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Merry Christmas 2007

Has it been a whole year since that rant about people saying “happy holidays” versus “merry Christmas”? When I was first moving from my old site to this one, I thought I would probably delete that post. I reread it a few weeks ago and it’s definitely staying…

Christmas Eve is, for me, the most special day of the year. Christmas Day is great, even with the anxiety of giving and getting presents, and I like New Years Eve a lot too. I also have a lot of new family traditions that I love about Thanksgiving, but none of them beat Christmas Eve. There’s no contest. I was listening to a Christmas CD by Sufjan Stevens today — I hope you’ve heard it before. I like the unusual sounds that he’s able to create (and he plays almost all the instruments himself.) The song was one of his original works and all of a sudden I knew a lot more about why I like Christmas Eve so much. It was the way he was singing about a baby…

If you’re Christian, you may know that religiously Easter is undoubtedly the most important feast day. Easter is the celebration of the God’s greatest miracle, and that miracle is the crux of our salvation. In comparison, Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, is actually somewhat anticlimactic. Jesus being born didn’t do anything for our souls. It took 30 years from the first Christmas for Jesus’ ministry to even start. Why all this fuss about a baby?

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the wintertime celebrations of different faith and belief backgrounds. One that doesn’t get a lot of press in popular American culture is Winter Solstice or Yule. The celebration of a more pagan (lower-case p) or cultural festival of the solstice is actually very intertwined with many of our modern Christmas traditions. Solstice represents the time when the sun begins to take back the sky, staying out longer and longer each day — in some traditions this is seen as the sun’s rebirth.

Christmastime is a time of birth or rebirth for me too. This is a time to gather with friends and family and celebrate. If you’re celebrating the birth of a baby, it’s amazing because of what you believe he was born to do. This is a time to recognize that something big is about to change in this world. If you’re celebrating Santa and gift-giving, it’s the one time of the year when we strive to be most generous and most fair. This is a time to rededicate yourself to your faith, to your family, to your friends, and to yourself.

I’m making my rededication tonight; tomorrow I hope I can be born again a new man.

Add comment Spirituality and Faith 12/24/2007 at 18:01 ET

My Ebenezer

If anyone was reading my blog I think they would very much get the wrong idea about me…

I discovered Sufjan Stevens’ Christmas CD last year when I was visiting my brother in LA. Although he’s always been an inspiring source of less-than-popular (at least in a consumerism-is-king kind of way) pop music, this CD in particular seems unlikely. Perhaps me and my brother don’t talk enough about Christmastime, from a spiritual perspective. Or, rather, I reckon it’s probably that the music is more than enough to stand on it’s own, the message of the song isn’t really a factor. It doesn’t really matter though, finding it was cool. This song is just a hymn — many people probably know it well, perhaps by heart. I had known it before too, but I remember hearing it while my brother was driving us around LA and just being, I don’t know how to describe it, awestruck. I think more than once I had to be forcibly pulled back into the conversation.

I looked it up: this song is not in the “Christmas” section of my hymnal. I found it under “The Christian Life.” I think that’s part of what draws me in…that even though there are plenty of secular and plenty of religious Christmas songs out there, not too many of them speak so plainly about what the birth of Jesus means to me. They talk about what it means to Mankind, but few predict the implications it will have on our individual lives.

I had to look-up the word Ebenezer (and I think a lot of people would be there with me) to even understand the second verse. The website anotherthink.com has a very interesting post on the subject and I read some very interesting comments at the bottom of the page. I learned that Ebenezer is an Old Testament reference to a monument to remind us of our faith; I really like the idea. For a lot of people I think that Easter and Christmas serve as Ebenezer stones in their own way.

This hymn fits on the Christmas CD because of it’s link in reminding us of our faith — it’s an invitation for Jesus to be born. This is the perfect time for the loudest singing of songs of rejoycing and praise. It’s a time to remember how much our God loves us. It’s a time to build our own monuments and set them firm on our hearts. And this is a time to invite our own God to come into our world and into our lives and into our families and into us.

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy unchanging love.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer,
hither by thy help I’m come.
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.

O to grace, how great a debtor,
daily I’m constrained to be.
Let that grace now, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, O, take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my art to sing thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy unchanging love.

