An unlikely tale of unity

“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business;
we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

― Gwendolyn Brooks

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(American Beautyberry bush / Julie Cook / 2015)

Crown Him with many crowns. . .a much beloved and joyful hymn sung in any number of Catholic, Anglican and Protestant churches. How many of us, who have sung this hymn during any given Sunday service, have known that this hymn is as much about Biblical scripture as it is about Christian unity?

Catholics and Protestants have long suffered through a strained relationship of both love and hate–a tenuous relationship that has existed ever since Martin Luther set loose a reformation with all that nailing to a door business.
It’s been a tug of war between acceptance and rejection ever since 1517.

There has been blood shed, heads chopped off, houses of worship destroyed, statues crushed, books burned, the faithful tortured, confessions coerced, beliefs recanted, prayers cursed. . .
all in the name of the proper observance for the Christian faith.

During one such tumultuous time period in this long suffering relationship, a hymn was composed by two vastly different men—Matthew Bridges a Catholic convert and Godfrey Thring an Anglican clergyman. The composition however was not originally intended as a joint effort in unity but rather, in actuality, was a conglomeration of equal time for each opposing team.

In the 1800s there was great tension between the Catholic and Anglican churches. Crown Him with Many Crowns is a wonderful example of how God takes the troubles of man and turns them around for good (Romans 8:28).The song was originally penned in 1851 by Matthew Bridges (1800-1894), who once wrote a book condemning Roman Catholic theology, and then later converted to Catholicism. Bridges wrote six stanzas, based upon Revelations 19:12, “…and on His head were many crowns.”

Godfrey Thring (1823-1903) was a devout Anglican clergyman who was concerned that this popular hymn was allowing Catholic theology to be sung by protestant congregations. And so he wrote six new verses.

The 12 stanzas have been mixed and matched down through the years.
(excerpt taken from Sharefaith.com)

So as we stand in our collective churches this Sunday morning, lifting our voices skyward, may we all be mindful that our faith in the resurrected Son of the Most High God, is the tie that binds us as brothers and sisters–bound by the blood of Christ—one belief, one faith, one Savior, one voice lifting to Heaven. . .

No east nor west

Oh, East is East, and West is West,
and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently
at God’s great Judgment Seat;

But there is neither East nor West,
Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
though they come from the ends of the earth!

Rudyard Kipling “The Ballad of East and West

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(a tiny skipper and honey bee share the same patch of sedum / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(a tiny skipper and honey bee share the same patch of sedum / Julie Cook / 2015)

Having been raised in the Episcopal Church, attending a very large
southern gothic Cathedral, I relished in the rich hymns which would
echo off the seemingly cold limestone walls each Sunday morning.
Resoundingly joyous, as well as seriously solemn, proclamations
of faith carried aloft by both grand organ, choir and congregation would
ring out triumphantly each Sunday all those many years ago—
just as they do to this day.

It’s just that I no longer hear those hymns as I once did as I have long since moved away from my childhood home and church–having long since drifted away from the Episcopal Church.
Yet I know those hymns still ring true as that’s just a part of the strong tie that binds the faithful to the services of the various denominations of the Christian Church, most of which are steeped in rich traditional sacred music—despite the divisions and doctrinal changes, some things such as hymns, stand up to the rigorous test of time.

Every once in a while, for whatever reason, one of those beautiful melodies comes gently gliding back to the forefront of my thoughts and memories.
Oddly such was the case today.
I found myself mindlessly, or so it seemed, humming a vaguely familiar tune when it suddenly dawned on me what it was I was actually humming. . .In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no north or south, but one great fellowship throughout the whole wide earth. . .

A rather apt hymn given the current state of this overtly divided Nation, or rather make that World, of ours. . .

I did a bit of digging regarding the origin of the hymn—was there some sort of lesson God had to offer me as it seemed He graciously brought the tune and memory into focus this oh so average summer day.

The hymn was written in 1908 by William J. Dunkerly, aka John Oxenham, an English businessman turned poet, journalist and author. The poem / hymn was roughly based off of a story written by Rudyard Kipling nine years prior–The Ballad of East and West. A story steeped in the clashes and division of cultures found in Colonial India.

Oxenham’s hymn speaks not to the divisions and clashes of mankind and culture but rather to the unity—the unity of all humankind which can only be found in Jesus Christ.

