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Archive for the ‘The joy of music’ Category

It’s All about LIFE!

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Now more than ever before, we need to focus on LIFE.  As a FOX NEWS follower, I pray constantly to refuse letting the news depress or stress me!  Much of the news is so horrible, that it simply must be a matter of prayer.

Much of the news is all about death:  death by ISIS; the death of our American culture due to Godless immoral laws and deluded government leaders; and the spiritual death of a self-serving, self-centered, humanistic and materialistic worldview which has pervaded every area of American life from schools and universities to churches which once glorified God but no longer honor Him or His Word.

Without the Lord Jesus Christ—who took our sin to the Cross, suffered a cruel death for us, rose to conquer death, and LIVES to share His eternal LIFE with any and all who will trust in Him—I would certainly be depressed and stressed!

But I know that God is in control.  He is fulfilling His plan from eternity past:  “Thy will be done on earth as well as in Heaven.”  In the midst of this crazy world, His LIFE prevails and He will return to reign and bring justice to earth.

In our home, Joe and I have two identical hymnbooks.  Often, especially on Sundays, I play the beloved old Gospel hymns on the piano and Joe sings along with his hymnal.  What a joy this is!

We always include the hymn “Wonderful Words of Life”, by P. P. Bliss.  Along with its upbeat, catchy melody this song takes me back many years to when I sang in a junior choir as a child.  I recall continually bugging the director by begging her for us to sing “Wonderful Words of Life.”  The director tried to explain that we couldn’t sing the same song every Sunday and there were other good hymns to share.

But I still remember the joy I experienced when my wish was granted and our little choir belted out:  “Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life.  Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life . . . .”

Yes, it is all about LIFE!

music 2

Margaret L. Been — July 31st, 2016

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SS Edmund Fitzgerald underway, photo by Winston Brown

Perhaps the oldest form of poetry in most languages, the art of story-telling in rhyme and meter, has staying power like little else in literary history.  Recording historical events, myths, and everyday happenings—comic, tragic, or somewhere in between—the ballad has traditionally been sung and accompanied by (frequently a stringed) musical instrument.  Yet many unforgettable tales in rhyme and meter stand sufficiently alone on paper, begging to be read aloud.

My English literature background is rich with balladry beginning with that bloody saga of Good vs. Evil, Beowulf.  In the 1990s, when we lived in a home with a vaulted wood paneled ceiling we hung the heads of a Javelina pig and a pronghorn antelope—both hunted, bagged, and bequeathed to me by my father.  As I viewed the mounted heads, I experienced a wash of Beowulf Medieval atmosphere; I just had to get out an old textbook and read parts of that gory drama in the ancestral hall.

Whereas some of the characters in the ballad had grown fuzzy or obscure in my head over decades, the mood and setting were indelible.  Mood and atmosphere are created by music, with or without words.

English literature is replete with balladry.  Some beloveds probably known to most aficionados of poetry are Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci and Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman.  Add The Rime of he Ancient Mariner, by Coleridge and haunting works by America’s own Edgar Allan Poe (examples: Annabel Lee and The Raven) and you have a start toward Balladry 101.  The canon is endless.

The tradition of story-telling via ballads set to music was big in the 1960s, with the popularity of folk music and wrung-out war-protests.  This music continued into the 1970s.  But since then, except in isolated parts of the country where (happily) folk music is inherent to the local culture, the ballad seems to have dropped through the floor—as if someone played a foul trick by suddenly opening up a hidden trapdoor on the floor of a stage, and absconding with a lot of life-quality in the process.

Now fakey-flashing lights, screaming, throbbing, gyrating about in indecent attire, and the glorifying of oblivion—all personified by The Coarse and Obnoxious (as well as The Just Plain Weird!) have supplanted the age-old entertainment mode of telling and re-telling the human story, both epic and everyday, in a format that implants one’s heart and mind forever.  As a society, we have lost the power of the ballad—and the loss is tragic beyond definition!

The stage lights went out and the metaphorical trapdoor opened up shortly after the immense popularity of what I believe to be one of the most significant ballads in contemporary times:  The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot—a multi-gifted composer and troubadour.  With the obvious exception of fictional last minute commentary on the ship, Lightfoot documented the tragedy with careful selection of factual information.

The ballad triggered an inquisitive spirit in me, and in recent years I’ve read everything I could get my hands on concerning the Fitzgerald (pictured above in all its original glory.)  As far as I know, there is still a question:  Did the ship hit an uncharted shoal which jarred the hatches loose, or had they been improperly secured?  God knows.

Shipwrecks are among history’s most horrific events.  I have a penchant for reading about peril on high water, and oddly enough I don’t even like to be tossed about on a small inland lake in a sailboat.

