Thursday, August 16, 2012


I remember sitting on my grandmother's lap, curled up, as she sang quietly to me, "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey. You'll never know, dear, how much I love you, please don't take my sunshine away."

There is something powerful, almost primal, in the practice of singing to a child, rocking them back and forth as they somehow find solace and peace in the lilt of a familiar song.

My grandmother singing voice is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. You can feel the love that rests in each and every word. When I was a child, I remember my siblings and I trying to stump her on songs, believing that she seemed to have a song for almost everything.

I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses...

When I first started attending the Episcopal Church, I absolutely loved the hymns and anthems but found them rather difficult to sing. I was raised on Gospel hymns, a very different style of music than Ralph Vaughan Williams melodies and plainsong. Over these past several years though, I've developed a lot of love for the Anglican musical tradition. Old Gospel hymns still run through my head. Someday, when I have a child, I'll hold that child close and sing Gospel music to her or him. But I'll also sing other music, other songs I've learned.

The day thou gavest Lord is ended, the darkness falls at thy behest. To thee our morning hymns ascended, thy praise shall sanctify our rest...

This summer, our parish has been trying Morning Prayer with Communion one Sunday a month, experimenting with what it's like to pray Morning Prayer as a community. Since this has largely gone out of fashion these days, the difficulty is that we don't know the canticles anymore. We've been working at it though and each month when that first Sunday rolls around, I feel like the singing gets stronger.

Come let us sing to the Lord, let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation, let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and raise a loud shout to him with psalms...

I went to visit my grandmother a few weeks ago. She's in assisted living now. She's having trouble remembering things and gets confused. I sat there on the small bed with her, my head nuzzled against her shoulder with my younger sister sitting on her other side doing the same. I didn't know what much to say, except over and over again, "I love you grandma, I love you grandma, I love you grandma."

Perhaps one of the reasons music affects us so is because it is such a relational thing. We hear songs sung to us by those we love. We sing them in response to our own children. I know when I sing the Venite (the one that begins, "Come let us sing to the Lord,"), to this day I think of sitting next to Robert Partin in the choir pews at Heavenly Rest in Abilene, TX. To this day it makes me smile.

I think probably the worst thing in the world is watching relationships slip away and change. I want everyone to be around forever. This has been, for me, one of the hardest parts of parish ministry, the realization that, in the end, I cannot force a relationship someone does not want with me. Even harder, as the years at my parish go by, is the knowledge that inevitably, year by year, funerals will become more and more difficult as I grow to love people more and more.

It hurts to feel a relationship slip away, whether through death, the slow fade of a mind, moving, anger, frustration, fear, or just the continuance of life. It hurts something awful.

I remember, when I was a child, sitting attentively on a church pew next to my grandmother at the M-21 Church of Christ. I remember the preacher telling us that heaven was going to be filled with singing, for all eternity we could just sing and sing and sing. I remember smiling at that as I held my grandmother's hand.

And someday, I hope with all my heart, on the other side of eternity, when all the anger and fear and loss of this world has been healed, when we are able to love one another fully for who we truly are—not who we want people to be, I hope that on that day, I'll be able to dip my toe into the glassy sea. And I hope that as I peer into that singing crowd I'll see some faces that have disappeared over time, faces that may even be surprised at seeing an tired fallible guy like me.

And I hope that we'll find each other in that crowd—no matter what happened in the ages in between this day and that. I hope we'll find each other.

And I hope we'll smile.

And I hope we'll sing.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior...


  1. This is beautiful. Letting people go is one of the hardest parts of my job as well. I wonder if there will ever be a day that I don't cry on the way home after watching a patient die. It is hard. But I believe that it makes us better people. We realize we have to cherish EVERY moment we have, because life is so short and goes by so incredibly fast. The other day I had a patient that was fine one minute and the next told his daytime nurse, "I'm going to die today," and laid down on his bed and never woke up. When I came on for my shift the family was all there and somebody had placed an ipod next to his ear playing all of those old hymns we used to sing in church. I was instantly transported back to that little church on M-21 as well. I can tell you that as long as those hymns were playing he visibly rested so much easier. He was ready to meet Jesus and those songs calmed his spirit.
    Anyways, beautiful writing, as always. And I love you, big brother. :)

    1. I pray for you every Sunday Amy, It must be difficult dealing with life & death every day. God bless you for what you do

  2. This was lovely. Thanks for your help today setting up my blog!