Tag Archive | writing

“It Came upon the Midnight Clear”

I’m having the time of my life during this “Safer at Home” interlude in our lives. I average about eight hours a day on writing my newest book, Talking with God through Music: Seasonal Hymns. I’ve written a dozen reflections on Advent carols, and thirteen reflections on Christmas carols, with eight more to go. Then there are ten more to write for Epiphany before I can move on to Lent and Easter. Eventually, I’ll get through the whole year of seasonal music. Meanwhile, I’m reliving Christmas these days. 

After I research and write each reflection for the book, I give it to Mim for feedback to be sure the text flows well enough to make sense to her. Yesterday I finished writing about “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” and gave it to Mim to read. She approved. But then I told her about my frustration of having to leave out so much information that I had gathered. I didn’t have room to include it all if I wanted to stick to the format of having just one page for each reflection. When I told her about all the interesting facts I was leaving out, she said, “Why don’t you write a blog post about it so you can include everything you want.” So that’s what this is – my extended reflection on the Christmas Carol, “It Came upon the Midnight Clear.” 

As we’re experiencing a colder than usual spring these days, imagine yourself back in the Christmas season, singing the carol, “It Came upon the Midnight Clear.”

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Tune Name:   CAROL
Composer:      Richard Storrs Willis 
(1819-1900) American composer and organist.
Author:            Edmund H. Sears (1810-1876) Unitarian minister.
Scripture:        Luke 2:13-14  
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.

 

angelbending

Edmund Sears grew up on a farm in western Massachusetts, near the Berkshire Mountains. He once told a friend that as a child he imagined that the hilltops touched heaven and that angels rested on the hilltops between heaven and earth on their errands for God. 

His parents taught him and his two brothers the importance of moral values, and they encouraged them to study – once the farm work was done. He graduated from Union College in New York, and worked briefly as a lawyer and a teacher, but soon went to Harvard Divinity School to become a Unitarian minister, graduating in 1837, at age 27. 

The American Unitarian Association supported his work as a missionary in the frontier area around Toledo, Ohio for about a year. Then he returned to Massachusetts, where he accepted a position as pastor of a small Unitarian church in the town of Wayland. Meanwhile, he got married, and by the time his family grew to include four children, he realized he needed a larger church that could support his whole family. He accepted a call to a church in Lancaster, Massachusetts and served there for seven years. 

The mid-1800s were stressful times in the United States. Americans were dealing with the affects of the Industrial Revolution, the Mexican-American War, the California Gold Rush, and the issue of slavery. The social disruption resulting from all these factors put a lot of pressure on Sears as the pastor of a large congregation, where he was trying to provide both leadership and personal support to the members. Sears had a breakdown and retreated back to the small town of Wayland to recover. 

While recovering, Sears wrote the poem “It Came upon the Midnight Clear.” This poem is focused on two ideas: first, the angels that appeared on the night of Christ’s birth to announce, “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men!” and second, the dismal condition of the world in his day (and still today as we sing the song). The third stanza (often omitted from today’s hymnals) emphasizes the “woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long.” The last stanza reassures us that the time of peace will come eventually as the prophets foretold. 

This carol has been controversial throughout its history. It may be the only Christmas carol that doesn’t even mention the birth of Christ. Since Sears was known to be a Unitarian, many religious conservatives claimed this carol proved his lack of belief that Christ is truly divine, and therefore the hymn should be removed from hymnals. Other churches rewrote parts of the carol to bring the birth of Christ into it. Because this hymn focused on the awful conditions on earth to contrast the angels’ message of “Peace on Earth,” this hymn is often considered one of the earliest hymns of the social gospel movement.

A year after writing this poem, Sears had recovered enough to accept a call back to the small church in Wayland to serve again as their part-time pastor. He also went back to writing extensively. He was quite outspoken about equal rights for men and women, and for the abolition of slavery. After the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, Sears declared from the pulpit that “when the human and Divine law were in conflict it was the duty of all to obey the latter.” In 1856, Sears preached a sermon entitled “Discourse” in which he not only condemned slavery as evil, but he directly condemned slave owners, as well. The sermon was considered such a strong argument against slavery that the Massachusetts Abolitionists printed it as a pamphlet to be widely distributed.

How the music for “It Came upon the Midnight Clear” became associated with the text is a mystery. Shortly after the poem was written, Richard Storrs Willis composed a musical exercise, “Study No. 23” in his “Church Chorals and Choir Studies.” Willis later wrote in a letter to a friend, “On my return from Europe in [1876], I found that it (the tune) had been incorporated into various church collections apparently to Edmund Sears’ text.” No one knows who is responsible, or in what circumstances, the poem and the tune were joined together. However, the pairing has lasted for more than a hundred years, and it has become one of our favorite Christmas carols.

