As I walked the Lake Junaluska trail at sunrise this morning, “Simple Song” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” was playing in my head (the inclusive language version, or course ).
I share it here:
Among the many blessings I received at last week’s 5-day Academy for Spiritual Formation on the Psalms was the presence of a friend who knew my paternal grandparents, Ida Mae and Holt Richardson.
At the end of the first worship service, Sharlyn said to me, “When you began the opening service by singing, I thought of your grandmother.” Grandma taught high school music classes to Sharlyn in the little school in Lenapah, OK. Grandpa was the school superintendent. An invoking of Grandma Ida Mae’s presence — in our week, in my music.
It was such a powerful reminder of the presence of those who shaped me and who passed along their gifts to me. Grandma and Grandpa’s gift of music, Dad’s years of shaping and leading the worship services I attended every Sunday, my parent’s commitment to start me in piano lessons in first grade. These wonderful people, these wonderful gifts. Thanks be to the creator!
Advent is nearly here. I am preparing my heart, mind, spirit, and manuscript for preaching on Sunday at West End United Methodist Church here in Nashville. On Tuesday, December 1, I’ll lead an Advent workshop here at the United Methodist Center. I appreciate your prayers in the coming days.
Now — are you ready for Advent? Have you found your Advent wreath? Bought your Advent candles? Picked out a devotional booklet of some sort to use? Identified some community to travel with through this season?
I offer you this Advent prayer song I’ve written to help me open my heart to God. Feel free to learn it to sing out loud or in your heart. Or just say the words to yourself as a prayer. Blessings to you as we prepare to enter Advent 2009.
Open wide the doorway to my heart, O God. Fill me with hope.
Open wide the windows of my heart, O God. Fill me with peace.
Open up the corners of my heart, O God. Fill me with joy.
Soften up the edges of my heart, O God. Fill me with love.
Open My Heart written and performed by Beth A. Richardson. Copyright © 2009 by Beth A. Richardson.
Update (11/25/09): Here is a link to a .zip file of the music that you can download and use personally or corporately. There are five files — one for each week of Advent (hope, peace, joy, and love) — and one file that includes all the prayers together. Permission is granted for personal devotional use or for use in local church worship services or study settings. Please include copyright notice whenever the words are printed.
If I were young again …
I would travel to Africa.
I would write songs and tell stories.
I would quit my job (if I had one) and join a missionary band.
Today in chapel, I got to meet Remember Seven — four young adults living out my dream. KT Wallis, Matthew Green, and Tobias Batemen are from Australia. Joy Stovall is from Canada. In February, 2009, these four served in Zambia and Zimbabwe and found their lives changed by the experience. They told this story: At the Mwandi Ovc Centre in Zambia, they worked with a project that feeds 250+ children six days a week. For many of these children, these 6 meals a week are the only food they receive. On the seventh day, there is no food. While serving there, they ate with the children for six days and didn’t eat on the seventh day. Their band is named after this experience.
After they got back home, they decided to quit their jobs and start a missionary band. Now they are traveling — singing, telling their stories, and witnessing to the presence of God in their lives. Remember Seven recorded a CD of songs inspired by their experiences. They live on a portion of the proceeds (and the kindness of their hosts) and send the rest of the money to projects in Africa. They are in the United States traveling until mid-November. Check out their travel schedule and see if they might be coming near you. And consider buying their music.
If I were young again … I just might join them.
I had a remarkable experience today helping lead an informal chapel service for a group of communicators from Africa. They were 12 clergy and lay from Uganda, Mozambique, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Zimbabwe. They were in the U.S. for a three-week training organized by Nancy Neelley, Program Manager for Central Conference Communications, UMCom. Stephen Bryant invited me to help lead singing in a morning prayer service in the chapel of The Upper Room.
The group has been together for a couple of weeks already and enjoy singing together. As soon as they found their seats in the chapel, they were ready to sing in that place. I was unprepared for what happened when I invited their informal song leader, Emmanuel, to lead us in an opening hymn. He started a song and all 12 pour out of the pews, gathered in the space in front of the altar, and began to sing, clap, dance, harmonize, praise God. Tears came to my eyes, it was so beautiful. As soon as one song wound down, someone in the back started another song. The energy was incredible.
Steven Bryant talked to the group about the mission of The Upper Room. And then, my colleague, Kathryn Kimball, the person who cares for the Chapel and Museum, gave a live interpretation of the carving. (Visitors to the chapel usually sit in the pews and listen to a recording that explains in great detail what is going on in the carving of the Last Supper. But Kathryn stood there and talked with no script.) She told about the story in the carving — the moment at The Last Supper right after Jesus has said, “One of you will betray me.” She described the different reaction of each disciple and invited us to ponder what we saw and where we might be in the story. Entering a time of reflection, I sang “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Finally, Stephen led the group in a short discussion of what was seen and where in the story persons might have seen themselves. We finished the service with more singing, led by our congregants.
I was moved by the experience, honored to have been present, incredibly blessed to have been given the gift of music by 12 young communicators from the continent of Africa. God speed, my new friends.