Tag Archive | hymn

Multi-Purpose Melodies

fullsizeoutput_2003When I was in eighth grade, our English teacher gave us the assignment to celebrate National Library Week by writing a poem about books. In general, I was a good student, and I liked to write. But I didn’t (and still don’t) like to write poetry. I complained to my mom about the stupid assignment, and she told me about a trick for writing poetry. She said, “Just make up new words to a song you like. It will turn out to be a poem.” She said the song that always worked best for her was the Stephen Foster song “Oh, Susanna.” I decided to try it, using that song. I remember I started the song with, “I went downtown the other night to get myself a book…” I think I wrote half a dozen stanzas, the teacher loved it, and I got an A. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I don’t remember the rest of the poem.

I’ve thought about that poetry-writing experience periodically throughout my life. I’m sure my mom and I aren’t the only people who know about that trick for writing a poem – or a hymn. A lot of contemporary hymn writers seem to use it, although I don’t think they use “Oh, Susanna.” A lot of them use the hymn tune called BEACH SPRING. I’m not particularly fond of the tune, although it’s okay. It’s not hard to sing. It’s just not all that pretty, in my opinion. But it must be a good tune for fitting lyrics to. One of my favorite hymns that uses this tune is “Come and Find the Quiet Center,” a hymn by Shirley Erena Murray of New Zealand. Here’s the first verse of the hymn:

Come and find the quiet center
in the crowded life we lead,
find the room for hope to enter,
find the frame where we are freed;
Clear the chaos and the clutter,
clear our eyes that we can see
all the things that really matter,
be at peace, and simply be.

Another contemporary hymn writer that has used this tune is Ruth Duck, an American theologian. Here’s the first verse of a hymn she wrote for this tune:

As a fire is meant for burning
with a bright and warming flame,
so the church is meant for mission,
giving glory to God’s name.
Not to preach our creeds or customs,
but to build a bridge of care,
we join hands across the nations,
finding neighbors everywhere.

The reason I’m thinking about “multi-purpose melodies” this week is that last weekend (Labor Day) we sang a relatively new hymn in church, one that uses one of my favorite melodies. The tune is FINLANDIA, composed in 1899 by Jean Sibelius. As a hymn tune, it is most commonly associated with “Be Still My Soul.” The hymn we sang this weekend was “This Is My Song,” a different kind of patriotic song. Verses 1 and 2 were written by American song writer Lloyd Stone. Verse 3 was written by another theologian, Georgia Harkness.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
So hear my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

This is my prayer, O God of all earth’s kingdoms,
your kingdom come; on earth your will be done.
O God, be lifted up till all shall serve you,
and hearts united learn to live as one.
So hear my prayer, O God of all the nations;
myself I give you; let your will be done.

As I was preparing the music for church this weekend, I was reminded of another new hymn written to this tune, “When Memory Fades” by Mary Louise Bringle. Basically it’s a hymn about aging and Alzheimer’s Disease, and where God fits into this picture. Here’s the first verse:

When memory fades, and recognition falters,
when eyes we love grow dim, and minds confused,
speak to our souls of love that never alters;
speak to our hearts, by pain and fear abused.
O God of life and healing peace, empower us
with patient courage, by your grace infused.

I love all three of these hymns – Be Still My Soul, This Is My Song, and When Memory Fades – and this tune is the perfect complement to the message of each one. As I was looking for a piano arrangement of FINLANDIA to play for the offertory to subtly remind people of the opening hymn we had sung, I came across an arrangement by Anne Krentz Organ, currently the music director of a church in Chicago.  The arrangement begins with a bold phrase from FINLANDIA, which is followed by soft and tender phrase from “Jesus Loves Me.” The arrangement moves back and forth between the two hymns, phrase by phrase. Although a piano arrangement has no words, the juxtaposition of musical phrases from these hymns emphasizes the point that Jesus cares about me and loves me always – whether I’m praying to God to “still my soul,” or praying to the “God of all earth’s kingdoms” for peace, or praying for comfort “when memory fades.” God is always near – “Jesus loves me.”

I’m not sure exactly what God created when She created music, but I’m sure glad She shared the same trick with many hymn writers that my mom shared with me – that melodies are multi-purpose, and that using a tune is a great way to write a poem, or a hymn.

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Oh, No…

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Typical duplex-style condo at Christmas Mountain Village in Wisconsin Dells

I guess I still have more to learn about GRATITUDE – my special word for last year. As I checked into my timeshare condo at Christmas Mountain last week the last thing on my mind was gratitude. First came disappointment. Then anger. Then “what now?” But let me backtrack…

I wasn’t even supposed to be at Christmas Mountain last week. This was Mim’s turn. A couple months ago we specifically scheduled a few three-night getaways for Mim to have some uninterrupted time to go through several boxes that we had carted over to our condo from the farm in June when we emptied the farmhouse. The boxes contain lots of “important papers” that we had stored in the basement of the farmhouse. Our plan was for Mim to use these Christmas Mountain getaways to quietly go through the papers, to retrieve old family pictures, letters, etc. and to discard what had no continuing value. Our goal is to get the boxes out of the garage before the snow flies so that Mim’s car can return to its shelter instead of sitting on the driveway.