Imagine a choir of angels resting on the hilltops of the Berkshires as they return to heaven after their appearance on Earth for Christ’s birth. Perhaps with that image in mind, Sears wrote “It Came upon the Midnight Clear.” As he pondered the angels’ message, and thought about all the anguish we’re still suffering down here, he wrote five stanzas. One of the most relevant stanzas to us today is seldom sung:

But with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long;
Beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled two thousand years of wrong;
And we, at war with earth, hear not the tidings, which they bring:
O hush the noise, and cease the strife, and hear the angels sing!

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Why in the World do I keep writing blog posts?

Floey sitting - profile croppedWhen I sat down at my computer to draft this blog post, my dog Floey came up to me, sat down, looked up and asked, “Hey, Mom. Why in the world do you keep writing blog posts? Just think about how much time we would have for walks if you didn’t do all this writing.”

I thought a minute before responding. Then I said, “You know, Floey, I’ve been thinking about that very question myself. My original purpose for creating www.WhisperingWindsBlog.com was to use it as a marketing tool to spread the word about Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. In order to get people to read the blog and think about coming to Whispering Winds for a retreat, I wrote about everyday happenings in my own life, things that prompted me to think that God really cares about us and is involved in our lives in many different ways. Over the past five years, I’ve built up a regular following of readers. Obviously, I no longer need to convince people to come to Whispering Winds for a retreat. It’s no longer in operation. So why do I keep writing?”

“Yup. That’s the question, Mom. Why do you bother to keep up the Whispering Winds Blog?” Floey looked hopeful that I might really give it up and go for a walk right now. But I wanted to think this through out loud with Floey before I grabbed her leash to go for a walk, so I continued.

Marian - 5th grade

Me as a 5th grader

“I’ve always liked to write. I remember one of the earliest personal essays I wrote was entitled, “I am a Little Mouse with Great Big Eyes.” I was in fifth grade when I was given the assignment to write a story. My mom gave me the idea to pretend I was a mouse in the schoolhouse and to write about all the strange things I saw. My teacher (Mrs. Borgerud – who 50 years later lived with us as an assisted living resident) liked the story so much she read it to the class. She could hardly read parts of it because she was laughing so hard. That was enough positive reinforcement for me to decide I really liked to write.”

“Wow. That sounds like a good story, Mom. Can you read it to me?” Floey looked at me expectantly.

“No, I’m afraid I can’t, Floey. My mom kept the story in the bottom drawer of the chest of drawers in her closet, where she kept all my school pictures, but somehow it got lost when we emptied the farmhouse to remodel it in the late 1900s.

Marian HS Graduation pic

Me as a high school senior

“But, back to writing, I even liked to do term papers. In junior high and high school I loved choosing a topic and going to the librarian for help in finding as many as a dozen books to study on the topic. One year in high school I wrote about the life, values, and influence of Sir Walter Raleigh for a term paper for my English class. Somehow, I convinced my mom that I needed to stay home from school for a day or two to complete my research and write the paper. I can still see myself sitting at the dining room table writing it well past midnight. Mom took all those handwritten pages to work the next day to type it for me – 12 pages typed – so I could turn it in the following day when it was due. My English teacher read that paper to the class, too, but no one laughed. I think a couple kids dozed off, but the teacher really liked it. He gave me an A.”

Floey interrupted my musings to say, “I don’t think you should have gotten an A if your paper put people to sleep.”

“Fortunately, my teacher didn’t agree with you. Anyway, I think maybe the real reason I started my blog five years ago was that I just like to write, and Whispering Winds gave me a reason to write. When the retreat center went on hiatus a few years ago, I justified keeping up the blog because we might reopen Whispering Winds sometime, and I wanted to keep my readers as prospective guests. Now that we sold the farmhouse, I know we won’t reopen Whispering Winds. Maybe I should stop writing the blog… That’s something I’ve been mulling over for the last few weeks as 2015 is coming to its end.

The Monastic Way“But then I started to read the December issue of The Monastic Way. I’ve been reading The Monastic Way, a monthly pamphlet written by Joan Chittister, for about four years. I saw the pamphlet for the first time when I was in the jail chapel playing the piano for the women’s worship service. The chaplain offered a pamphlet to me. I took it home, read the daily readings for that month, and then went online and subscribed to it. I think Joan Chittister writes the pamphlet primarily for inmates. It’s designed to be a thought-provoking devotional tool, regardless of one’s religious background.”

