Tag Archive | Near to the Heart of God

Thinking again about a very old conversation

Marian - College Graduation Pix

My college graduation picture – 1970

I still think about something we discussed in one of my college classes that really disturbed me at the time. Almost 50 years later, I still think about it when something triggers the thought. It happened again last week. On January 15, the hymn for the day in the daily devotional book, Near to the Heart of God: Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns, was “Search Me, O God.”

Search me, O God, and know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray.
See if there be some wicked way in me:
Cleanse me from ev’ry sin, and set me free.

That hymn, written by evangelist, army chaplain, and college professor Dr. James Edwin Orr, is based on Psalm 139:23-24:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. [New Revised Standard Version]

The tune is called “Maori.” In 1936 when Dr. Orr was leading some evangelistic services in New Zealand, he heard four young Aborigine women singing a beautiful song entitled “The Song of Farewell.” The first words of the song were, “Now is the hour when we must say good-bye.” He couldn’t get the tune out of his mind. He began singing the words from Psalm 139 to the tune. He wrote the words as he fit them to the melody on the back of an envelope while he stood in line at a post office in New Zealand. Later that year he published the song in his book, All You Need. Over the years the hymn has been identified by two titles, “Cleanse Me” and “Search Me, O God.”

When I was a kid, we sang that hymn frequently at the end of Sunday night services at Willerup Methodist Church in Cambridge. I always liked the hymn. I thought the tune was beautiful, and it set the tone well for the quiet, meditative words. It was one of my favorites of that style of hymn.

What disturbed me in my Music Appreciation class at Wheaton College was that Dr. Cronk cited that hymn as one of the most atrocious examples of pairing overly emotional introspective words with a syrupy sweet secular tune. That was an insult I took personally. It was a direct challenge to the validity of my musical tastes. I liked that hymn. Obviously, I’ve thought about it a lot, even now almost 50 years later.

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Hazel petting our cat Penny

Another association I have with this hymn, or rather, the tune, is with one of our assisted living residents. Although 95-year-old Hazel was very hard of hearing and nearly blind, she loved to listen to me play the piano. We were still living at the farmhouse when Hazel lived with us, and whenever I sat down at the piano, Hazel would come into the living room to sit down and listen. One day she asked me if I knew “Now is the Hour.” She said it was the most beautiful song she had ever heard. I didn’t recognize the song by the title, so I went to one of my favorite websites, www.MusicNotes.com, searched for the title, and downloaded and printed a piano arrangement of the song. Hazel just loved listening to me play it. I played it often throughout the year that Hazel lived with us. I even played it as part of the pre-service music for her funeral. Whether I’m playing it as a secular song or a meditative hymn, the words that play in my mind are “Search me, O God…”

Reluctantly, I’ll admit that I’m glad Dr. Cronk said what he did about this hymn, even though it both hurt and troubled me at the time. His words have prompted me to think a lot about the meaning of the words of any hymn I play or sing. I also think a lot about the contribution of the music to the mood of the hymn.

There is often a story behind the pairing of text and music for a hymn. Many of the classic old hymns in our hymnals, including many written by Martin Luther and Charles Wesley, are paired with secular tunes of their eras. A hymnal is chock-full of things to think about. (Feel free to browse the hymnal the next time you’re sitting through a sermon that’s a little too long.)

Over the years I’ve learned that the more I understand a hymn, the more I appreciate it. I guess that’s why Music Appreciation was one of the best courses I ever took in college. Besides, the homework was always fun – simply listening to music.

Cleanse Me hymn 2

Amen, Papa, Amen.

My mom used to tell the story about one of her best childhood friends, Ruth Eckblad. Ruth’s father was pastor of the Willerup Methodist Church in Cambridge, Wisconsin for a few years in the early 1900s. One day when Ruth was a little girl, she got tired of sitting in church and being quiet for what seemed to be an awfully long time. Finally she stood up on the pew and said loudly enough for her father who was at the pulpit preaching (and the whole congregation) to hear, “Amen, Papa, Amen.”

1930s Willerup Preacher

Inside Willerup Methodist Church in the early 1900s.

Mom told that story often enough that “Amen, Papa, Amen” became a family expression that meant, “That’s enough for now. Let’s move on to something else.”

Well, it’s about that time of the year to say, “Amen, Papa, Amen” to 2015 and to welcome a new year.

Near to the Heart of GodLast Sunday’s hymn in the devotional book, Near to the Heart of God: Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns was “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” composed by Peter C. Lutkin. As you read the words  below, I’m sure many of you who have been members of church choirs will hear this benediction being sung in your mind as a beautiful choir anthem, especially the 7-fold Amen at the end.

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord lift His countenance upon you,
And give you peace, and give you peace;
The Lord make His face to shine upon you,
And be gracious, and be gracious;
The Lord be gracious, gracious unto you.
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.

The reflection for the day was on benedictions. The word benediction was defined as a “Latin-based term meaning a concluding prayer of blessing.” The author, Robert J. Morgan, cited several different benedictions given in the Bible. His favorite benediction is from Hebrews 13:20-21, “May the God of peace … equip you with everything good for doing his will.” (NIV) His wife’s favorite is Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (NIV)

Jeff VandenHeuvel - cropped

Pastor Jeff at Messiah

My favorite benediction is the one Pastor Jeff says at the end of every service at Messiah:

May God go before you to guide you;
Be behind you to encourage you;
Above you to watch over you:
And beneath you to support you.
But may you discover the presence of God within you,
And know that God will always be your friend.
Amen.