And that’s the thing. . .there will be no unity of north and south nor east and west nor all that which falls within, not until man (and that word is a collective word which represents all humankind) can put himself (and yes that includes herself) under the authority of Jesus Christ.

Sadly ego, pride and that of personal agendas take precedence in the heart of man, and woman, as mankind decides to be his or her own god. Selfishly putting self, personal agendas and anything else for that matter ahead of a God who asks for a heart of submission–for all He asks is that we follow Him (Matthew 4:19)—yet as human beings stubbornly demonstrate time and time again they prefer to lead rather than follow.

The irony found in this need for submission is that so many folks view it as yielding to a state of being “less than” or of being held a prisoner by a grand puppet master. What they don’t understand is that within that submission, yielding, bending of self comes the gift of freedom and life eternal.
It is not a yielding to the dogmatic power of control exerted by some maniacal psychopath or deranged dictator, but rather to that of a benevolent and loving Creator who longs to gather His children close. Such following leads to the offering of self, not to self, but rather to the betterment of all mankind. . .

However I suppose the majority of this squabbling world of ours just prefers the agenda of self which simply leads to a twain that shall never meet and the inevitable silence of death. . .

In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

In Him shall true hearts everywhere
Their high communion find;
His service is the golden cord,
Close binding humankind.

Join hands, then, members of the faith,
Whatever your race may be!
Who serves my Father as His child
Is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West,
In Him meet North and South;
All Christly souls are one in Him
Throughout the whole wide earth.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28

(and for anyone who is interested in hymns, their origins, their history, their usage. . .there happens to be a fellow blogger, Robert Cottrill, who has a site dedicated to just that very thing–
http://wordwisehymns.com )

Song of Triumph

“We thank Him less by words than by the serene happiness of silent acceptance. It is our emptiness in the presence of His reality, our silence in the presence of His infinitely rich silence, our joy in the bosom of the serene darkness in which His light holds us absorbed, it is all this that praises Him.”
― Thomas Merton

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou – Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

Emily Bronte

Eternal truth, eternal righteousness, eternal love; these only can triumph, for these only can endure.
Joseph Barber Lightfoot

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(the first butterfly of the new season, a Tiger swallowtail amongst the quince / Julie Cook / 2015)

We greet this brand new morning not as we normally would every other morning of every other day. . .
But rather, this new morning, this new day, is greeted with great expectancy. . .
We greet this morning not simply as a new day through old cloudily lenses but rather we greet this morning with the clarity of new sight.
For today marks the beginning of a day of transformation.

It is as if we, you and I, have emerged under the wing of the Victor from deep within the sealed dark and dusty tomb of Death
Eyes now clear, wide opened and focused are anxious to behold the brilliance of a new dawn.

And we greet this new morning with a song. . .
We sing our song in the face of all that was broken, damaged and dying.
For ours is the song of hope, of life and of Love

For what was fragmented, splintered, lost and laid in a tomb to rot has been found, recovered, repaired and made brilliantly whole.
For this new morning has been paved with wholeness. . .
Life indeed is now transformed
As we triumphantly sing this new morning’s song of a clear and brilliant Alleluia

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
The strife is o’er, the battle done,
the victory of life is won;
the song of triumph has begun.
Alleluia!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
The powers of death have done their worst,
but Christ their legions hath dispersed:
let shout of holy joy outburst.
Alleluia!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
The three sad days are quickly sped,
he rises glorious from the dead:
all glory to our risen Head!
Alleluia!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
He closed the yawning gates of hell,
the bars from heaven’s high portals fell;
let hymns of praise his triumphs tell!
Alleluia!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Lord! by the stripes which wounded thee,
from death’s dread sting thy servants free,
that we may live and sing to thee.
Alleluia!

Words Symphonia Sirenum Selectarum, 1695
first three lines adapted from Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestria, 1525-1594
arranged by William Henry Monk, 1823-1889

Blackbirds

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(Blackbirds sitting on a wire, Julie Cook / 2014)

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the word

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day.

Eleanor Farjeon

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(Blackbirds sitting on a wire, Julie Cook / 2014)

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(Blackbirds sitting on a wire, Julie Cook / 2014)

Morning Has Broken is a Christian Hymn first published in 1931—It was written by the English author Eleanor Farjeon and is set to a traditional Scotch / Gaelic tune known as Bunessan (of which is the name of a small Scottish village). The “tune” was originally used in an earlier hymnal dating to the year 1900 which contained a different set of lyrics. Yet it’s the version sung by Cat Stevens which is likely to be the most familiar to a listener’s ear.

