In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Friday, December 31, 2010

God Be With You in 2011!

Another year draws to a close! From one hour or one day to the next, often seems to drag by--especially when we're mired in some unpleasant task or situation. But when we think back on precious moments with our family and friends, they slip through our hands like rushing water, even as we try to hold onto them. Perhaps we'll have them abide with us only on the other shore, when--washed clean and all basking in the eternal light of our Savior's love--we meet again to share them in perpetual joy. Such a vision helps us lay aside old cares, and enter on the morrow with renewed hope and confidence.

So, to end this brief chapter called 2010, I'd like to offer you a few minutes' blissful peace in the fine old "closing" hymn God Be With You Till We Meet Again. This is one of my all-time favorites, and one that I'd like sung at my funeral--not to be morbid or anticipate the event! The text was written in 1880 by Congregational minister Jeremiah Eames Rankin (1828-1904), and the music in the same year by William G. Tomer. Rankin explained that the hymn "was written as a Christian good-bye; it was called forth by no person or occasion, but was deliberately composed as a Christian hymn on the basis of the etymology of 'good-bye,' which means 'God be with you.'"

I think this hymn is altogether fitting as a gentle good-bye to the old year and all that was, and all who were, dear in it, and as a bright looking-forward to a new year filled with God's blessings. The rendition in the video below is by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the text follows it (the second stanza is omitted in the video rendition). May this wonderful hymn touch your heart with warmth and peace tonight, and throughout the coming year!

God be with you till we meet again,
By His counsels guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you,
God be with you till we meet again.

Till we meet, till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus’ feet;
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again;
'Neath his wings protecting hide you,
Daily manna still provide you:
God be with you till we meet again.


God be with you till we meet again,
When life’s perils thick confound you,
Put His arms unfailing round you,
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again,
Keep love’s banner floating o’er you,
Smite death’s threat’ning wave before you,
God be with you till we meet again.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Good King Wenceslaus

In recent years the traditional Christmas carol Good King Wenceslaus has become one of my favorites. It's about a king who, with his page, ventures out of the palace to bring alms to a poor peasant whom he has seen gathering firewood on the Feast of Stephen (the day after Christmas, December 26). During the journey, the page is about to give up the struggle against the cold and stormy weather, but is enabled to continue by the warmth miraculously emanating from the king's footprints in the snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (907–935). The tune is based on a 13th century Finnish carol, but the text was written in 1853 by the English hymnwriter John Mason Neale (1818–1866), who translated or arranged such other enduring Christmas favorites as Good Christian Men, Rejoice and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (the charity celebrated in Good King Wenceslaus seems reflected in Rev. Neale's co-founding in 1854 of the Society of Saint Margaret, an order of women in the Anglican Church dedicated to nursing the sick).

What inspires me about Good King Wenceslaus--and makes it so fitting for the Christmas season--is the spirit of love, giving, and self-sacrifice that infuses it. The King is touched by the plight of the peasant he sees braving the elements to provide for his family, and willingly steps out of his comfortable, privileged world and into the raging storm himself, carrying his own provisions in his own arms to bring help to the poor man. There is also great love and trust between the King and his page, whom he encourages and makes sure, through a wonderful miracle, can endure the challenge before them. Is this story an allegory of Christ, the Good King who lowers Himself to succor the wretched and helpless, and the faithful but self-doubting servant, his page?

The story of Good King Wenceslaus is best experienced in Rev. Neale's delightful lyrics:
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither."
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather

"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master’s steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.
My favorite recording of Good King Wenceslaus is one made in the 1940s or 50s (not sure which) by Bing Crosby. Here's a video version, with images taken from an old comic book telling of the story.

