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!


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day: Mansions of the Lord

He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth;
he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder;
he burneth the chariot in the fire. ~ Psalms 46:9

Tomorrow, May 28, is Memorial Day in the United States. On this day we remember and honor those men and women in the Armed Forces who gave their lives in service to our country. Today, for those who have never lost a close relative or friend serving in the military, Memorial Day seems to mean little more than an extra day off from work and an occasion for picnics and used car sales. But for those who have borne such a loss, or who have simply made it their business to honor our fallen heroes and support their families, Memorial Day is a profoundly moving time.

But not always a somber, wretched time. Perhaps because Memorial Day falls in the fullest flower of spring, it has always cast for me a ray of light and hope, just behind the dark wall of painful remembrance. As a child I would go with my grandmother every "Decoration Day"--as it was then called--to the cemetery behind our family's church, where we laid a pot of flowers at my long-departed grandfather's grave and with Grandma would say a brief, silent prayer. I recall it as always being sunny and warm. All the veterans' graves were adorned with colorful flags. Yes, we often had a family picnic too, but it was always preceded by that quiet remembrance.

This bonding of grief and hope, sadness and peace is reflected in a moving contemporary hymn to fallen servicemen called Mansions of the Lord. The text was composed by Christian songwriter, screenwriter, and director Randall Wallace, and the music by English film score composer Nick Glennie-Smith.It was sung by the U.S. Military Academy Glee Club during the closing credits of the 2002 film We Were Soldiers, which chronicled the November 1965 Battle of Ia Drang in Viet Nam. The hymn also served as the recessional in the 2004 funeral of President Ronald Reagan.

The text consists of three short stanzas that dwell not on war and death, but on the eternal peace of Heaven--the "Mansions of the Lord"--to which a fallen soldier (or sailor or airman) is commended by his comrades, who promise to stand guard and remember him always. The hymn reminds us that in that blessed place there is no more war, no fear or pain, no anguish or loss--just "divine embrace, eternal light." The music is likewise simple, dignified, and uplifting, and reinforces the text's message of hope (as the hymn is not in the public domain the sheet music can't be reproduced here, but if you'd like to view and download it for a fee, click here).
To fallen soldiers let us sing,
Where no rockets fly nor bullets wing,
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the Mansions of the Lord.

No more bleeding, no more fight,
No prayers pleading through the night,
Just divine embrace, eternal light
In the Mansions of the Lord.

Where no mothers cry and no children weep,
We will stand and guard though the angels sleep,
All through the ages safely keep
The Mansions of the Lord.

  Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Washington, DC, USA

The presentation below is the original version of the hymn sung in We Were Soldiers by the Cadet Glee Club of West Point, along with a stirring orchestration and a moving video tribute to fallen warriors and their families:

You'll notice that this presentation includes a solo voice portion not part of the hymn itself, excerpted from the lament "Sgt. MacKenzie" by Joseph Kilna MacKenzie, as sung in a Scottish dialect and with a "translation" to standard English:
Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun
Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

Ains a year say a prayer faur me
Close yir een an remember me
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone

Once a year say a prayer for me
Close your eyes and remember me
Below is another presentation, also sung (I believe) by the Cadet Glee Club but without orchestration--except for a very poignant bugle introduction--and is accompanied by another very moving video.

The video below presents the Cadet Glee Club itself performing Mansions of the Lord, with an introduction that provides some very thought-provoking information on just how many men and women have given their lives in America's service in the last hundred years:

War, though sometimes necessary in the defense of truth, justice, and national survival, is perhaps the greatest scourge in human experience. The believer--especially the believing soldier and his or her family--longs and prays for the day when war and conflict are no more, and we rejoice eternally, together, in the presence of our Savior and Heavenly Father.  It is this hope that we share with departed loved ones, and which, perhaps, inspired these beautiful passages from Scripture:

[T]hey shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore. ~ Isaiah 2:4

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;
and there shall be no more death,
neither sorrow, nor crying,

neither shall there be any more pain:
for the former things are passed away. ~ Revelation 21:4

May the soldiers, sailors, and airmen of today live to see it,
and lock arms with their departed comrades once more.

NOTE: This post was adapted from another on my blog Songs of Praises, which features the best in hymns and sacred music.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Angel(s) of Mercy

It's been far too long since I posted here, and to those (few) who follow this blog, I apologize. Most of my posts involve a certain amount of research, and I simply haven't had time to do much of that lately, what with unusual pressures at work and many family adventures (most of them delightful) at home. Political controversies, battles in the culture wars, and other momentous events have come and gone without comment from me. How can humanity cope?

So, before this blog is entirely forgotten, I'll post about the one subject on which no research is needed--my family! And at this time one member in particular, who gives so much of herself to others day in and day out: my sister Patti!

We grew up together in Grand Island, New York with our two other brothers and, of course, Mom (Gail) and Dad (John) Fleming. Patti (at left in high school) was special as the "baby sister," but she didn't let it go to her head too often--she just suffused our family with her sweet glow!  Mom and Dad moved to Jacksonville, Florida (where Mom grew up) in the mid-80s, and Patti followed a few years later. There she met an exceptional gentleman named Jason, and they were married. Not long after that, they were blessed with a son, Jonathan, who's now a fine young man working his way through college. In recent years Patti has shared countless sewing and craft-making secrets, as well as whimsical thoughts and pearls of wisdom, on her blog It's a Wonderful . . . 

This sounds like a "happily ever after" story, and in a way it is--but only part of it.  The other part consists of Patti's tireless efforts for people outside her home. She works at the Women’s Help Center in Jacksonville, providing pregnancy tests and sonograms, counseling in favor of life and against abortion, and generally offering guidance and support to women and couples facing the most important choices in their lives.

Most important, she--with Jason's tireless help--constitutes Mom and Dad's lifeline in their later years. Patti helps nurse them through health challenges and drives back and forth to hospitals and doctor's offices. She and Jason have put in many hours keeping Mom and Dad's computer up and running so they can stay connected with the digitized members of the family. Other errands and chores Patti and Jason have done for Mom and Dad are countless, and all without a moment's hesitation. I and my brothers, who live too far away to provide that support, only wish we could pitch in more and lighten their load. For now, I can at least pay them a little tribute in a public place and express our thanks for all that they do to help Mom and Dad (and others) live "happily ever after"!

 Patti today in downtown Jacksonville

Jason with our grandson Liam