“I like The Monastic Way, too, Mom. I usually read it over your shoulder every morning,” Floey added.

“For the first couple years I read it, Floey, Chittister chose a painting for the front flap of the pamphlet. Each daily reading consisted of one or two sentences to help readers understand the meaning behind the painting and to help apply the artist’s message personally. Since 2014, Chittister has replaced the painting with a quotation to examine. This month’s quotation is one of my favorites. We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. [Teilhard de Chardin]

“In this month’s introduction to the quotation, Chittister writes:

It’s then [in the final third of life] that we begin to understand that life has been more about the shaping of the spirit than it has been the accumulation of things. It’s then that we finally come to know that it has been about our inner selves – our generous souls, our happy hearts, our loving relationships, our worthwhile work, successful or not – rather than our public status, that life has been about all along…. It is, in the end, who and what we have become spiritually in life that finally, ultimately, counts.

Listening for God FRONT“Writing my blog is something that helps me keep that perspective on life. As Teilhard de Chardin says, We are spiritual beings… To be sure I have something to write about every week, my mind is constantly on the lookout for signs in life that may be helpful for the development of my spiritual being. The title of my first book, Listening for God: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life, really defines what I’m doing with my blog. The book is simply a compilation of 52 blog posts selected from the first year and a half of my blog. For five years I’ve been consciously Listening for God, to be sure I’m hearing what God may be saying to me, and then sharing those insights on the blog. I don’t want to stop writing my blog mainly because I don’t want to stop Listening for God. Without the commitment to post something to the blog every week, I’m afraid I might get lax about Listening for God.

“I can understand that,” Floey interjected. “You always seem so busy I can see how you could forget to think about what God might be saying to you if you didn’t have to write about something every week.”

“God has given me a love of writing, Floey. Following that passion is critical to the development of my spiritual being. WhisperingWindsBlog.com is no longer a marketing tool. It’s a by-product of my spiritual journey. As long as it continues to contribute to my spiritual growth, I’ll continue to write posts.”

Floey-Marian faces selfie“I think I see,” responded Floey. “I guess that means I should go take a nap. We aren’t going for a walk just yet.”

“I’m afraid you’re right, Floey. But we’ll take time for one later. Sometimes that’s where God shows us new things to think about and write about.”

Remembering the past and getting excited about the present

Saturday evening Mim and I went to a fancy Italian restaurant for dinner. We celebrated forty years of living together.

Part of our Bible Study Group. Yes, that's really Mim on the left and me on the right. In the 70s everyone had long hair and weighed less. We wore dresses, too.

Part of our Bible Study Group.
Yes, that’s really Mim on the left and me on the right. In the 70s everyone had long hair and weighed less. We wore dresses, too.

As many of you know, Mim and I met forty years ago at a church Bible Study. I had just been offered a job in Chicago and was staying with a friend for a few days to look for an apartment. I tagged along with my friend to a small group Bible study. My friend introduced me to Mim, and Mim said I could stay with her until I found an apartment of my own.

Our first dinner together happened the next night. We went to the Buffalo Ice Cream Parlor for cheeseburgers and hot fudge sundaes to talk about the ground rules for living together. Fortunately, there was no limitation on the length of time I could live with her.

I’m not sure which dinner was better – the fancy Italian food with lots of reminiscing last Saturday night or the cheeseburgers and ice cream with all the excitement of planning my move to Chicago forty years ago. Both evenings were highlights in our lives.

Over the last several months, I’ve been remembering lots of highlights and stories as I’ve been writing my book on hospitality. I can hardly wait to get it published! That’s coming this summer.

But meanwhile, my other book has been published! I received my first copy in the mail last week. Listening for God: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life is now available online.

Remember the blog post I wrote last year about the value of things – like the $2,000 I paid for a new tooth (a dental implant)? And the story I told about life stages, now that I’m in the stage of riding a tricycle again? Remember the squirrel that threw hickory nuts at Abbey and Mim and me when we were out for a walk? Remember why he did it? And there was Gary Gopher who taught me that God forgives our mistakes. And Gregory Goose who sings “I want Jesus to walk (or fly) with me” whenever headwinds make flying difficult…

All these stories are in the book. What these stories have in common is that God was trying to tell me something by what was happening around me. I needed to listen carefully to hear the messages God had for me through everyday happenings. That’s why I named the book Listening for God.