May we all strive to emulate the Good King's example this Christmas--and all year--by stepping out of our comfort zones to share our blessings with others less fortunate than ourselves.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beware the Visionary President

This may be the "season to be jolly" for ordinary folk like us, but not so much for President Obama and those around him. In the last few weeks their party has gone from a commanding majority to an impotent minority in the House of Representatives; the Democrat majority in the Senate has been reduced to the thickness of paper; and administration initiatives are passing the lame-duck Democrat Congress, if at all, only with the help of pliant Republican "moderates." The President's approval rating has now dipped below George W. Bush's, and just 29 percent of the registered voters surveyed in a recent poll said they believed Obama would win reelection in 2012; among independents, only 32 percent said the President deserves reelection. There's no tonic for an overreaching, out-of-touch administration and Congress than an aroused electorate venting its anger at the polls, as we did in last month's elections. Better than egg-nog!

But the President's closest advisers apparently still don't understand that the "progressive Camelot" they've spent the last two years building has been swept away for good, and by The People themselves. Liberal mouthpiece National Public Radio (NPR) reports that according to Center for American Progress director John Podesta (Obama's transition coordinator and Bill Clinton's chief of staff), the nation's CEO still has plenty of executive power to deliver "real change" in the next two years, and to "push the country to a better place." Podesta emphasized the strong hand the President can take in writing regulations to implement audacious initiatives like health care and financial reform, "shift[ing] authority out of Congress and into a realm where Obama can wield much authority." Podesta's gang suggests "that the president use his Constitutional authority to make things happen through executive orders, rule making, managing agencies, creating public-private partnerships, commanding the armed forces, and diplomacy."

It's amazing how enraptured so many "liberal" people are with the idea of a (benevolent) dictatorship. Podesta's ramblings about the loveliness of Presidential power are merely a refined version of the sentiments expressed earlier this year by no less an authority on political philosophy than comedian/film director Woody Allen, who remarked to a Spanish newspaper: “I am pleased with Obama. I think he’s brilliant. The Republican Party should get out of his way and stop trying to hurt him. It would be good … if he could be a dictator for a few years because he could do a lot of good things quickly."

It's a good thing that George Washington didn't quite see things Woody's way, and take up the title of King that many wanted him to assume. He too probably could have "done a lot of good things quickly." But of all people, he understood that that is not what government in America is all about--and that LIMITED government was precisely what the American people had just fought (and won) a bitter, bloody war to establish.

The issue of Presidential power-lust was explored eloquently this past October by Rep. Mike Pence (R., Ind.) in a speech delivered at Michigan's Hillsdale College. This was one of the most insightful and well-written speeches I've ever read, going right to the heart of why the concept of President as messiah and law-giver is fundamentally at odds with the system of government intended by America's founding fathers. You can read the speech in its entirely here; in this post I'll only quote the central point made by Rep. Pence:
THE PRESIDENCY is the most visible thread that runs through the tapestry of the American government. More often than not, for good or for ill, it sets the tone for the other branches and spurs the expectations of the people. Its powers are vast and consequential, its requirements impossible for mortals to fulfill without humility and insistent attention to its purpose as set forth in the Constitution of the United States.

Isn’t it amazing, given the great and momentous nature of the office, that those who seek it seldom pause to consider what they are seeking? Rather, unconstrained by principle or reflection, there is a mad rush toward something that, once its powers are seized, the new president can wield as an instrument with which to transform the nation and the people according to his highest aspirations.

But, other than in a crisis of the house divided, the presidency is neither fit nor intended to be such an instrument. When it is made that, the country sustains a wound, and cries out justly and indignantly. And what the nation says is the theme of this address. What it says—informed by its long history, impelled by the laws of nature and nature’s God—is that we as a people are not to be ruled and not to be commanded. It says that the president should never forget this; that he has not risen above us, but is merely one of us, chosen by ballot, dismissed after his term, tasked not to transform and work his will upon us, but to bear the weight of decision and to carry out faithfully the design laid down in the Constitution in accordance with the Declaration of Independence.

* * * *
It is a tragedy indeed that new generations taking office attribute failures in governance to insufficient power, and seek more of it. In the judiciary, this has seldom been better expressed than by Justice Thurgood Marshall, who said: “You do what you think is right and let the law catch up.” In the Congress, it presents itself in massive legislation, acts and codes thousands of pages long and so monstrously over-complicated that no human being can read through them—much less understand them, much less apply them justly to a people that increasingly feel like they are no longer being asked, but rather told. Our nation finds itself in the position of a dog whose duty it is not to ask why—because the “why” is too elevated for his nature—but simply to obey.

