Sunday, March 27, 2016

From My Nature Journal: I Know My Redeemer Lives!

OK, I cannot hold this one back any longer, a great musical track for Easter that I’d like you to take a listen to. Years ago I became familiar with a song by Nicole Mullen called Redeemer, and, I kid you not, it makes me cry to this day whenever I hear it. Now as you all know, whether you’ve met me or not (if not, you’ve ‘met me’ through this blog), I’m usually a very stoic and unfeeling person. Errr… just kidding. I know I can be a wimp when it comes to music, something that, along with nature, is also for me a spiritual pathway to God. Always been that way and always will. Whether it’s Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, music can get me going and charge my spirit like few other things. And if music, nature, and a holiday like Easter all line up for a possible blogpost, I feel as though I’ve scored the trifecta.

I’m not certain when Redeemer was first recorded, but Mullen won Song of the Year and Singer/Songwriter of the year for it at the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards in Nashville in 2001. I became aware of it only when we either bought or someone gave us the Wow Worship: Yellow CD some time after it was published in 2003. So I’ve enjoyed it for well over ten years, yet I ask: When will I stop crying when I hear it?

As far as its nature lyrics go, they’re pretty simple. The first verse of the song reflects scriptures from Psalm 74:16, Job 38:8-11, 31-33 and Genesis 1:16-18. Check them out. Of course, with sea levels fluctuating over the eons and rising today, the texts are not intended as science but more accurately and simply as a testimony to God’s mighty power as shown through nature. And the music? To me it is breathtaking -- from Mullen’s powerful, crescendoing and decrescendoing vocals, to the beautiful harmonies of her background choir, to the grandeur of the orchestration. And if I may have a little fun with the music, her rendition includes what might actually be the most individual notes ever sung to a single-syllable word in the history of music! Listen for it, and enjoy. It shows some incredibly gifted 
                                         voice control.

But the song’s message as it relates to Easter? Priceless... I know that my Redeemer lives! That theme is addressed in the second verse, reflecting scriptures such as Luke 15:20, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 and Revelation 21:4. (Check these out, too!) But it reaches maximum emphasis in the chorus: we have a Redeemer, and not only do our changed lives testify to it -- all of creation does! “I know that my Redeemer lives!” are words taken from Job 19:25-27; in the midst of his suffering and the unhelpful ‘guidance’ of his ‘friends,’ Job’s throbbing testimony in those verses is equal in intensity to Mullen’s in the song. All of creation testified that truth to Job as well.

…We have a Redeemer, and not
only do changed lives testify to it --
all of creation does!

I hope you’ll have time to do something today or early this Easter week: find a quiet, prayerful time, maybe even towards evening, and hit one of the following links to listen to the song while you consider the words prayerfully. Let it be for you a paschal prayer. This first link is to Mullen’s official music video without lyrics, and this second a YouTube recording with karaoke-style lyrics. But hey, you’ve got the lyrics here…

Redeemer, By Nicole C. Mullen
Who taught the sun where to stand in the morning?
And who told the ocean, “You can only come this far?”
And who showed the moon where to hide till evening?
Whose words alone can catch a falling star?

Well, I know my Redeemer lives.
I know my Redeemer lives.
All of creation testifies
And this life within me cries, “I know my Redeemer lives.”

The very same God that spins things in orbit
Runs to the weary, the worn and the weak.
And the same gentle hands that hold me when I’m broken?
They conquered death to bring me victory.

Now, I know my Redeemer lives.
I know my Redeemer lives.
Let all creation testify,
Let this life within me cry, “I know my Redeemer...”

He lives to take away my shame.
And He lives! Forever I’ll proclaim
That the payment for my sin was the precious life he gave.
And now He’s alive and there’s an empty grave.

And I know my Redeemer lives…
I know my Redeemer lives.
Let all creation testify,
Let this life within me cry, “I know my Redeemer lives...”

