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!


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!