On my playlist this week has been a cover of Rachel Platten’s global hit “Fight Song” by The Piano Guys. Not only is it an instrument version with piano and cello, it also includes a Scottish bagpipe and drum band, and is filmed on location at the stunning Eilean Donan castle.
(Before listening, please pause The Music for Dreaming in the sidebar >>)
While I appreciate the original song because of the story behind it–a singer/songwriter’s struggle to keep committed to her craft no matter what the response, The Piano Guy’s version is a mash-up of the song with Amazing Grace.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already to come.
Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
and grace will lead me home.
Lines from the hymn opens the video along with a quiet introduction of the hymn melody. Later, the hymn returns in a poignant reprise, and finally the two melodies are seamlessly woven together for the finale.
Platten’s lyrics, while not sung, are expressed by the fierceness and determination of the Scottish bagpipers and drummers, as well as the beautiful, passionate playing of piano and cello (Steven Sharp Nelson’s joy when playing is delightful to watch):
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me
But with Amazing Grace gently offering a counterpoint to Platten’s melody, the song is grounded in an everlasting source of strength. The hymn anchors the song brilliantly in the grace and power of God and turns the words into a declaration of perseverance in the face of trials.
Cup of tea and book in hand on a snowy Iowa morning, I’m celebrating the first deeply quiet day after months filled with moving and teaching and finishing the dissertation. The draft has been given to the committee, and in a week, I will be flying to Boston to defend it. While I’m thankful to have the draft behind me, I’m holding onto the comfort and hope of this quote:
‘What a strength and spring of life, what hope and trust, what glad, unresting energy, is in this one thought: to serve Him who is “my Lord,” ever near me, ever looking on; seeing my intentions before He beholds my failures; knowing my desires before He sees my faults; cheering me to endeavor greater things, and yet accepting the least; inviting my poor service, and yet, above all, content with my poorer love.
Let us try to realize this, whatsoever, wheresoever we be. The humblest and the simplest, the weakest and the most encumbered, may love Him not less than the busiest and strongest, the most gifted and laborious. If our heart be clear before Him; if He be to us our chief and sovereign choice, dear above all, and beyond all desired; then all else matters little. That which concerneth us He will perfect in stillness and in power.’
— Howard Edward Manning – (1808 – 1892), English cardinal, Archbishop of Westminster
After monks copied texts in those days before press or xerox, they would take left over pieces of vellum, copy down quotes from scripture or other texts on which they wanted to meditate personally. These scraps were often bound together into a florilegium, Latin from flos (flowers), legere (to gather), creating a bouquet of literary flowers.
Each Friday, I’m going to offer a digital florilegium of a quote or three from books I’m reading, or a longer review. These texts could be from scripture, 19th century devotionals, contemporary and historical authors, dissertation reading on prayer and education, music, movies, or just some random-quote-goodness! My dear friend, author, and lover of children’s books, Kimberlee Conway Ireton, will also be doing the florilegium each Friday. She writes:
This week, I picked up The Circle of Mysteries by Christin Lore Weber, getting lost again in the beauty of her poetic prose. This extended excerpt is a meditation on Mary and Joseph finding Jesus in the temple.
Our boy is gone. I looked in every tent, asked every child, pleaded with our kin. Old Phanuel was bedding down the beasts and told me not to fret. Jesus is a boy, he laughed, and boys will do what boys will do. I wept, hiding beyond my veil. He could be dead. What about the bandits of the hills? He could be captured, enslaved, like Joseph of the tale we tell on winter nights circled round the fire. He would not have run away. Not my child.
I have lost a lot of things. The first veil made by my mother’s mother when she was a girl. It was rough spun stuff and woven crooked just a bit. I left it in the sycamore outside the village where I played when I was young. My mother wept and sent me after it, but it was gone. A string of lapis beads from Joseph when we were betrothed. I wore them like a promise everywhere and always. It was in Egypt they were lost, somewhere along the road where we spent a night without a moon. I’ve lost much simpler things: my favorite needle made of bone, the clasp that Joseph carved to hold my cloak in place when it was cold and I am drawing water from the well, a pale blue cup, a clear carnelian stone. Tonight my hands hunger to touch these things. I would lay my head on the rough weave of my grandmother’s veil and again and again, through my tears, whisper the name of my child.
Tonight we can do nothing. We listen to the wind. We wait. Joseph paces past the fire. While I watch he stops; he turns his gaze to the invisible hills and his body bends against the fire’s light, like that of some abandoned God whose image stands broken where once the young men danced. He looks to be the ruin of a man. After this night he will never not be old.
I will not sleep. The nightbird calls; a desert lion prowls the outer circle of the camp. The watchman listens for a child’s cry, but not as I listen. I have schooled my heart to Jesus’ every breath so that for thirteen years I have rested only in his breathing. His dreams awaken me so I am kneeling by his mat the moment that he starts from sleep and calls my name. How can he be lost? I would have felt him go. Such absence would have split my soul. I cannot sleep tonight; I will sit facing East listening for the breathing of my child. Wherever he may be I will surround him like a lullaby and he will sleep in peace.
When I lost the lapis beads we retraced our steps to where I last remembered wearing them. Each round pebble seemed a clue. Beads scatter from a broken cord. I searched in clumps of grass and broke my fingernails digging in the sand one place I thought I saw a glint of blue. We walked, zig-zagging back along the road, our eyes sweeping every inch of ground. If I could have found just one blue bead I would have treasured it like the midnight sky for all my life. As the sickle of the moon fell beneath the twilight we returned to where we began. Joseph looked at me as if to say, “The beads are gone but you will wear my promise always as earth wears the lapis sky.”
