a little about Marie. She was in jail awaiting trial for murdering her teenaged niece. Apparently Marie had been taking care of her niece, and had used physical punishment as a means of disciplining her. When her niece died, she moved the body out of state and managed to keep her hidden for a long time before a relative finally told the police.”

“How can that be, Mom? Do you think she really killed her niece?”

Floey-Marian faces selfie

“I don’t know, Floey. Life is complicated. Maybe killing her niece was an accident. Maybe Marie has severe mental illness. Maybe not. All I know is that she prays like she really loves God and wants to please God regardless of what happens in her life. And I know that she blessed my life by praying for me. And I will continue to pray for her that God will comfort her and bless her regardless of where she spends the rest of her life.”

“Wow. How about your next week in jail? Was prayer time the highlight of that service, too?”

“Yes, it was, Floey. It wasn’t quite as dramatic, but the woman who prayed for me thanked God for bringing me into their services to provide music, and then she thanked God that my spirit was there the weeks that I wasn’t there in person.”

“It sounds like you like to be prayed for, Mom. But I don’t blame you. I’d like to hear someone pray for me sometime, too.”

“I pray for you, Floey, but I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ve ever prayed for you out loud in front of you. We’ll have to pray together sometime. We should pray for each other like we do in jail.”

“I’d like that, Mom.”

skmbt_c28016091209590“On the subject of prayer, Floey, Joan Chittister talked about prayer every day in August in THE MONASTIC WAY. She used a quote by Teresa of Avila as the theme for the month’s daily devotions.

Authentic prayer changes us, unmasks us, strips us, indicates where growth is needed.

“Chittister’s reflection on August 5 really grabbed my attention.

The role of prayer is not to coax God into doing what we think would be good for us. It is to embolden us with the courage it will take to do, ourselves, what scripture shows us Jesus would do in a similar situation.

“On August 12th she wrote:

When we discover who we really are, we are finally able to understand others. To be compassionate toward them. To be a gift to the world.

“Then on the 18th she said:

Prayer is the wail of the soul to become what we are really meant to be.

“Near the end of the month she reached the conclusion:

If we are too busy to take time for prayerful reflection every day, we are too busy to be human, too busy to be good, too busy to grow, too busy to be peaceful.

“You know, Floey, between jail and Joan Chittister, I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer over the past several weeks. I think I see prayer a little more broadly than I used to. It’s not just talking to God about what I perceive to be my needs and the needs of my friends, or thanking God for all the good things in my life. It’s communicating with God on a deeper level, learning more about why God created me, and how I may fit into the big picture of life. And it’s about learning to appreciate all of God’s creation. It’s about communicating with God in many different ways throughout the day and night. And I’m just beginning to learn…”

“OK, Mom. That’s enough deep conversation for now. Let’s go for a walk to look for goldfinches and gophers.”

“Good idea, Floey. Enjoying all of God’s creatures is another way of praying…”

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Goldfinch and bee on thistle. Internet image.

 

Reflections on a Musical Memory

Christmas Mountain Village SignLast week Mim and I spent four days at our Christmas Mountain timeshare in Wisconsin Dells. Four days is the longest we’ve been away together in years. We had a wonderful time, just relaxing and being thankful we could celebrate our one year wedding anniversary.

As I was enjoying my first real vacation day on Monday, I opened up the magic cloud that follows my computer wherever it goes, and started listening to an album called “Instrumental Songs of Worship for Quiet Moments.” I sat down on the couch and looked through the window at the trees just beginning to turn from dark green to light red. I was going to start reading my book, but I noticed that a symphonic version of an old, old hymn was playing, “The Old Rugged Cross.” As I listened to it, I remembered playing that hymn on a little electronic organ at a Bible camp 56 years ago. I think I was 10.

