Tag Archive | Willerup Methodist Church

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