Cat Stevens, a British born musician whose father was Greek Orthodox and mother a Swedish Baptist was educated at a private Catholic School. He did not excel in school but had a penchant for art and music. During his lifetime Cat Stevens had two close encounters with death–the first being when he contracted Tuberculosis and the second when he nearly drowned while swimming off the coast of Malibu.

In 1977 Cat Stevens left behind the life he had known as a musician and song writer when he converted to Islam. Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, sold off all of his guitars in 1979 and left his once popular music behind, dedicating his life to humanitarian work as well as education within the Muslim community. He has since returned to the music industry under the single name of Yusuf with his interests steeped in his Muslim faith. He still lives in London.

Eleanor Farjeon was born in London in 1881. She, like her father, was a very successful British author best known for her children’s stories but was also an accomplished poet, playwright, composer of musicals as well as being noted for writing for several British magazine publications. She was considered somewhat shy as a child and rather “bookish” as well as being a bit immature which lasted well into adulthood. She was homeschooled and also suffered from poor health during childhood. She never married but had several youthful infatuations with two different married men–she then had two different long term relationships with different men spanning the bulk of her adult life. She also ran in a rather prestigious literary circle consisting of D.H. Lawrence, Robert Frost and Edward Thomas.

Eleanor began writing at the age of 5 eventually learning to use her father’s typewriter by the age of 7. She possessed a vivid imagination which successfully fed into her prolific writing all throughout her life. During her lengthy career, Eleanor received several notable literary awards for her children’s stories including the Carnegie Medal as well as the Hans Christian Anderson Medal. In memory of her outstanding work and accomplishments, The Children’s Book Circle currently awards the Eleanor Farjeon Medal to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in the field of Children’s books.
She converted to Catholicism in 1955, 10 years prior to her death in 1965.

I find it both interesting and perhaps even a little odd of the correlation which can exist between a beloved hymn and with those who first “created” it and then proceeded to make it “famous” —
What an odd amalgamation of lives and talents of two very different individuals who, decades apart, each contributed mightily to the longevity of a song we all find familiar, melodic, soothing as well as possessing the ability of transporting those who either sing, listen or do both to a place of Spiritual peace.

What perhaps might you do, or write or think today that may one day be touched by another in order to create something greater than you ever thought possible. . .

I’ll fly away

“Every bird that flies has the thread of the infinite in its claw.”
Victor Hugo,

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(crows taking off from the field / Julie Cook / 2014)

Watching two crows waddle about on a cold January morning, on their never ending quest for something to eat, only to have them spooked by who knows what— I was reminded of a very old and very southern song—“I’ll Fly Away”

Having been raised in the Episcopal / Anglican Church, with it’s rich ancient sounds and music, songs such as I’ll Fly Away were never a part of my Church experience much less on my radar. . . However it is that part about being raised in the South which leads itself to my being very familiar with this “other” type of church music—music simply known as Gospel Music.

I am certainly no aficionado of music and truthfully I prefer, as well as love and adore, the more ancient hymns of an ancient church— but I would not be true to my southern raising if I totally eschewed the type of music which is rooted as deep as it can go into this very deep South I call home.

Music is as much a part of our lives here in the South as it is a part of our history—it is who we are as a people. So much so that it has transcended an entire Nation, offering the world a unique sound that is truly all our own.

Much of the Gospel music echoing out of this sun-baked ground, found only here in these Southern states, is steeped in the histories of a wide variety of people— all of whom made their way to this area very long ago by either choice or coercion.

Whether it is the traditional music of the “Negro Spirituals”, whose history is mingled with the blood, sweat and tears of the cotton fields of long gone plantations–songs of faith and strength created by those brought here against their own wishes in order to tend the land of others—– or be it those of the melodic tragic stories and tales as told by an accented clannish people who fled the famine of another country, traveling across a vast ocean, only to settle within the “highlands”, as it were, of Appalachia— culture and music are each wedded and woven just as intricately as the kudzu and red dirt which both run deep and wide here in the South.

