Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Power of Music

Came across an old piece today. Something I wrote nearly three years ago. Decided to stick it up here as a point of reference. Those who grew up in ATI may relate to bits of my experience.

January 8, 2010
Played the piano for the last hour. First time in a long time that I've sat down and played like that. Now I know why. Nearly dissolved into tears twice. The music took me back to some very emotional places, both good and bad...
Ironing Dad's shirts and listening to praise tapes, with the choral worship songs of the early 80's. (Praise Six, "Come and Sing Praises", Maranatha/Word Music) They are still a part of me now. The songs, not the shirts. 

Growing up attending Church of the Living God with its enthusiastic praise style. Then wondering what exactly rock music was and why it made it us leave that church. We used to sing "and blessed be the Rock" there to much clapping. Shortly before we left Living God, a lady taught us a peppy new Scripture song. "In Him we live, and move, and have our being". I suspected that was the offensive song, but I found Paul referring to it later in the book of Acts. 

The wonder and awe when the grand piano with the inlaid roses was delivered to the OKC Training Center, the stunningly beautiful answer to our prayers. Anything in tune would have suited, but it seemed God had just decided to spoil us. Spending many hours worshiping with my hymnal, entertaining myself, or accompanying old-fashioned hymnsings. The thrill when a man I admired told me I sang like an angel. Also, our frustration when the same man asked one talented youth not to play recent sacred compositions but to stick with the old styles. Aaron more than made up for that limitation.

Learning said "recent compositions" at Springdale Alliance Church on Sundays. "Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty". Looking forward to sermons for the first time in my life. Feeling my faith and understanding grow. Being blessed by Pastor Ken Nesselroade and others.

Graham Kendrick. His songs have been meaningful to me, but more so since I learned that he is British. Somehow singing about "this land" and "the nations" feels more catholic now.

Singing out hymns like we meant it on weekends in Indianapolis. The rich harmony, the grand pianists we had, the giggles over the more "daring" selections. "God of Concrete, God of Steel", anyone? "Wonderful Grace of Jesus", with enough men's voices to carry the parts. The feeling that we in our crisp white shirts were right, and important.

Precious solitary piano worship between classes at UND in Grand Forks. In the open-air meeting hall in Nasuli on Mindanao. Or on the "homemade" piano in my generous neighbors' house. Learning new songs and digging out old ones. 

Coming home from Bay Area Baptist "Church" full of outrage week after week. Digging out [Christian] music that would be offensive there and playing it in rebellion. Like a praise songbook from the 70's, or a recent Catholic music issue stolen for me by my aunt when we attended Mass with her. Figuring out how to play chords from music intended for guitar or cantor. Discovering Bernadette Farrell. Fiercely pounding out songs about dancing, fellowship, grace, or unity. The melancholy "God and Man at Table Are Sat Down" was particularly satisfying. 

Many of my favorite albums (both sacred and instrumental secular) disappearing from the family collection overnight. Some to be repurchased gradually a decade and more later when my parents' religious views of music altered yet again. Being asked to evaluate recordings of instrumental hymns with a critical search for a "backbeat". 

Hours spent at the piano when I was a single living with my parents. The anguish I would pour out on the keyboard many nighths as I asked God the hard questions. He never would explain himself, but He would soothe my soul so that I could sleep. The old Appalachian tunes in minor keys, looking forward to Heaven. Ron Hamilton's "Rejoice in the Lord", and "Not My Will, But Thine, Lord". I was ready to die for Jesus. It would have been easier, actually.

Many a weekend hour at the piano in the basement of Brook Manor. I sought out ancient songs during that period. Like the Shield of St. Patrick. I needed to feel that our faith was much deeper than what I could see. I enjoyed all the music around me, though. My horizons were expanding. "Because He Lives" still reminds me of Derek LoVerde leading staff meeting. Philip Raymond led our handbell choir. Phil Garvin played traditional "Gospel piano". Hinsdale Baptist introduced me to the very latest church songs. Life was hard on us, but at the same time it was too good to be true. And then it seemed like it had ended, and again I was back at my "own" piano.

Visiting my mom's friend when I was a kid and listening to her daughter play the piano. Hannah was close to my age and very talented. She played "Isn't He" and the beauty blew me away. I longed to be able to make sounds like that. Today I realized that I can.

Trying to sing hymns with my mom and siblings to tapes of Alfred B. Smith. Wow. That was rough. But a few of those tunes are favorites today. Some of the old hymns seemed shocking then, and still amaze me. Like Frederick Faber's "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy". Faber traded the Calvinism of his youth for the Roman Catholic Church, becoming a theologian and writing the (ana-)Baptist favorite, "Faith of our Fathers". I used to think "dungeon, fire and sword" was talking about things like the Inquisition, but apparently not. 

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.

There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.

There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

. . . 

It is God: His love looks mighty,
But is mightier than it seems;
’Tis our Father: and His fondness
Goes far out beyond our dreams.

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?
Strange to read this again. I rarely play the piano anymore. I've tossed half of my hymnal collection. I've found new favorite songs and musical styles. I don't "worship", though I still have intense emotional experiences while singing with my favorite vocalists in my car. Perhaps if I'd been taught a gentler Jesus from the beginning, I'd have more patience with religion now?


  1. Ah, I tried singing that good ol' song, "God of Concrete, God of Steel" with a group once just because. Wasn't worth working up to performance level. Have never seen it any hymn book other than the one we got at Sound Foundations ( '97, I think).


  2. I recently discovered your blog and have decided to go through from the beginning and read EVERYTHING! I was raised in the same form of Christianity as you (heavy Gothard influence!) and brought up in the same world view and now, at the age of 50, have come to the same conclusions you have about religion (differentiating between religion and spirituality). This post made me smile. I could SO relate!