America is not a dog, and does not require a “because-I-said-so” jurisprudence; or legislators who knit laws of such insulting complexity that they are heavier than chains; or a president who acts like, speaks like, and is received as a king.

The president is not our teacher, our tutor, our guide or ruler. He does not command us; we command him. We serve neither him nor his vision. It is not his job or his prerogative to redefine custom, law, and beliefs; to appropriate industries; to seize the country, as it were, by the shoulders or by the throat so as to impose by force of theatrical charisma his justice upon 300 million others. It is neither his job nor his prerogative to shift the power of decision away from them, and to him and the acolytes of his choosing.
Truer words were never spoken! If only our "leaders" could or would accept the principle that it doesn't matter how noble or superior their ideas and aspirations are; if a majority of the people don't agree with them, they should not become law. If they can't be implemented through an open, honest, and truly democratic legislative process--rather than through logrolling, corrupt backroom deals, or judicial fiat--they should not be implemented at all.

Today, the line between leadership and dictatorship grows thinner by the day. The people of recently-democratic Venezuela, where the National Assembly has just given President Hugo Chavez the power to rule by decree for 18 months, are learning that to their woe. And it could happen here, if we let it.

Don't you think Rep. Pence, who's given these truths such forceful expression, might make a good President himself?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A New Generation at Kelly's

This past Saturday Melany and I met up with Rob, Sheila, and baby Liam at their home in Amherst for a special adventure--a trip to Kelly's Country Store (on Facebook) on Grand Island! This was an exciting event on several levels.

Kelly's isn't your typical small-town gift shop. In addition to crafts, candles, knickknacks, novelty items, small toys, home decorations, tableware, etc., there are always antique items, old tools, and other memorabilia lining the front porch, aisles, walls, and even the ceiling, which give the place a distinctly homey, throwback ambiance. They even have a "cigar-store Indian"--the same one, I think, that's been there for decades!

And then there's the old-fashioned "penny" candy, a long counter holding jar upon jar of it: horehound, sassafras, clove, root beer barrels, licorice, lemon drops, "boston baked beans," chocolate-covered peanuts and raisins--if you remember it, they have it! And lots of homemade fudge, of course (especially my favorite, maple).

What makes this place really unique is the way it's transformed into a wonderland at holiday-time, especially Christmas. A back room is opened; the approach-way is filled with every imaginable Christmas-tree ornament and wall- or table-decoration (just how many versions of Santa Claus are there?); another short aisle takes you past a moving diorama of the Holy Family.

And then you reach it: darkened but for one of those rotating "disco" lights (I hate to call it that because it conveys the impression that the room is cheesy and modern, which it isn't in the slightest), "Santa's room" is covered floor-to-ceiling, and all over the ceiling, with antique toys, sleds, and children's whatnot. At the far end of the room sits Santa himself in a big chair--and he's about the most "real" Santa you'll ever encounter! Children and their families wait in line for a few minutes with the jolly old fellow, and hardly mind the wait, being surrounded with so much magical stuff!

What makes Kelly's so special to our family is that we're now into the fourth generation of Flemings who love to visit there! My memory is a bit hazy, but I'm sure my parents took me and my siblings there now and then over the years since the store opened in 1962 (what other small-town country store do you know of that's been around almost 50 years?) I do distinctly remember riding my bicycle there as a teenager--our house was only 2 or 3 miles away--to buy some candy and play the old coin-operated music box they used to have. I liked to visit there during Christmas break from college and law school, too. Then I got married and had kids of my own, and we'd take them to Kelly's on our annual Thanksgiving weekend visit to Grandma and Grandpa Moran's--I don't think Grandpa ever accompanied us, but Grandma did as long as she was physically able!