“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
Sufjan Stevens
Songs for Christmas
© 2006 Asthmatic Kitty Records

Add comment Spirituality and Faith 12/22/2007 at 23:23 ET

Another Prayer

I originally wrote a post about this song on 12/8. It’s the one I wrote and then took-down 10 minutes later (see On a Night Like This below.) This song is hard for me to blog about but I’ve been listening to it a lot lately.

Part of the reason it’s hard to blog about is that it is so overtly religious. The first few times I heard it I wasn’t paying close enough attention. All I heard was “…your love will never change…” and thought it was more typical of the other songs on the album. After I was compelled to really listen to the song and heard how pretty it was it wasn’t hard to notice what he is really singing about here. Yet it’s interesting how it’s kind of “hiding” a little bit. Since then I’ve just been reeling on this one, but when I tried to write about the song, I got somewhat preachy. No one wants preachy in some kid from Florida’s blog. (Sidebar, I say “kid” but I’m not talking about someone’s age. For example, I might say, “the kids at the nursing home,” or something like that. It’s just how I talk.)

Today I’m impressed with the juxtaposition of a singer who clearly understands his God very well (albeit he’s trying to pass it off as surreptitiously) yet calls himself “a stranger.” I can understand feeling like I know God and at the same time feeling (in one way) apart from God. I have been trying to revel the beauty of Creation without that persistent tug away in the back of my head trying to ask, “what part of that world was created for me — where do I fit?” I’ve definitely been praying to hear His song.

I guess part of the answer is, given the subject of my last three posts, that maybe He’s been singing me the song all along. This is a very good time of year for everyone to pay a little more attention. In my last post I was talking about evidence of a Creator being right in plain sight. With everything that has been and will be happening the lives of my family and friends, I suppose there will be ample opportunity to pay attention before pre-judging how or why the world might be on the path we find it.

They tell me there’s songs reserved for angels.
Would you sing me one, a stranger, just to prove your love?
And you know they tell me you’ve given poor men kingdoms
And handed guilty freedom, taken on their stains.
Your love will never change, your love will never change.

They tell me you dwell with good and evil,
In alleys and cathedrals, shadows and the light.
And you know they tell me you hold the world together,
not from guilt, but pleasure. You somehow know my name.
Your love will never change, your love will never change.

So tell me, there’s nothing that you can’t do.
You love me though I’ve hurt you. You’ll take all my blame.
Your love will never change, your love will never change.

“Your Love Will Never Change”
Dave Barnes
Brother, Bring the Sun
© 2007 Push the Mower Trim the Hedge Records

Add comment Spirituality and Faith 12/18/2007 at 15:54 ET

On a Night Like This

This song wasn’t going to be my next post. In fact, I wrote a whole post last night and then unpublished it 10 minutes later. I stubbed my toe jumping out of bed trying to get to the computer fast enough — as if people are reading this blog in the middle of the night. I think the hardest thing about wanting to blog reactions to songs is that the best way I know to understand what I’m trying to say is to listen to the song.

These two posts (the second as yet unpublished) are both from my Prayers playlist, like the last post, and are both from the same album. I definitely didn’t notice what the artist was trying to say, calling his album Brother, Bring the Sun, until after I had heard these two songs. Don’t get me wrong, these are the songs of a lover, and I think the songs might show us I mean that in a worldly way — but there’s something more. There’s a tangible something hidden in the lyrics, hidden like the the title of the CD, right in plain sight.

I was talking to my mom the other day when she was down visiting for Thanksgiving. We’re two different people, at least theologically, but I think that deeper inside us we have the same beliefs. For a moment I was trying to explain to her how I believe in God, and this is something that I wish more people paid attention to. I read somewhere, and have been meditating on constantly since, that the proof of a higher power is all around us. All the parts of our natural world, and all the amazing things that we are able as Men to accomplish in it, just simply don’t make sense in the context of an accidental universe. A process of natural selection didn’t just happen, all by itself, and randomly create the beautiful diversity of life on our planet. There was a time before the big bang; there were moments and eons before when the universe existed in an entirely different way from how it does now. Science can never reveal the secrets of that existence, and even if it could, we’d never be able to understand it. Then somehow, BANG!

