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!


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.


Anonymous said...

There are no words that can describe how moved I was, by both videos. Please thank Colin for suggesting this moving hymn to you!!

JoJo said...

Beautiful song and great choice!