The “hymn” I’ll Fly Away was written by Albert E. Brumley in 1929. Need we be reminded of what transpired in this Country in 1929? Our fate that year was sealed on Wall Street as it, along with almost everything around this Nation of ours, crashed. Who living at that time most likely didn’t wish to “fly away”–as things, as a whole, were tragically bad for this Nation. Lives were shattered and changed forever. Dreams vanished over night. Hope was a lost commodity on an entire generation of people—so perhaps it was the desire of flying away, leaving those burdens of a very heavy and weary life behind, which most likely appealed to the masses.

It is claimed that the song I’ll Fly Away is the most widely recorded Gospel song in history. It has been taken and amended by not only Gospel singers, but those who sing Country, Bluegrass, Rock-a-billy, Rock, Christian, Jazz, Pop and even Rap. Most interesting that one song has had the ability of transcending such a wide variety of genres. Perhaps that speaks to the staying power of the lyrics themselves. Depending on who is currently singing, some of the lyrics may be added, subtracted or amended, but over all it is the enduring freeing gist of the song which remains the same—that of leaving behind the trials of life. . .oh to be freed, free as the bird who has just been released from a cage, soaring heavenward, all to the waiting arms of a loving Father—oh by and by. . .by and by.

So on this new day to a new week, don’t be surprised if at some point you too may find yourself wishing to just leave it all behind—however, just remember, don’t fly too high.

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away (in the morning)
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly away

A star

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
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(clear, cold winter’s night with the lone shining star / Julie Cook / 2013)

Christmas Night
Arbeau’s Orchésographie of 1588 is a French
treatise on dancing containing a number of
attractive tunes, one of which (the Branle de
l’official) has become universally popular as
the carol Ding dong! merrily on high. The
melody of Christmas Night (the Branle de
Poitou in Arbeau’s treatise) has also been
used in Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite for
string orchestra. The words were
specially written for this melody.

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Tract number 3, taken from Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity, is a beautifully sweet choral “hymn” —sung by what sounds to be a heavenly choir of the cherubim and seraphim which met the shepherds in the field on that single most significant night so very long ago. I often hit repeat in my car as I listen to this most delightful CD. The music is, to me, hauntingly sweet and somewhat other worldly, despite being sung by earthly bound voices with lyrics conceived in these more modern times.
I’ve already posted the lyrics to another tract, but it has been this 3rd “song” that first stirred something deep inside of me, many years ago, when I fist came upon this lovely little CD.
My Christmas gift to you, if I could sing, would be this choral reminder of the significance of why we celebrate this season as we do. . . Merry Christmas


Softly through the winter’s darkness
shines a light,
Clear and still in Bethlehem on Christmas Night
Round the stable where a virgin mother
mild
Watches over Jesus Christ the holy child.

Shepherds kneel in adoration by his bed,
Seraphim in glory hover round his head.
Wise men, guided by the leading of a star,
Bring him gifts of precious treasure from
afar.

Choirs of angels sing to greet his wondrous
birth:
Christ our Lord in human form comes down
to earth.
“Glory to God in highest heav’n” their joyful
strain,
“Peace on earth, goodwill to men” the glad
refrain.

Lullaby! the child lies sleeping: sing lullaby!
Safe in Mary’s tender keeping: sing lullaby!
Guardian angels keep their watch till break
of day:

Lullaby! sweet Jesus sleeps among the hay.
Alleluia! let the earth rejoice today!
Christ is born to take our sins and guilt
away.

Praise the Lord who sent him down from
heav’n above.
Holy infant, born of God the Father’s love.

Words: John Rutter
Melody from Arbeau’s ‘Orchésographie’ (1588)

Veni, Veni Emanuel

Veni, veni Emmanuel;
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that morns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel

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(a woman worships in silence alone, in a small Florentine chapel in Florence, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

Growing up in an Anglican, more specifically, an American Episcopal Church, in a large Gothic Cathedral to be more exact, I was immersed at an early age with beautiful choral music and hymns. Many of which boast of ancient roots and beginnings. To hear and to feel the massive and beautiful organ deeply reverberating throughout the massive stone cavernous church as it engulfs one’s entire being, accompanying the voices of the classically trained choir, echoing and rising out from behind the chancel, was all short of magical.

I am very old fashioned when it comes to hymns and the music associated with that of a Cathedral. There is a solemnity and a reverence. Just merely reading the lyrics of these hymns, one is struck by the rich poetic history of the stories being told via the use of ancient song.