Here's Grandma with Donna and Robert at Kelly's on Thanksgiving weekend 1988 (sorry I cut off your head, Grandma!)

Getting pictures taken with Santa was a yearly ritual!

Here's Donna, Colin and Robert with Santa at Kelly's on Thanksgiving weekend in 1989.

Now our kids are grown up, and Rob and Sheila have started taking theirs to Kelly's!

Here are the proud parents with Liam on a bench just outside the store.

Apparently Liam had decided to rest up (on Rob's shoulder) for the momentous occasion of his first meeting with Santa Claus himself!

Because Liam wasn't in a position (yet) to actually talk with Santa, we were allowed to go to the head of the line and have his picture taken with the Jolly Old Elf. Liam was so overawed that he slept through the entire event!

He even slept through Sheila's attempt to load him into Santa's sleigh!

I got to hold the young fellow during most of the rest of our visit (after conning Melany into letting me hold him--I feel guilty now!), and he was awake for much of that time, just looking around and taking in all the sights and sounds. I didn't feel his weight at all until I handed him back to Melany--and then the soreness and stiffness hit! But it's a good pain!

Here are Grandma and Grandpa Fleming holding Liam in Santa's Room at Kelly's (we weren't really as shell-shocked as we look here).

We had a delightful time, and look forward to many more visits with Liam (and other grandchildren?) to Kelly's Country Store!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Once again it's time to pause and reflect on the multitude of blessings that our Heavenly Father has bestowed upon us, and on all the things we have to be thankful for. Among mine: a God who knows and loves me; a Savior willing to die for me; a country worth giving my life for; my sweet wife Melany and our beautiful children (and new grandson Liam!); my wonderful parents and the love and wise counsel they blessed me with growing up (and still do today); my awesome siblings and their delightful spouses and children; reasonably good health; a steady (if trying) job; a decent home; a nice community and good neighbors; and a beautiful area in which to live. Who could ask for more? I'm blessed so far beyond what I deserve that I want to fall on my knees in gratitude every time I think about it. It's hard not to believe in a loving, merciful God when one is blessed so much. I only pray that my faith will endure when and as I lose some of these things, as will probably happen--hopefully only a little at a time--in future years. But I'll NEVER forget how much I've been given, even if only for a while. Praise our God for it!

Another thing I'm thankful for is the joy of music. Few things moves me so, or make me so happy--especially sacred music. Another of my favorite hymns, and one widely heard and sung around Thanksgiving time, is For the Beauty of the Earth, written in 1864 by English hymnist and poet Folliott S. Pierpoint (1835-1917). It is related that Pierpoint was taking a walk one late spring day, in the lovely area surrounding his home in Bath, England. Overwhelmed with the beauty he saw, he sat down and wrote For the Beauty of the Earth. In this lovely hymn Pierpoint thanks God not only for His beautiful creation, but also for family, friends and other gifts God has bestowed upon us. The hymn was sung in the 1994 movie version of Little Women.

Here is a lovely video and choral rendition of this sweet hymn. The video scenes are of places and people in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada; I love it because it celebrates not only the beauty of nature, but also "the joy of human love,/Brother, sister, parent, child"--my favorite lines from the hymn! The full text of the hymn, which includes several stanzas in addition to those sung in the video, is set forth below.

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.


Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour,
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon, and stars of light.


For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind’s delight,
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight.


For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild.


For Thy Church, that evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Offering up on every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love.


For the martyrs’ crown of light,
For Thy prophets’ eagle eye,
For Thy bold confessors’ might,
For the lips of infancy.


For Thy virgins’ robes of snow,
For Thy maiden mother mild,
For Thyself, with hearts aglow,
Jesu, Victim undefiled.

For each perfect gift of Thine,
To our race so freely given,
Graces human and divine,
Flowers of earth and buds of Heaven.