As I was drafting this blog post, Floey came up to me and asked, “What are you doing, Mom?”

“I’m writing my blog post, and it’s kind of a benediction as we move on from 2015 and into a new year.” I read to her what I’d written so far.

Floey sitting - profile cropped“I like that, Mom. It’s good to think about God blessing us as we move into a new year. I especially like Pastor Jeff’s benediction. I like being reminded that God is guiding me, encouraging me, watching over me, supporting me, being within me, and being my friend.”

“Yes. Isn’t it comforting to know that God is with us as we begin the new year,” I replied.

“It sure is, Mom. I was going to offer to help you write your blog this week, but you’re almost done. Can I blog with you next week? I want to blog about our special words for 2016. I’m so excited. I can hardly wait to tell you what my new word is. You’ll never guess it.”

“Great! We’ll work on it together next week. I’ve chosen my special word for 2016, too. We’ll check with Mim to find out her new word, and we’ll reveal them to everyone next week!”

Meanwhile, it’s time to move on to something else – just about time to begin our New Year! Amen, Papa, Amen!

Floey-Marian 12-29-15 cropped

 

 

 

The Goose Family is Home Again! Happy Spring!

3 in pondI got up from my desk and walked over to the patio door. “Oh, look, Floey, the Goose Family has returned.” A goose made a big splash as it landed on the water. The honking got even louder as another goose landed. “That looks like Gilbert and Gloria. Let’s go out and welcome them.”

“Who in the world are they?” asked Floey. “And what in the world are they?”

“Oh, that’s right, Floey. You’ve never met them. I’ll introduce you. Oh, look, here comes one more. That must be Grace. I bet Gregory won’t be far behind.”

I clipped Floey’s leash onto her collar and opened the patio door. Even though the sun was shining, it was a little cool to go outside without a jacket, but I couldn’t wait.

Floey looking at pond w ice“Welcome home, Gilbert! Hello, Grace! Hi Gloria! So good to see you again! Where’s Gregory?”

“Hi, Marian,” honked Grace. “Gregory will be here soon. He was busy teaching some of his favorite Lenten hymns to some teenage geese out in the countryside. He told us to go ahead and that he’d catch up with us later.”

Gilbert swam over close to the edge of the pond where Floey and I were standing. “Where’s Abbey? And, who is the new pup?”

1 walking on ice“It’s so good to see you again, Gilbert. This is Floey, short for Florence Nightingale, the nurse. Come on, Floey, you don’t need to hide behind my legs. The goose family shares the pond with us every summer. They’re wonderful neighbors.”

Floey peeked out from behind my legs. “Nice to meet you,” she said, but she stayed very close to me.

Gloria swam over to join our conversation. “Nice to meet you, too, Floey. But I’m anxious to tell Abbey all about our trip. Is she inside?”

“I’m afraid not, Gloria. Abbey joined her friends and family in heaven last November. She brightened our lives for eight years, but then she had to go home. Floey joined us shortly afterwards.”

Gloria responded, “So sorry to hear about Abbey. She was my best dog friend ever.” Gloria looked off into the distance for a moment. Then she turned back and looked directly at Floey. “I’m glad to meet you, Floey. I’m sure we’ll become good friends, too. Do you like to sing?”

Floey facing camera - icy pond behindFloey smiled. “I love to sing. And I have a really wide range – all the way from bass to soprano! Really! And I can sing every note in between, too. Listen…” She started with a low growl, then barked a few notes in her midrange, and ended with a howl that kept going higher and higher.

“Wow! We’ll be glad to have you sing with us,” she said to Floey with a smile. Then, she turned to me and said, “You know what song I think of whenever I’m sad, or when I think about a really good friend, like Abbey, who’s no longer with us? I think of ‘Near to the Heart of God’ by Cleland B. McAfee.”

Gilbert looked at Gloria, and nodded his head. Together they sang the first verse and refrain,

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

Grace heard Gilbert and Gloria singing and she swam over to join them for the second verse.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.

As the goose trio was singing the second verse, another goose circled overhead, and then splashed down onto the pond. It was Gregory. He cleared his throat, looked knowingly at the three singers, and then sang the third verse as a solo.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

The four of them sang the final refrain together, a perfectly blended 4-part choir. Both Floey and I had tears in our eyes when they finished. I said, “That was just beautiful. I’m so glad you are all back home with us. Welcome, Gregory. Now that you’re all here, I know spring has come.”

“Sorry we couldn’t make it for the beginning of Lent like we usually do,” honked Gregory. “This has been a terrible winter, and we just couldn’t fly north for the longest time. We started out several times, but we always had to turn around and go back south. I’m sure glad we’re finally here.”

“That’s right,” chimed in Grace. “There’s no better place than the Whispering Winds Pond to sing all those wonderful Lenten hymns. They are such good reminders of how much God loves us. I think we need to get busy singing some more. It will be Easter in less than two weeks, and, as I recall, there are 81 hymns in the Whispering Winds Lenten songbook, ‘Songs about the Love of God.’ Now that we’re all here, I think we should start with ‘Let’s Just Praise the Lord.’ That should warm us up good. Floey, why don’t you sing soprano on this one…”

4 geese on pond