Dusty books rock.
A few weeks ago, I found myself with an extra hour in my brother’s shared office. Because he’s a literature grad student, his office is full of awesome books.
My eyes fell on a book called “The History and Use of Hymns.” Published in 1903. Perfect! The next thing I knew, I was neck deep in nerd-land.
Happy to be so.
Among the treasures I found was the following hymn by William Cowper, whom I’ve blogged about before. I’m not sure of the story behind this little beauty, but I thought I’d pass it on nonetheless.
A Debtor to Mercy Alone
Love, love, love the lyric.
If you’re a song-writer, let’s find a melody for this. (I’ve got mine, but I’m curious to see what else is out there…)
Spoiler alert: this may well indeed wreck your caroling experience. But it might help it – in the long run.
It’s always bothered me that “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” never mentions sin, Jesus, the cross, or redemption. A little background:
The original verses (there are a total of 5) were penned by Edmund Hamilton Sears (1820-1876). A graduate of Harvard Divinity school, Sears served as a Unitarian minister throughout Massachusetts. While orthodox in his confession, his most renowned hymn has always left me a little dry.
This criticism isn’t new. The British carol scholar Erik Routley wrote that “in its original form, the hymn is little more than an ethical song, extolling the worth and splendour of peace among men.”
Don’t get me wrong: Not every Christmas carol needs to recant the theological veracity of Romans in metered poetry, but it seems like a missed opportunity. Christmas is a time for clarity. But not the militant, wave-a-flag-in-your-face kind of clarity. Not the kind that gets unreasonably offended when a well-intentioned grocery clerk wishes you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” It’s a soft clarity – a steady clarity. The kind of clarity that uses the front door, and knocks gently – but firmly.
In light of that, I humbly submit my addition:
A painful cross awaits this child
who now in a manger sleeps
For all who know the stain of sin
and dwell in darkness deep
Look now, our God has made a way
His perfect salvation to bring
Redemption’s plan provides our peace
And lifts our souls to sing.
(Thanks Eddie – can I call you Eddie? – for allowing me to impose. Incidentally, I’m looking forward to chatting it up some day.)
A Winter Tree
Humility is above no person and above no task.
Humility expects nothing and asks for even less.
Humility serves without being asked and gives without seeking thanks.
Humility is a closed mouth and open hands.
Humility is a crownless king, a nameless physician, a wordless preacher, and a faceless warrior.
Humility doesn’t need to hear its own voice.
Humility loves quiet.
Humility doesn’t have to fake it.
Humility doesn’t have to hide because it has nothing to fear.
Humility is contented when employed, shamed when mentioned, surprised when honored, and delighted when forgotten.
Humility is a treasure to be sought.
Humility open doors.
Humility silences critics, stifles objections, and stupefies skeptics.
With humility a man can lead nations. Without it, he can’t control himself.
Humility does noble things and tells no one.
From time to time, I’ll toss out some poetry on this blog. This isn’t to bend “children of dust” into a cute poetry corner – but my experience is that sometimes God deals with my frailty through poetry, song, or word. Really, these poems are meant as a break from the heavier (and longer) stuff that typically fills this space. This poem however, bears unusual weight – especially given the context:
I had the honor to give a short reflection at my sister-in-laws baby shower this past Tuesday. As a couple, pregnancy has been something of a roller-coaster for them. The baby girl that they will soon welcome into the world is an answer to literally thousands of prayers. As as part of my reflection, I offered the following poem. Again – I’m honored by your reading.
– within a ship at sea
an unseen treasure stowed
cradled safe in darkness
a deepened joy will know
– kept in the sacred silence
tucked far from worry’s face
the treasure rests secure
inside the hands of grace
-though tossed by sweeping storms
where windswept torrents surge
the ship finds hard-fought comfort
in prayers too deep for words
– a give these wordless joys
in ever-growing store
like treasure born through anguish
delivered safe to shore.
A lot of my thinking lately has been informed from Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin. An awesome read. While Seth (I feel like I can call him “Seth”) certainly has a delightfully direct way of stating his point, sometimes I need to hear the same point stated a little differently. Consider this post the same idea, just in a different voice.
My brother has been recently working with George MacDonald – that incredible Scottish poet-monk-pastor-sage who injected powerful fiction and poetry into an often unwelcoming Victorian English backdrop. I’ve always been a fan. If you’re a poetry fan – I hope you’ll comment. If you’re not – I hope this might get you thinking:
’Tis hard for man to rouse his spirit up—
It is the human creative agony,
Though but to hold the heart an empty cup,
Or tighten on the team the rigid rein.
Many will rather lie among the slain
Than creep through narrow ways the light to gain—
Than wake the will, and be born bitterly.
But he who would be born again indeed,
Must wake his soul unnumbered times a day,
And urge himself to life with holy greed;
Now ope his bosom to the Wind’s free play;
And now, with patience forceful, hard, lie still,
Submiss and ready to the making will,
Athirst and empty, for God’s breath to fill.
- George MacDonald, from "Diary of an Old Soul"
(As promised, here’s a little poetry. Please accept it as my apology for not contributing anything in a while.)
This has to do with church leadership. Yes it rhymes. Sorry if that’s cheezy. My brother told me once that he thinks I’m a metaphysical poet at heart. I don’t know what that means. So, Adam – consider this your metaphysical thank-you.
– a self-persuaded beam
untested and untried
lies silent and alone
with purpose unapplied
– once useless and detached
but soon employed by grace
the beam is pulled and set
and fitted place into place
– beneath the weight of hope
and grace’s gentle pain
the beam learns holy patience
through unrelenting strain
– now give us faith to rest
beneath your sovereign will
to gently bear your church
as you will bear her still