My goal for this book is that people who read it will be inspired to be more intentional in listening for messages from God in the everyday happenings in their own lives.

The book is available for purchase several places online:

Listening for God FRONTwww.MarianKorth.com. I spent the last few days developing an author website for myself, so that I can sell copies of the book directly. (Let me know if you’d like me to sign your copy before I drop it in the mail.) The website provides more details about the book, as well as info about my other writing.

The book is also available through the publisher, WestBow Press, where you can purchase the book in paperback or as an e-book in a variety of formats (Kindle, Nook, PDF).   http://bookstore.westbowpress.com/Products/SKU-000616226/Listening-for-God.aspx.

Amazon.com has the book in stock, both in paperback and Kindle e-book format. http://www.amazon.com/Listening-God-Marian-Korth/dp/1449779034/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1359939357&sr=8-1&keywords=marian+korth

Barnes & Noble has the book, too. So far, it just shows up as available in paperback, but they should also have it in Nook e-book format shortly. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/listening-for-god-marian-korth/1114216950?ean=9781449779030

If you’re local, and would like to come over to get a book, please give me a call first (608-212-6197) to be sure I’m home. I’m expecting to receive a shipment of books early this week.

HAPPY READING and LISTENING FOR GOD!

Making Progress

Holding Glasses over BibleFor thousands of years, from Abraham to Paul, God has been trying to teach us about hospitality – both by example and by instruction. From my mom to Mim, God has been teaching me to pay attention to all of these lessons. My second book, Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest:  Adventures in Hospitality, is my attempt to put everything I’ve learned about hospitality all together into one long, meandering story. There are many twists and turns in the story. Each episode tells about an event that happened in my life, that in retrospect, I can see – “Aha! That’s how God wants me to treat people.” Or – “Oh, that’s NOT what God wants me to do again.” Each episode begins with a Bible verse in which God may be saying, “See, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you in My Word.” Here’s an example of one of the shorter episodes early in the book.


WELCOMING THE FRIEND OF A FRIEND

Be kind to one another …
[Ephesians 4:32a NRSV]

I moved into Mim’s apartment in Chicago on February 1, 1973. I decided to get adjusted to my new job before I started to look for an apartment of my own. That was fine with Mim. We quickly learned to share the space, the food, and the expenses.

And we learned each other’s habits. One of Mim’s habits was inviting people into our home. One day she received a call from a college friend. A friend of this friend was taking the bus to Chicago. Mim’s friend asked her if she would take this young woman “under her wing” to be sure she was safely oriented to the city. Of course Mim agreed to do that.

greyhound busThe evening of this friend-of-a-friend’s arrival, Mim and I took the “el” down to the loop to the Greyhound Station to look for a young woman who would be looking for us, but none of us had a description of the other person. Eventually we figured out who was who, connected, and took the “el” home together. We gave her maps of the public transit system, described the safer and less safe areas of Chicago, let her sleep on our couch for a few nights, and then she was on her own.

Did we keep her safe? Did we help her out? I don’t really know. But I was beginning to think a little more about how we should treat strangers. With the same kindness you would treat your best friend, or Jesus himself, I guess. We need to “be kind to one another.”

—–

This week, I’m at Christmas Mountain for my last of three writing retreats I’ve taken over the past three months to complete the writing and revising of this book. Then I’ll begin the publishing process. If everything goes as planned, the book will be available in both paperback and e-book format by summer.

Last week, I tried to make the final changes to the third (and hopefully final) round of proofs on my first book, Listening for God:  52 Reflections on Everyday Life. Remember, this is my “learning curve” book. I’m learning quite a bit about the publishing process, which was my goal. Previously, I’ve never thought about whether or not I cared if the long tail on the drop-cap on the first word of each chapter actually touches the second letter of that word. Am I being too picky? Or, does that really make a difference in the readability of the text? Or does it make a significant difference in the overall appearance of the page and whether it looks inviting or sloppy? I’ll be glad to be done with this process. This isn’t the fun part of writing a book! Fortunately, the end is almost in sight, I think. I’ll let you know when the book becomes available.

One big thing I’ve learned already about writing and publishing books – I’d prefer to be doing just one book at a time! My mind gets too easily confused about what applies to each book. Pretty soon the first book will be done and available on Amazon.com. Then my mind can relax. Maybe…

The earliest picture I have of me thinking really hard about something - probably keeping 2 storybooks straight...

The earliest picture I have of me thinking really hard about something – probably keeping two storybooks straight…