I pray you are secure in this knowledge as well. If not, of all days, wouldn’t today be a good day for you to do something about that?
~~ Blessed Easter!
RGM, March 27, 2016

P.S. If you’d like to know a bit about Nicole Mullen, find more here.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

From My Nature Journal: St. Patrick, And Putting on the Armor of Christ

Saint Patrick’s Lorica, or ‘Breastplate,’ is a beautiful and ancient prayer attributed to the patron saint of Ireland. And with his feast day coming up soon on March 17, which isn’t just for the Irish, by the way, I thought it timely to share. Take this from a Chicagoan who was always flummoxed by those crazy St. Paddy’s Day revelers who insisted on dying the Chicago River green on parade day. Oh, those Irish…

At any rate, the Lorica is something worth much more serious consideration than green dye, shamrocks, bangers and the wearing of the green. But first, a few words about Patrick himself…

He lived in the 400’s AD (birth and death dates not known) and is believed to be the original evangelist to the Irish people. Kidnapped from Britain as a sixteen-year-old by a band of Irish marauders, he worked as a shepherd for several years, then was directed in a vision to go down to the sea at a certain time where a ship would rescue him to return him home. Some years later he returned to Ireland as a priest and missionary, experiencing amazing success leading the people to Christ and founding the Celtic church, which would include such later leaders as Columba, Brigit, Aidan and Brendan. Much unsubstantiated legend is attributed to him, as is the case with many persons in ancient times, but the irrefutable verity of his life and work is considerable. He is said to have utilized simple means to teach the people the truths of God, including his employment of Ireland’s ubiquitous cloverleaf as a symbol for the Trinity, represented in the icon to the left. As the icon also illustrates, he was further nicknamed “The Enlightener of Ireland;” however, his humility was such that he would certainly have objected to this, given the chance, preferring that designation only to the true light, Jesus Christ, with his own work simply as reflected light.

Now, the Lorica

I’ve written before on some of the characteristics of Celtic spirituality, so you can click here to be taken to that post if you’d like, but one of its main themes is creation, and you will see some of that here in this great prayer. However, one of my other favorite emphases is Celtic Christianity’s concentration on the real presence of Christ to his people, shown here toward the prayer’s conclusion. Both of these are what have drawn me to this prayer again and again through the decades of my life.

The Bible speaks in Ephesians 6 of what is called ‘the whole armor of God.’ In that passage, the resources God provides his people are likened to armor that protects us from the onslaughts of the enemy of our souls, Satan. Just as the various pieces of armor in the ancient world protected warriors in battle -- just as it surrounded them with shelter, so to speak -- so is Jesus Christ to those who turn to him. A ‘lorica’ is an ancient piece of armor
meant to guard the chest and back. Made originally of heavy leather and later of metal, it consisted of two pieces, a front and back, intended to be connected, in order to surround the upper body from all sides. Jesus becomes our lorica, or breastplate, the One who guards our hearts and minds with his peace (Philippians 4:7). But back to Ephesians 6, the armor that is available to give us this protection are such things as righteousness, truth and faith, in addition to that same peace spoken of in Philippians. These are the things that shield us in our storms and ‘battles.’ And similarly, it is this surrounding, enveloping, fully present Jesus Christ, spoken of near the end of the prayer, who gives us the confidence of his safeguarding attention at all times.

Personally, I’ve often used the Lorica as a morning prayer, and though I have abridged it here, I commend it to you for use at that time or any time in which you find yourself needing to pray for protection. Interestingly, the prayer is also known as The Cry of the Deer, a reference to an apocryphal legend associated with it. While you read or pray, you may want to listen to a lovely soundtrack based on the prayer out of the Celtic Woman series, called The Deer’s Cry. Hit this link to be taken to the YouTube recording, worth it in itself.

St. Patrick’s Lorica

I arise today
Through a mighty strength -- the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through

God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s post to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From inclinations of nature,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie down,
Christ where I sit down,
Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength -- the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ.
May thy salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

A longtime pastor friend, now deceased, often used a benediction at the end of his church’s worship services that he had based on the end of the Lorica. I don’t know if it was original to him, but it is where I first heard it. It went something like this:

And now as you go your way,
May Christ go with you:
Above you to watch over you,
Beneath you to bear you up,
Before you to lead you,
Behind you to urge you on,
Inside you to guide you,
And beside you to be your Friend.

In honor of my friend Ross, and simply because it is a beautiful blessing, I have also used it often over the years to close a worship time. May St. Patrick’s Breastplate and this simple related blessing also bring you confidence, courage and shelter during the hard journey.

~~ RGM, March 10, 2016