Tuesday, November 16, 2010

. . . On the Erie Canal

And you'll always know your neighbor
And you'll always know your pal
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal.

from the song Low Bridge (1905)
by Thomas S. Allen

Well, I've never actually "navigated on" the Canal, unless being a canal boat passenger once or twice qualifies. But the Erie Canal--located, as the crow flies, only a couple of hundred yards from our house in Brockport, New York-- is an ever-present feature of our lives. My bus crosses and re-crosses it several times a day between home and work. My office window, in a 122-year-old building in downtown Rochester, looks out over an old aqueduct, on which a street now runs, that once carried the Canal across the Genesee River.

My office is on the second floor from the top of that red brick building at the left, about the fourth one in from the corner above the river.

Indeed, Brockport--the town we live in--is known as "The Victorian Village on the Erie Canal." It wouldn't be much of a place without the Canal.

Under construction from 1817 to 1825, the Erie Canal was the first transportation system between the eastern seaboard and the western interior (Great Lakes) of the United States that did not require portage. Cutting transport costs by about 95%, the Canal fostered a population surge in western New York, opened regions farther west to settlement, and helped New York City become the chief American port. It's no longer a commercial artery, but is still a recreational and historic treasure.

Currently, the Canal's chief role in our family's life is as the ultimate place to walk our big greyhound Frank--he loves all the trees, bushes and rocks lining the sides of the gravel path that runs alongside the waterway. For us, walking him there is a chance to get much-needed exercise, to chat and bond, and to enjoy a scenery that's both constant and ever-changing with the seasons--for example, the water freezes in winter, making a great surface on which ducks can land and "surf" to a stop on the ice, one of the funniest things you'll ever see! In the spring, the banks are crowded with brilliant wildflowers, and the chorus of frogs in the marshes along the path makes a compelling music. In the summer the path becomes a busy thoroughfare for joggers and bikers (the latter including me). And our fall season, my favorite, is just coming to a close. The air is clear and cool with that spicy/smoky aroma, and the trees and bushes are (or were, a couple of weeks ago) ablaze with red, orange, and gold leaves. I wanted to share with you some photos I took on several recent excursions along the Canal near our home.

The following two pictures were taken on a recent bike ride along the Canal heading west from near our house and toward the village of Holley. If I kept going this way, I'd eventually find myself in Buffalo!

The picture below was also taken heading west, but from the village of Brockport looking toward the SUNY Brockport campus and the vicinity of our home on the other side of that.

The next set of pictures, on the other hand, were taken just across the Canal from our house and headed east, toward the village of Brockport. This is the part of the Canal where we most often walk Frank. You can see him and Melany in the first picture below!

If you keep going east along the Canal from near our house, you approach the village of Brockport. Even here on the edge of "civilization," foliage beside the path can be almost as dense and colorful as you might find in a rain forest!

Nevertheless, if you look closely, you'll catch sight of a little house nestled amidst the boughs and fronds--almost looks as if a hobbit might emerge from it at any moment!

One of my favorite things about the fall in these parts are the little purple flowers--I don't even know what they are--that abound along our roads and pathways, including the Canal. They make such a contrast with the greens and golds about them!

Sadly, now that it's mid-November, our autumn brilliance is past. In about 10 days, the people who run the state canal system will draw down the water to almost a trickle, just enough to create an icy surface in December for the ducks to skate on. Fine entertainment as we walk Frank along the path in the bitter cold!

And I aint prevaricatin' 'bout the Erie Canal.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Celebrating the Palin Effect

A good Facebook friend of mine, and an otherwise staunch conservative, complains: "Sarah Palin's endorsement of Christine O' Donnell cost the GOP that Senate seat and her endorsement of Sharron Angle didn't work out either. Harry Reid was very beatable. Sarah Palin needs to fade away. She's not needed any further." I heartily disagree, and for several reasons.