There are a handful of hymns, to this day, which tug upon my heart bringing tears to my eyes each opportunity I have, as either a member of a Sunday congregation or merely gently singing to myself as I go about my day–that move my heart to a place of deep reflection–an almost mystical reverence.

Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, the Latin version of O come O come, Emmanuel, is one such hymn. It is a hymn for the season of Advent, as that is the only time it is sung. It’s roots are indeed ancient as some scholars date it (the Latin version) to that of an 8th century Gregorian Chant. Others date it to either the 12th or 15th century France as a processional type of hymn. Even others date it to as earless the 18th century as an antiphon or type of sung liturgical response.

Sadly, I must confess that I don’t know a thing about music, as I’ve never been trained or had an opportunity of singing in a choir. I really can’t sing, but have always wished I could. So as I explain the power of this particular hymn, those of you who do understand music, please forgive me for I speak from my heart about this music and not of classical study.

O come O come Emmanuel is sung slowly, beginning quite low, being “sung” a cappella. It can be accompanied by an organ or other single instrument. Mannheim Steamroller, the wonderfully synthesizing modern music group, who has produced marvelous holiday music based from many medieval songs, has a beautiful rendition. It is very reminiscent of the chants heard from various early Christian monasteries–which is why I believe it does have it’s roots seeded in that of Gregorian Chants. The cadence is steady and specific–there is power in the simplistic rhythm of the 7 groups of stanzas which make up the full body of the text.

I understand the whole joyful noise business, but I am of the serious school when it comes to worship. The ancient hymns, that are more typical of a liturgical service, speak of solemn serious worship–meditative and reflective, which seem to rise up from one’s very core. There is not that over the top emotionalism so often associated with the prayer and praise musical services of today. In this chant, as well as other similar types of hymns, there is rather an acute awareness.

Much of the early Church’s music, which has it’s roots in Medieval Europe, speaks of wondrous mysteries as the world, to those who were apart of those “dark ages,” was indeed a mysterious time and place. They did know the things which we know today. Much of our scientific world has solved many of their mysteries and problems. Their musical worship was based deeply in a belief and faith that was undefinable, full of questions, wonderment and awe. God and the understanding of Him, His Son and that of the Holy Spirit was unfathomable–something not easily or readily defined or put in a nice little box of understanding. Their music reflected such. Mystery and awe.

This particular hymn / chant is serious, steady, determined, meaningful and lasting. It strikes at something very deep. It doesn’t get one worked up in a sweat induced, clap your hands and shout to the heavens sort of deal, but rather it is almost spoken, as in a statement that is meant to make those who hear it contemplate its very importance. It is almost mournful and heavy.

Why mournful and heavy you ask as we enter the season of Advent which, for the Church, marks a time of waiting and expectant watching you wonder. Are we not anticipating a birth? Is not the anticipation of a birth an event of great joy?

A time of joy, yes, and yet at the same moment, with this particular birth, comes a deep heaviness as it is a birth marked with tremendous hardship, only to be followed by the fleeing for safety and then a time of more waiting. The very conception, waiting and birth stay constantly in the shadow of Death. With this birth comes grave consequence for both me and you. . .and yet, as with all births, there is tremendous Hope of what will be.

And as with the anticipation of any birth comes a sense of urgency. The urgency here is of the coming of the one referred to as Emmanuel, as it is He who is come to ransom the captive Israel, which in turn refers to all of us today. He is to come and is to set the captives free. To free you and I from the prison of our sin and of our death. As we mourn throughout our “exile” or separation from our Father.

The Immanuel, Hebrew עִמָּנוּאֵל, which has been Romanized to Emmanuel–meaning God with Us, is invoked to come, to come to us all, but yet is acknowledged as already being here with us–the Omnipotent one. We sing to the God who is with us and yet who is to come, and who is to come quickly. We are then told to Rejoice, Rejoice because He will come, as He has come and as He will come again.

On this first Monday in this new season of Advent may we all be mindful of our continual need of this Holy Coming–of the one who will set and make things right, who will free both you and I from the constant presence of the shadow of Death—-who will bridge the gap of separation, as this Emmanuel is the only one who can and will and has done all of this! So may we Rejoice and Rejoice continually as He shall come to us indeed—Amen. Amen.