I see shadows of a Creator every day. The sunsets in Florida are absolutely breathtaking more than once a week. The color green and a starry sky and the way an atom looks like a little solar system and the ridiculous-looking turtles in the pond behind our office building… It fills me with wonder.

On a night like this I could fall in love,
I could fall in love with you.
In this dark so dense, we talk so soft
The way young lovers do.

The day’s last sigh turns to cool night’s breeze
And this love hangs thick like these willow leaves.
I’ve hid myself away from this
But you silhouette is the Juda’s kiss.

On a night like this I could fall in love,
I could fall in love with you.

“On a Night Like This”
Dave Barnes
Brother, Bring the Sun
© 2007 Push the Mower Trim the Hedge Records

Add comment Spirituality and Faith 12/10/2007 at 17:30 ET

Doubting Thomas

I have this tiny little playlist in iTunes and on my iPod. I listen to it more than even I realize. This is the newest song, although I purchased it over a year ago.

One of the most interesting things to me, both as a musician and as a listener, is how the meaning of a song necessarily changes over time. For my first post about song lyrics though, that’s not the beginning of the story, is it? * * * I actually remember the exact day and time (relatively) that I began really hearing music. Maybe I should say “pop music” but I think it was probably the more broad sense of the word — even as a singer I think I hadn’t previously delved much past the surface. I was sixteen. The album was Rites of Passage and my life literally hasn’t been the same since, but that’s another story. Since then I just can’t seem to get enough of sweet or sad songs that have lyrics I can understand (and usually sing along to.) My friends may poke fun, but this music is food for my soul.

So the other day I was in my car listening to my “Great Songs” playlist and this particular song come on. I immediately recognized and remembered it — it was on that playlist, so obviously at one point I had decided it was better than average. I even remembered trying, some day months ago, to decipher the message but not succeeding. I’ve owned the song for over a year and I’d never heard it until this week. And then it came rushing into my ears and my mind and my soul and I heard this wonderful prayer…. One of the most interesting things to me is how the meaning of a song necessarily changes over time. Songs, like all poetry, only have meaning in the context of your thoughts and your own life story. My place in the world seems to be changing, at least in my own head, and now I have one more song in my library that can help me to explore on the outside what I’m feeling on the inside.

I’ll admit I had to look-up St. Thomas (and I’d done it before.) I didn’t even know, without some help from Wikipedia, that “doubting Thomas” was a colloquialism or that it referred to a Disciple. Yet I know I’d heard the story of the Apostle who had to see and touch the resurrection before he believed in it. Perhaps the most compelling part of the story in John 20:24-29 is when, after giving Thomas the chance to see him and believe, Jesus says to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Thomas was an Apostle and a Saint. He had chances to see proof of the living Messiah that arguably only eleven other Men will ever have, and yet he still needed proof. It’s proof that you and I will never have. I think the important part is not that one way of coming to believe is more authentic, but that we all must somehow realize our own belief. Jesus’ promise to us, and our promise to Him, is not blind devotion or indiscriminate conviction, but one of just a little faith. This will be one of my prayers:

What will be left when I’ve drawn my last breath
Besides the folks I’ve met and the folks who know me?
Will I discover a soul saving love
Or just the dirt above and below me?

I’m a doubting Thomas.
I took a promise
But I do not feel safe,
Oh me of little faith.

Sometimes I pray for a slap in the face
Then I beg to be spared ’cause I’m a coward.
If there’s a master of death I’ll bet he’s holding his breath
As I show the blind and tell the deaf about his power.

I’m a doubting Thomas.
I can’t keep my promises
‘Cause i don’t know what’s safe,
Oh me of little faith.

Can I be used to help others find truth
When I’m scared I’ll find proof that it’s a lie?
Can I be lead down a trail dropping bread crumbs
That prove I’m not ready to die?

Please give me time to decipher the signs,
Please forgive me for time that I’ve wasted.

I’m a doubting Thomas.
I’ll take your promise
Though I know nothin’s safe,
Oh me of little faith.

“Doubting Thomas”
Nickel Creek
Why Should the Fire Die?
(c) 2005 Sugar Hill Records

Add comment Spirituality and Faith 11/29/2007 at 23:48 ET

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