Mrs. Palin isn't some sort of witch who blows into town on a broomstick, casts a spell on local Republicans, and by her fiat alone causes them to vote for candidates who can't win a general election. Republicans in Delaware and Nevada used their own free judgment to nominate the people who really animated them and inspired in them more trust and confidence than the "establishment" candidates. Let those candidates, and the party leaders who back them, stop whining about Sarah Palin and do a better job of selling their brand to the rank and file. Are Republican voters somehow too gullible to be trusted with control of their own party? Is the party to be run exclusively by top-level operatives who choose its candidates in back rooms according to what they think would best advance the organization's interests (which might or might not coincide with the country's)? Obviously, frustration with the RINO "elite" played a big part in Delaware, Nevada, and many other primary races, and in the general election helped propel many true conservatives into national and state office. Palin-sparked Tea Party enthusiasm may have "cost" the Republican Party some seats here and there, but I wouldn't trade that dynamic force on a nationwide basis for anything right now. It's what is providing the energy, leadership, and vision pulling "independents" and heretofore apathetic or non-political people in the right direction.

In any case, as CBS News points out, "most of the candidates Sarah Palin endorsed chalked up victories Tuesday." She backed 43 candidates for the House of Representatives and at least 30 of them won, while she endorsed 12 Senate candidates and seven of them won. Among the winners Palin endorsed were Nikki Haley for governor of South Carolina, Pat Toomey for Senate in Pennsylvania, and John Boozman for the Senate, in Arkansas. "My observation of Sarah Palin," says CBS News political analyst Nicolle Wallace, "is that she is one of the shrewdest political figures in our country at this moment. She's also one of the most electric." Without question, Mrs. Palin carries the torch and brings home the bacon better than anyone else in the GOP or the conservative movement generally.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln's famous 1862 endorsement of the then-widely-criticized Ulysses S. Grant, "We can't spare this woman--she fights."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An Arrow for the Quiver

One of the biggest events in the life of our family happened yesterday: my son Rob, and his wife Sheila, became the proud parents of Liam Charles Fleming--born at Sisters of Charity Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y. at 9:58 a.m. on October 26, 2010, measuring 9 lbs and 11 oz., and 21 inches in length. He seems to share red hair with our younger son, Colin! Both Dad and Mom are doing fine, if very tired. Melany and I visited with them yesterday afternoon and got to hold the little shaver, but of course all too briefly. We'll have lots of opportunities in the future, God willing!

"Liam" is a short form of the Irish name Uilliam, originating from the Frankish name Willahelm, meaning "Determined Guardian" in Celtic/Gaelic or "Resolute Defender" in Teutonic. As a Hebrew name Liam means "My people; I have a nation." He seems destined to grow into a strong, brave young man!

Here are some more of the first pictures we have of this blessed event--some of these are borrowed from Rob's Facebook page--check back there, and here, from time to time for more!

Check out the red hair!

Sheila and Liam

Rob and Liam

Melany (Grandma) and Liam

Tom (Grandpa, aka "me") and Liam

The Good Book says: Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them . . . (Psalms 127:3-5) May Liam be just the first of many in Rob and Sheila's quiver!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

On Eagles' Wings

Maybe I should rename this blog Sacred Music Central! I got another request to post about a hymn, this time from a good family friend, Georgia Voss. The hymn is On Eagles' Wings, composed by Roman Catholic priest Jan Michael Joncas in 1979, after the Church began using vernacular hymns at Mass. The lyrics of On Eagles' Wings are loosely based on Isaiah 40:31 ("But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.") and especially on Psalm 91, the "Psalm of Protection," which is commonly invoked in times of hardship.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High
shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust:
his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness;
nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand;
but it shall not come nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder:
the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.
Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him:
I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him, and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.

What a precious promise we have from the Lord! And here are the inspiring lyrics to On Eagles' Wings, which echo this message:
You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord,
Who abide in His shadow for life,
Say to the Lord, "My Refuge,
My Rock in Whom I trust."

And He will raise you up on eagle's wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His Hand.

The snare of the fowler will never capture you,
And famine will bring you no fear;
Under His Wings your refuge,
His faithfulness your shield.


You need not fear the terror of the night,
Nor the arrow that flies by day,
Though thousands fall about you,
Near you it shall not come.

As with the Psalms on which it's based, this hymn conveys the priceless message that our God will never fail us! He'll never put before us a challenge we cannot surmount, as long as we keep faith in Him. With God's help, nothing is impossible! And there is nothing to fear, for He is always by our side.

