Ephesians 1:3,7 (NIV)I love old hymns. I love all sorts of music, actually, but given the church and the family I grew up in, I’m not sure I feel closer to God than I do standing in Sunday morning worship belting out an old standard with the organ, robust choir and willing congregation. I have so many favorites it would be nearly impossible to rank them. Yet there are a few that, for a variety of reasons, so move me I am no longer capable of singing along in church. I just kind of stand there like a goof, smiling through my tears and trying my best to mouth the words and soak in the moment. The only other times I can recall being overcome with that particular emotion to that degree are my wedding day and the moment Charlie was born.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. … In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.
And yes, if you’re keeping score at home, Charlie was baby three. I did not feel that same euphoric rush when Jack or Max were born. Perhaps with Jack it was absent because labor had stalled and he had to be physically removed with the giant, weapons-grade salad tongs that partially, but temporarily, misshaped his head. Or maybe it’s just because it was our first child and I had no idea what to expect for any part of the process.
With Max, well, I wasn’t actually in the room when he was born via emergency C-section. I was perceptive enough for my mood to shift quickly from “the baby is here!” to “Uh-oh, something’s not right with the baby.” And while I credit that entire day with my first real brush with the notion of the peace that passes all understanding (at least that’s my retrospective interpretation), there was nothing at all euphoric.
With Charlie, the table was set. It wasn’t my first rodeo. After the Max experience, Kristie and I both were on edge hoping everything would go well. And when it proved to be, by far, the easiest labor and delivery of the three, well, I was simply overcome. As I held him and looked down and said simply, “Thank you for being healthy,” I could not contain my joy. In that instant I loved him every bit as much as sons I’d known and bonded with for years.
In the same way, when it is Christmas Eve and the choir is walking in belting out “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and I see the familiar faces of so many people who have known and nurtured me my entire life, and I think about how much it means to them to be singing at that particular moment and how much it means for me to be standing there with my wife and my kids and letting the music wash over me, well, I can barely sing along through my tears of joy. And when the soprano descant kicks in, I can no longer make sounds of any kind, so I don’t even bother trying. I would say I wish I could have that experience every day of my life, but I think the rarity only enhances the special sensation.
Perhaps later I will address some of the other hymns in my life that hold special meaning. Not all of them are for as exceedingly positive reasons, but all of them make me feel closer to God. But I bring up the notion of my love for hymns for a more practical reason: none of the passages in today’s lectionary inspired any thoughts on parenting whatsoever. But the old Presbyterian hymnal I have tells me two verses from the Ephesians passage today (Ephesians 1:1-10) are the spiritual basis for the words to “I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art.” The words to the hymn are attributed to John Calvin, who is something of a big deal in the Presbyterian tradition.
As I read over this hymn tonight, it was a good reminder that sometimes, when I don’t know exactly what words to use in prayer, I let my mind wander to a favorite hymn. It turns out most of them work pretty good for speaking to God when I can’t come up with a coherent thought on my own. Here’s all five verses:
I greet Thee, who my sure Redeemer art,A prayer for May 16:
My only trust and Savior of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray Thee from our hearts all cares to take.
Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,
Reigning omnipotent in every place;
So come, O King, and our whole being sway;
Shine on us with the light of Thy pure day.
Thou art the life, by which alone we live,
And all our substance and our strength receive;
Sustain us by Thy faith and by Thy power,
And give us strength in every trying hour.
Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast Thou and no bitterness;
O grant to us the grace we find in Thee,
That we may dwell in perfect unity.
Our hope is in no other save in Thee;
Our faith is built upon Thy promise free;
Lord, give us peace, and make us calm and sure,
That in Thy strength we evermore endure.
Lord, my trusted redeemer and savior, I ask you to take the cares from my heart. Please shine on me today, tomorrow and every day, that my whole life might be worthy of you. Please give me strength in times of need. I give you my hope and faith and ask that you grant us all the grace to live peacefully with one another in the comfort of your power. Amen.