Yes, I do swim and I love water.  Canoes and rowboats are wonderful!  Motors are okay, too.  But flailing in the wind?  No thank you—only in a book.  I have read about many ship disasters, including the Titanic which was massive in scope and devastation compared to the Fitz.  So why is the Edmund Fitzgerald foremost in my head?

Maybe because it happened in my recent lifetime, and less than three hundred miles from home.  Or even more likely, because Gordon Lightfoot wrote and performed an unforgettable song about the Fitz.  It’s all about The Power of the Ballad.

Margaret L. Been — April 23, 2016

Note:  Over decades of serious application to the art of poetry I have written many lyrical, philosophy-of-life pieces.  Ten years ago I decided to try writing a ballad, and I did exactly that.

The ballad is titled:  The Summer of Horses, and it is kind of a metaphorical-epiphany thing.  I was pleased with the effort, and the ballad won 1st Honorable Mention in the 2006 Wisconsin Writers’ Association Annual Jade Ring Contest.

God willing, and the creeks don’t rise, AND providing the days do not suddenly go berserk and hit 70-80° F., I will post The Summer of Horses on this site before National Poetry Month morphs into the Merry Month of May.

But please don’t hold your breath!  🙂

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Us

“Finally, Brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”  Philippians 4:8

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time as the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5:15-16

One would have to be clueless, to doubt the fact that the days are evil.  The days have been evil ever since the game-changing fiasco in the garden.  But Eden did not have cell phones, a worldwide internet, FACEBOOK, TWITTER, and billions of people—starving, warring, and suffering unspeakable horrors.  Eden’s evil was not so sophisticatedly organized, so widely and criminally justified by evil national majorities—so whitewashed to appear humanitarian, reasonable, rational, “kind to the planet” and altruistic, as the convoluted sin of these days.  It took thousands of years to get here.

Those of us who prefer keeping our heads in Scripture rather than sand believe we are nearing the book of Revelation, when the Lord Jesus Christ will return to earth to establish justice and reign in His Holy City, Jerusalem.  No we are not to name the day or the hour.  But YES, we are to watch for the signs prophesied by Old Testament Prophets, the Lord Jesus in His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25), and New Testament letters culminating in Jude and Revelation. 

The days are evil, and we are nearing the end of the Church Age.  In the words of beloved Christian brother, Francis Schaeffer, “How do we then live?”  How am I to respond or react to evil times?  Am I to go high stress, slap-dashing about in a fervor of Chicken Little-ish behavior?  Wrong!  Am I to think about nothing else than the fact that the days are evil?  Wrong again!

Am I to eschew beauty and instead fashion a drab, lackluster world around me, an environment which says nothing about creative living?  How horrible is that!

So what is Right?  My quest for an answer always comes back to the above quotes from Philippians and Ephesians, and countless other passages having to do with gracious, Spirit-filled living.  Joyous living.  God is still in charge.  God has always been and will always be in charge.

Yes, we are to speak up and out whenever we can.  Yes we are to pray with compassion for those who suffer all over this crazy, convoluted earth.  Yet it is still God’s earth.  As well as being fully God, Jesus was fully human—modeling the perfect humanity intended for people on earth, until man and woman (not in that order) blew it in the beautiful garden which God had provided for them.

Our Lord Jesus Christ will return, to reign on earth for 1000 years.  Scripture predicts a New Heaven and New Earth.  Certainly we will not fathom details until they unfold, but nowhere in the Bible is “earth” left out of the equation.  God created earth, and He loves His creation.  In light of that truth I can only gather that we humans, the most valued of His creation, are to go on living and loving the life He has given us on earth.

That means gratitude rather than gloom.  That means serenity rather than stress.  That means pure, down-to-earth appreciation for and pleasure in His boundless gifts—people to love, gardens to plant, creative hobbies to pursue, art, music, poetry, sports, sunshine, fresh air, the list is endless.  Earth gifts!

There is a pathetic “hangover” from past Christian eras and persuasions which taught that physical and soul pleasures were intrinsically evil.  Hence:  the monks who starved themselves or didn’t converse with each other, those Christians who wear drab clothing because anything eye-catching might lead to idolatry (or immorality), and believers who avoid the enjoyment of any pastime without blatantly “spiritual” overtones.

Asceticism is NOT BIBLICAL.  It NEVER WAS BIBLICAL.  Asceticism is a boring, yet potentially devastating ploy invented by the Evil One who—if he cannot get Christians to throw in the towel and quit, will instead lure them into nurturing a sense of pride in not doing this and not enjoying that.*

The paradox here is that within God’s creative, expansive and wholesome arena of “this or that”, we are to walk with joyous confidence; it is the pride inherent in asceticism which God hates, and holds us accountable for.  The person who lives by asceticism may be bowing before the idol of pride!