Here is a beautiful rendition of On Eagle's Wings, including the lyrics:

And here is another moving presentation, composed as a tribute to a young girl who passed away before her time:

Thank you, Georgia, for this wonderful suggestion!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Prayer of the Children

As I've said many times, just about my favorite thing to do on this blog is share an inspiring hymn that I've loved for a long time, or just discovered. In my last post I invited readers to tell me their favorite hymn, gospel song, or piece of sacred music, and I'd post about it. My first taker was my son Colin, who recommended Prayer of the Children, a song for four-part men's choir that he performed several years ago with his high school a capella group, The Handsome Devils. This is not so much a hymn as a heartrending appeal, to mankind as well as to the Lord, to relieve children everywhere from the scourge of war.

The lyrics and music were written by Kurt Bestor, an Emmy-award-winning composer, arranger, and performer. According to his biographical sketch on Wikipedia, Bestor served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Serbia during the 1970s. On his personal blog, Bestor describes how this experience led him, years later, to write Prayer of the Children:
Having lived in this now war-torn country back in the late 1970's, I grew to love the people with whom I lived. It didn't matter to me their ethnic origin - Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian - they were all just happy fun people to me and I counted as friends people from each region. Of course, I was always aware of the bigotry and ethnic differences that bubbled just below the surface, but I always hoped that the peace this rich country enjoyed would continue indefinitely. Obviously that didn't happen.

When Yugoslavian President Josip Broz Tito died, different political factions jockeyed for position and the inevitable happened - civil war. Suddenly my friends were pitted against each other. Serbian brother wouldn't talk to Croatian sister-in-law. Bosnian mother disowned Serbian son-in-law and so it went. Meanwhile, all I could do was stay glued to the TV back in the US and sink deeper in a sense of hopelessness.

Finally, one night I began channeling these deep feelings into a wordless melody. Then little by little I added words....Can you hear....? Can you feel......? I started with these feelings - sensations that the children struggling to live in this difficult time might be feeling. Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian children all felt the same feelings of confusion and sadness and it was for them that I was writing this song.
Here are the lyrics to this compelling song:
Can you hear the prayer of the children?
On bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry
Turning heavenward toward the light

Crying Jesus, help me
To see the morning light-of one more day
But if I should die before I wake,
I pray my soul to take

Can you feel the hearts of the children?
Aching for home, for something of their very own
Reaching hands, with nothing to hold on to,
But hope for a better day a better day

Crying Jesus, help me
To feel the love again in my own land
But if unknown roads lead away from home,
Give me loving arms, away from harm

Can you hear the voice of the children?
Softly pleading for silence in a shattered world?
Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate,
Blood of the innocent on their hands

Crying Jesus, help me
To feel the sun again upon my face,
For when darkness clears I know you're near,
Bringing peace again

Dali cujete sve djecje molitive?
(Croatian translation: 'Can you hear all the children's prayers?')
Can you hear the prayer of the children?
When paired with video, Prayer of the Children is especially compelling. I chose two of the most interesting and moving to present below.

The first is (in my humble opinion) the most polished choral arrangement I found, paired with a video montage of some heartrending (and occasionally disturbing) images of children whose world has been ravaged by war.

The second presentation is different and uniquely moving, sung by the Okaloosa-Walton College Madrigal Singers at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France during a visit to Omaha Beach--where thousands of American troops perished on June 6, 1944 in the Allied D-Day assault on Hitler's Fortress Europe. Watch the faces and body language of the students--they really do seem to be praying in song!

You can also see a video similar to the first one above, featuring (through some audio wizardry) all four parts sung in harmony by the composer himself, Kurt Bestor. And here's an excellent rendition by a barbershop quartet called On Demand.