At dawn our kin spiraled outward from the camp calling Jesus’ name. Rebecca thought she heard him whimper from behind some rocks. She cried, “He’s here!” and we followed her, scrambling up a stone outcropping toward the sound. It was but a lamb caught in a bramble. Young Asher saw a speck of red appear and disappear across the plains and thought it must be Jesus’s coat. We found just a tattered blanket blown here and there by desert winds. I lost him more that twenty times today. Whenever I close my eyes tonight to rest from hope and fear I see him in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem’s towers and sprawling streets lie just below. It is the third day. I want to run to the temple. I want to cry his name. I know that he is here. He would be sheltered by the temple like a womb. But my heart is tight with unwept tears. If he is in the temple could God have wished it so? When Sarah lost her only son because his father heard the voice of God, she also must have wondered and wept. How she must have run across the burning sand to meet him when he stumbled down the mountain with old Abraham blinded by fire. That night she must have arisen from her sleep a hundred times to look at Isaac and she must have asked the darkness, “Why are mothers not consulted in these things?”
I saw him first as any mother might, simply safe. He looked at us and smiled as if we’d never been apart. “We’ve sought you, sorrowing,” said Joseph and his voice was weighted with the desert nights and millennia of desert sand. I saw my son. I had not seen him quite this way before. “Why did your seek me?” His inquiry was innocent and wise. He had expected us to know. I saw our future in him then, the truth of all our lives. We all live in one another’s love. No one can be lost. I turned within, listened to the voice of my heart and he was there as he had always been.
He came with us. I had looked into the eyes of my son and seen God. Now he came along like any other little boy.
All that was years ago. Our son returned to Nazareth to learn wisdom from simple things of earth. Joseph taught him how to work with wood, respect the natural grain, rub it with the wax of bees until it glowed. With our cousin, Nathaniel, Jesus learned the art of growing grain to yield a hundredfold of fruit. He reaped at harvest-time and brought home riches from the earth from which we made delicious bread. He carried the basket for me when we observed the Feast of Loaves, sharing our riches of food with those more needy than ourselves. We go to synagogue and he learns the wisdom of the law. He also listens to the birds and asks me, “Where is the beginning of the wind?”
His eyes are lapis, deeper than the night and clear. All my life when silence wraps me like a shawl I will close my eyes and wonder at these things. I will gather bright blue beads wherever they are scattered in my heart and join them on a cord. What I have sought is in my heart. I wear it like a promise.
Glory in the Mother’s heart. Glory where our life begins and to the home from which we walk to seek our names. Glory that our lives are scattered beads around the world. Glory to the One in whom nothing is lost.
In honor of hearing Eugene Peterson speak at Seattle Pacific University Thursday evening, today’s florilegium quote is from his book, The Contemplative Pastor:
What does it mean to be a pastor? If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do?…
I can be a pastor who prays. I want to cultivate my relationship with God. I want all life to be intimate–sometimes consciously, sometime unconsciously–with the God who made, directs, and loves me. And I want to waken others to the nature and centrality of prayer. I want to be a person in this community to whom others can come without hesitation, without wonder if it is appropriate, to get direction in prayer and praying. I want to do the original work of being in deepening conversation with the God who reveals himself to me and addresses me by name. I don’t want to dispense mimeographed (!) handouts that describe God’s business; I want to witness out of my own experience. I don’t want to live as a parasite on the first-hand spiritual life of others, but to be personally involved with all my senses, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.
I know it takes time to develop a life of prayer; set-aside, disciplined, deliberate time. It isn’t accomplished on the run, nor by offering prayers from a pulpit or at a hospital bedside. I know I can’t be busy and pray at the same time. I can be active and pray; I can work and pray; but I cannot be busy and pray. I cannot be inwardly rushed, distracted or dispersed. In order to pray I have to be paying more attention to God than to what people are saying to me; to God than to my clamoring ego. Usually, for that to happen there must be a deliberate withdrawal from the noise of the day, a disciplined detachment from the insatiable self.
God whispers love to us in every moment, if we would but listen.
Today’s Florilegium entry (What is a florilegium?) is a song by Tenth Avenue North called “Times.” It’s lyrics capture a beautiful prayer dialogue, and give encouragement to keep listening to the still small voice.
(To listen, please click pause first on the Music for Dreaming in the column to the right >>)
I know I need You
I need to love You
I love to see You, but it’s been so long
I long to feel You
I feel this need for You
And I need to hear You, is that so wrong?
Now You pull me near You
When we’re close, I fear You
Still I’m afraid to tell You, all that I’ve done
Are You done forgiving?
Oh can You look past my pretending?
Lord, I’m so tired of defending, what I’ve become
What have I become?
I hear You say,
“My love is over. It’s underneath.
It’s inside. It’s in between.
The times you doubt Me, when you can’t feel.
The times that you question, ‘Is this for real? ‘
The times you’re broken.
The times that you mend.
The times that you hate Me, and the times that you bend.
Well, My love is over, it’s underneath.
It’s inside, it’s in between.
These times you’re healing, and when your heart breaks.
The times that you feel like you’re falling from grace.
The times you’re hurting.
The times that you heal.
The times you go hungry, and are tempted to steal.
The times of confusion, in chaos and pain.
I’m there in your sorrow, under the weight of your shame.
I’m there through your heartache.
I’m there in the storm.
My love I will keep you, by My pow’r alone.
I don’t care where you fall, where you have been.
I’ll never forsake you, My love never ends.
It never ends.”