Mims Reed Organ

Mim’s grandma’s pump organ

Before I explain the significance of that memory, let me give you a little family background.  My mom grew up with a small reed pump organ in the farmhouse. I never saw that organ, but I imagine it was similar to the one Mim’s grandmother had, which we now have at the base of our stairway in our condo.

Sometime after my mom and dad married, they bought a used upright piano. That’s the one I grew up playing. I remember my mom talking about how much she missed having an organ. At that time, in the 1950s and 1960s, electronic organs had become popular. Mom finally saved up enough money to buy a Lowery organ. It had two short manuals and a one-octave pedal board. Mom had negotiated a deal that included our old upright piano as a trade-in.

The night before the organ was to be delivered, I spent all evening playing the piano, for what I thought would be the last time. I was excited about getting an organ, but I knew I would miss the piano. I was saying goodbye to my 88-key friend by playing through all my piano books.

Old upright piano

My mom’s upright piano

The next day, when I came home from school, I was ecstatic to see the new organ, and also to see that the old piano was still there. My dad had bought the old piano back from the delivery men for $50. My dad got a good deal – he paid less than the original trade-in value – because the delivery men were so happy not to have to load the big old upright onto their truck.

Although the piano was my old friend, the novelty of the new organ captured most of my attention for the next few years. The organ came with ten free lessons from the WardBrodt Music Store in Madison. After those lessons were used up, I switched to taking both piano and organ lessons, alternating weeks, from our church organist. The ten free lessons from WardBrodt broadened my repertoire considerably. I’m sure my church organist teacher would never have taught me “The Beer Barrel Polka.”

(It’s a good thing I learned it because a friend of mine, who plans ahead, has requested that I play “The Beer Barrel Polka” for her funeral!)

Lowery Organ 2

A 1960s era electronic organ by Lowery – just like mine.

The following summer, between fourth and fifth grades for me, our church youth group spent a week at Willerup Bible Camp on Lake Ripley in Cambridge. The previous week’s campers had rented an electronic organ for the chapel, and it was still there. Since the camp director knew I was taking organ lessons, she asked me to play a solo for a special evening service toward the end of the week, a service that would include all our parents as guests.

I chose to play “The Old Rugged Cross.” The hymn had two flats, B and E. I always remembered to play the B-flat, and sometimes remembered the E-flat. It wasn’t my best performance, but I was still proud of the fact that I was the only kid at camp who knew how to play an organ.

After the service, my mom asked me why I chose to play that hymn. I didn’t really know why. I guess I kind of liked the melody, and I knew lots of people liked the song. I couldn’t think of any other reason I had for choosing it.

I think my mom’s question had a profound impact on me. For the past 50-odd years, I have always thought carefully about what music I play on either the piano or organ – whether it’s for background music during the dinner hour at the Cambridge Country Inn and Pub or for a worship service in church.

For example, the Scripture readings for last weekend included two stories about God’s grace. The first one was about Jonah, after his whale adventure. He preached to the people at Ninevah, they repented, and God decided not to punish them. Jonah was mad that God had changed his mind. He wanted God to punish them as they deserved. The second story was the parable Jesus told about the landowner who hired people to work in his fields. Some worked all day, some just a few hours, and the landowner paid them all the same wage. The laborers who had worked all day weren’t happy. It wasn’t fair. The disciples also had a hard time seeing the fairness in Jesus’ parable.

Mom looking down at me

I’m pretty sure my mom’s looking down at me, listening to me playing in church…

So what music did I choose for a prelude?

I wanted to suggest the ideas that we need to try to understand what God is telling us, just like the disciples were trying to understand the real meaning in Jesus’ parables, and that God’s message this week is about generosity and grace. I cobbled together an arrangement of three hymns – “Open My Eyes,” “He Giveth More Grace,” and “Amazing Grace.”

I’ve been accused of taking my music selection process too seriously. Maybe I do. Occasionally I choose to play something simply because I like it, but that’s only when I can’t think of anything that relates directly to the Scriptures of the day.