(A brief digression. Mim is thinking of selling her car. We don’t really need two cars. Let us know if you might be interested in buying a 2003 Toyota Matrix, all-wheel drive, in excellent condition and with low mileage for its age – just over 120,000 miles.)

This isn’t the first time we’ve scheduled a Christmas Mountain getaway for Mim, and I’ve had to make the “sacrifice” and take the getaway for her. It’s much harder for her to get away from our assisted living business than it is for me. Mim takes care of our residents physically – monitors their health, gives showers, helps them get dressed as needed, and so on. I help, too, but I do things like order hearing aid batteries on the Internet, scramble eggs, and bake cookies. If one of the people who helps us with real caregiving is unable to cover for Mim, or if a resident has a health concern that needs close monitoring, Mim can’t get away. I can.

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That’s why I went to Christmas Mountain last week. I was on the road at 2:45 Tuesday afternoon – as soon as Denise (one of three people who help us with caregiving several hours a week) finished assembling a small apple crisp just for me. She was making apple crisp for our residents for dinner that evening and decided to make a little one for me. The plan was for me to pop the mini-apple crisp into the oven of my timeshare unit to enjoy the aroma of it baking as I settled into the condo, and to savor it with some vanilla ice cream as dessert with my dinner. (That part of my day went as planned. The apple crisp was delicious!)

The drive up to Wisconsin Dells took exactly an hour and fifteen minutes, the usual, to the highway exit. I stopped at the Walmart near the exit to pick up a pint of vanilla ice cream for the apple crisp. It was sprinkling a little as I got out of the car, so I grabbed my jacket. The store was fairly busy, and no express lanes were open, so I had to wait in line to check out behind 2 large carts of groceries, but I tried to be patient. I was looking forward to this unexpected 3-night getaway, and I was almost there. By the time I left the store, it was raining harder, but at least I had my jacket on.

Ten minutes later I checked in at the registration desk of Christmas Mountain. No line there! I drove to the condo assigned to me. Usually we reserve 2-bedroom condos so we have plenty of space to spread out, but this week, the only unit available was a 1-bedroom condo. Most of the units at Christmas Mountain are duplexes, and that was the case this time, too. There were three parking spaces in front of this duplex, but all the spaces had cars in them. That was a little annoying, but the next duplex wasn’t far away, and there was an extra space there, which I took. It was still raining, and I knew I had at least six trips ahead of me to carry in my suitcase, all my food for three days, my computer, books, a step-stool (because they keep the glasses and mugs on the top shelf of the cupboard – well beyond my reach), and everything else I always pack to be sure I have whatever I might need.

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Carrying one briefcase, my purse, and the keycard, I splashed through the rain and opened the door. And I groaned, “I can’t believe how small this is!” I normally set up my computer at one end of the dining table and use the other end for eating. Obviously that won’t work here. The table is about 2-feet square. It’s smaller than a card table. Grumbling to myself, I went back into the rain to make the other five trips to carry in all my stuff.

When I had everything inside, I sat on the couch to think about how (or if) to settle in. The room was dark. The only overhead lights were two can lights above the kitchen counter. As I looked up I saw a centipede crawling across the ceiling. I looked for a fly swatter, which most units have. I couldn’t find one. I looked for anything I could use to kill the centipede. I finally settled on a long cooking spoon. I positioned my step stool and a dining chair under the centipede. I climbed up and tried to smash it with the long spoon, but I just stunned it, I think, and it fell – somewhere. Fortunately, I didn’t feel it crawling on me, and within seconds I found it scurrying along the floor to safety under the couch.

I sat down on the couch to consider my options. I could simply go home. Or, I could call the front desk to see if they could put me in another unit. Or, I could try to make the best of this unit. As I sat on the couch, I became more aware of how noisy it was. Instead of a furnace, the condo had two wall units for heating and cooling – one in the main room and one in the bedroom. They were almost as noisy as vacuum cleaners.

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Then my cellphone rang. It was my friend Peggy. She and Mim were out shopping in Madison, and they were in the liquor store of Woodman’s. Although Peggy does not drink, she wanted to know what my favorite red wines are. She was re-stocking her wine rack, and she wanted to do it with my favorites. Wow! What a friend to have!

After talking with Peggy, and then talking with Mim for a few minutes, my mood lifted a little. That’s when I thought of my special word from last year – GRATITUDE. I certainly am fortunate to have a good friend like Peggy in my life. And Mim for a life partner. And then I thought of the apple crisp still sitting in my ice chest. How grateful I am for that – and for Denise for thinking to make it for me.

And then I remembered what my plans were for these days – to read a couple books and start working on my 366-hymn devotional book. What a gift to have this unexpected time to do these things.

How quickly I had allowed a few little disappointments to make me forget about being grateful – grateful for time and grateful for friends. And grateful for lots more. Maybe that’s why this little getaway in this tiny condo at Christmas Mountain fell into my lap – I needed to be reminded of last year’s special word. Gratitude.

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Three candles glowing on top of a cardboard box set the tone for the rest of my getaway.