Life on earth is to be loved, savored, celebrated, and enjoyed to the max while never losing sight of our Creator, never forgetting that He is the Creator of all things—every breath we inhale, every flower we plant and gather.  With our heads full of God’s “whatsoever things”, our lives will shine out to the lost souls who desperately need to know about our Saviour.  As long as God’s people remain on earth (His earth!) and continue to redeem the time, there will be some light, and some good, although the days are evil.

Margaret L. Been — January 26, 2016

(First posted in “God’s Word is True”, September 25, 2015)

*THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, by C.S. Lewis provides a witty and wonderful treatise on the pitfall of asceticism.

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January Sunrise

On the third Sunday in January forty-five years ago, I was catapulted into God’s family by believing in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ—who was crucified for our sin and resurrected to give to anyone who will believe, His everlasting LIFE!

That January day is etched in my heart and head; never before had the sun been so bright and the snow so pristine white.  In the morning I went to a new-to-me church where I heard the Gospel preached.  I had heard God’s truth on other occasions, without response.  But on that day forty-five years ago, I was ready to believe.  It had to be true; there was no other answer to life!

As I walked into the church service on that Sunday, the congregation was singing a hymn—and the sound of that singing shocked me.  I’d attended church services in “quiet” Protestant churches all my life.  Never before had I heard hymns sung the way that congregation was singing.  Suddenly it occurred to me:  these people really mean what they are singing!

I believe the hymn singing marked the beginning of my new birth process that day.  When the Gospel message was preached, everything clicked.  It was true, and I knew it.  I was a sinner.  I needed salvation, and the Lord Jesus is real.  He died and rose for me, and now I belonged to Him.  I could sing the hymns, and really mean what I was singing.

How I love the old Gospel hymns.  Thankfully, the church where I now attend has not discarded the old favorites, although we do have contemporary praise music as well.  But there is nothing like the hymns, because so many of them teach as they sing—reinforcing the truths of Scripture, implanting these truths in our minds, challenging, encouraging, comforting us with every line.

Just a few of my favorites are:  “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” (Joseph Scriven and Charles C. Converse), “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” (Helen Howarth Lemmel), and of course John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” which, according to my wishes and depending on God’s will, is scheduled to be played by a bagpiper in kilts at my Going Home Celebration;  I have my Celtic heritage to thank for that desire.

My paternal grandfather was a Congregational preacher who loved the Lord Jesus with all his might.  I know that my grandparents’ witness and prayers were among the many factors which God used to draw me to Himself.  Grandpa Longenecker loved hymns.  In his last years on earth he played through his hymnbook on his violin, nearly every day.

I can still picture Grandpa fiddling away.  Sometimes he would pause, rest his violin on his knee, and preach at me about the coming glory when he would be face to face with the Lord.  At the time, I was a clueless teen-ager thinking about the coming high-school dance (or my coming violin recital) rather than the Lord.

But the shine on Grandpa’s face was not lost to me.  His face literally glowed when he talked about the Lord—and his snappy, deep brown eyes sparkled.  If I’d been into musing beyond dances and recitals in those days, I might have wondered about the shine and the sparkle!  To me he was just “Grandpa”.  But how I loved him!

Now, like Grandpa Longenecker, I play through my hymnal frequently—enjoying my favorites and occasionally trying a selection which is new to me.  But unlike Grandpa, I play the hymns on my piano.  A broken left arm and dislocated wrist curtailed my violin playing back in the 1990s—after I’d finally begun to retrieve some of the technical skills I’d put in storage for decades of raising a family and doing other things.  Meanwhile, I never put music per se in storage;  I’d kept right on singing and playing my piano through the years.

Today, at age eighty two, I simply do not sing like I once did—unless you call a one-octave tenor bass range “singing”.  At least you can call it a “joyful noise”.  But I can play my piano, and play I do.  It’s great therapy for the soul, as well as for arthritic fingers.  “Great is Thy Faithfulness!”

And often while playing I recall that cold Sunday many years ago, when I first heard hymns sung as if the singers really meant it.  The power of the hymn!

Hymnbook

Margaret L. Been — January 13, 2016

NOTE:  The above sunrise photo was taken in our front yard this very morning.  Too beautiful for words.  Fortunately I grabbed my I-Pad immediately and took pictures of the sunrise over our park.  Five minutes later, the colors had disappeared into normal morning daylight.  Lovely, but not so spectacular as those first moments of dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

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