At least I know that if Mom is listening up in heaven to whatever I’m playing, I’ll have a good answer for her if she asks me why I chose to play what I chose. And I’m sure she’ll approve.

Marian at Messiah organ 3

And I have a very good reason for playing what I’m playing!

“O Lord, I want you to help me”

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If you were confined to jail for several months, and you were allowed to get together in the jail chapel with the chaplain and a few other inmates for an hour once every two weeks to have a time to read the Bible, share your thoughts, pray for each other, and sing a couple songs, what songs would you want to sing?

I’ve been thinking about that very question quite a bit over the past several weeks. As you may know, I join the women in the jail chapel about twice a month to play the piano for their worship service. The chaplain chooses the songs we sing, based on the Scriptures we’re reading for that service, as well as knowing some of the songs the women really like to sing. The women always sing enthusiastically, but it’s pretty obvious which songs are their favorites. “Amazing Grace” is on top of the list. “How Great Thou Art” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” are other favorites.

At the end of every service, while we’re waiting for the guards to come to escort the women back to their cellblocks, I play an informal “postlude.”  I usually improvise on a couple upbeat spirituals like “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand” or “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” or “Standin’ in the Need of Prayer.” The inmates are chatting during this time, and sometimes one or two of them come over to the piano to talk with me while I’m playing, often to request a song for me to play.

hands-on-the-pianoSeveral weeks ago a young woman asked me if I knew a particular song. She didn’t know the name of it, but it went something like – and she started to sing it. I stopped playing and listened to her sing. She didn’t remember many of the words. What she remembered was, “O God, help me, help me, help me. O God, help me.” I told her I didn’t recognize the song, but I’d try to find it on the Internet. She said she’d really like to have us sing that song at worship sometime. When I got home that evening I googled the words, and I thought I’d found the lyrics and a few youtube performances of the song. Unfortunately, I concluded that I wouldn’t be comfortable trying to incorporate that song into our worship experience. The overall message of the song was one of hopelessness and the ultimate triumph of evil.

Two weeks later, the young woman was at the worship service again, and she asked me if I’d found the song. I said I’d looked for it, but I wasn’t sure about it, and I asked her to sing it again. This time, another inmate also knew the song, and together they remembered more words. They sang, “O Lord, I want you to help me, help me on my journey, O Lord, I want you to help me.” When I got home I googled those words and found the lyrics to a different song along with several youtube videos. This is a song that could be very meaningful for anyone who is turning to God for help with their life circumstances, especially for women who are incarcerated.

I’ve searched everywhere I can think of to try to find sheet music for the song so that we can sing it together in jail, but I haven’t been able to find it. If anyone reading this blog knows where I can find the print music, please let me know. Here’s a link to one of the youtube videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss1R0TdkbUI

I’ve copied the lyrics below, however, this seems to be a song that lends itself to the substitution of phrases for whatever the singers want God to help them with. I haven’t been able to find a writer of the song – most sources list it as “traditional.”

Oh lord I want you to help me 
Oh lord I want you to help me 
Help me on my journey, help me on my way 
Oh lord I want you to help me 

While I’m waiting I want you to help me 
While I’m waiting I want you to help me 
Help me on my journey, help me on my way 
Oh lord I want you to help me 

Oh lord I want you to help me 
Oh lord I want you to help me 
Help me on my journey, help me on my way 
Oh lord I want you to help me 

While I’m singing I want you to help me 
While I’m singing I want you to help me 
Help me on my journey, help me on my way 
Oh lord I want you to help me 

Just as for all the other songs we sing in the worship service in jail, this song could be just as meaningful for those of us who are not in jail. We can substitute our own phrases, as well.

Back to my original question, if you were sitting in jail, what songs would you want to sing? For me, one of my favorite songs to play, wherever I am, is “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in This Place.” Here’s a youtube performance of this song for you to enjoy, wherever you are right now.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzDGvDZxnuw

Chapel Window