I'd like to thank Colin for suggesting Prayer of the Children to feature on my blog. Perhaps it will inspire us to do whatever we can to relieve the suffering of children wherever they are.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In the Garden

In the past year or so, largely through channels on the Internet music service Pandora (see the Pandora box at the lower right side of this page), I've become familiar with many great old church hymns, and love to share them with friends and family. Recently I've started asking them what their favorite hymns are. I thought it would be fun to put as many of them as I could up on my blog, with lyrics and videos (where available) of especially good performances. I already have a number of my favorites linked from this page (click on the Hymns link under "Labels" on the lower right side of the page).

Recently I asked my mother what her favorite hymn is. Without hesitation, she named In the Garden. This hymn--perhaps better described as a "gospel song"--was written by pharmacist-turned-Christian music publisher C. Austin Miles (1868-1946), and was first published in 1912. According to Miles' great-granddaughter, the song "was written on a cold, dreary day in a cold, dreary and leaky basement in New Jersey that didn't even have a window in it let alone a view of a garden. " Miles himself related that the song was inspired by his reflections on Mary's experience at Jesus' tomb on the morning of Christ's resurrection.
My hands were resting on the Bible while I stared at the light blue wall. As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches. A woman in white, with head bowed, hand clasping her throat, as if to choke back her sobs, walked slowly into the shadows. It was Mary. As she came to the tomb, upon which she place her hand, she bent over to look in, and hurried away . . . Mary reappeared; leaning her head upon her arm at the tomb, she wept. Turning herself, she saw Jesus standing, so did I. . . .

. . . I awakened in full light, . . . gripping the Bible, with muscles tense and nerves vibrating. Under the inspiration of this vision I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed the poem exactly as it has since appeared. That same evening I wrote the music.
Here are the words to this simple, beautiful, and most comforting hymn:
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.


And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.


I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

For your viewing and listening pleasure, here is a fine video featuring In the Garden sung by contemporary country artist Alan Jackson:

I, too, have a special affection for In the Garden. In the closing scene of Sally Field's Academy Award-winning film Places in the Heart, the congregation of a small country church is taking communion as the minister reads 1 Corinth. 13 and the choir sings In the Garden. Communion is passed from person to person, and the viewer suddenly realizes that some of these people are living and some are dead; some were hurt or mistreated in the film's story, and others were the ones who did the hurting or mistreating--including the last pair, the late husband of Sally Fields' character and the young black boy who had shot him in a drunken stupor, and who whispers "Peace of God” to him as he takes communion from the older man. It is one of the most moving scenes I've ever seen in any film--and maybe the best for conveying the power of forgiveness, as well as the truth of eternal life.

One more thing--if you haven't already, tell me what YOUR favorite hymn or gospel song is, and I'll devote a post to it!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Idaho Vacation--Parting Shots

Our week with Donna and Jonathan in Idaho last month closed with a visit to a lovely section of downtown Idaho Falls called the "Green Belt," a park along the Snake River that flows through the center of the city. This stretch of the river includes some impressive rapids and a long dam-like structure over which the water rushes. This imparts a cool, well-watered feel to the park--a welcome oasis in the dry, sunny, high-plains-and-desert environment that is southeastern Idaho.

One thing in abundance along this stretch of the river are ducks, geese, gulls, and other water birds. They love to congregate at the edge of the dam, and somehow aren't carried over the edge by the rushing water. I'd like to see a person pull off this trick!

Dominating the skyline wherever one looks here is the beautiful Idaho Falls Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). It was here that Donna and Jonathan were sealed in marriage in 2004. The Temple creates a stunning backdrop to whatever portion of the river and park one beholds. The ducks are privileged to have it in view all the time!

Naturally, no visit to a pretty place is complete without having one's picture taken in front of it!

One last thing caught my eye as we were leaving the park--a historical marker (of course!), with a most interesting story to tell of how wartime "enemies" came to be friends in Idaho Falls (click on the picture to open a larger, easier-to-read version).

So, that was our trip--there was so much more fun to it that didn't get photographed! I'd tell you more about it, but my 55-year-old brain struggles to recall details even only 6 weeks after the event! Suffice it to say that it was one of the most enjoyable weeks we've ever spent, and an adventure I hope we can have with our children again!