Sunday, June 18, 2017

There's a Garden -- Eleanor Allen Schroll

She was a 42-year old woman originally from northern Kentucky (see map picture, on the Ohio border, perhaps near Covington), and was evidently an ardent pray-er. That much we know about Eleanor Allen Schroll, among only a few other details. We can surmise that she loved to pray, and imagined “There’s a Garden” (alternatively known as “The Beautiful Garden of Prayer”) as the spot where she most cherished this communication with her God.  Was it because that’s where she was most drawn to Him, where He had prayed so poignantly? (Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22) Did she see in His own garden episode a Divine hurt that drew her trust, a presumption that He would be available to bear her emotional loads too? What is it the believer seeks most often in prayer, and could the same have been said of Eleanor?

Eleanor Allen Schroll is fairly anonymous but for a few details and the two songs attributed to her. Both songs came within a four-year span, including one (“He Lives”) in 1916 and her thoughts about garden praying in 1920. Whether she developed her faith as a consequence of the influence of parents (Isaac Allen and Ella Ros Allen) or through her husband (Henry Clay Schroll) or both is unknown. She may have had at least one sister, also (according to a picture showing perhaps her husband and a female that resembled Eleanor very closely in 1951). Many teachers of praying methods have proposed at least one way to think about a conversation with the unseen God, contained in the acronym ACTS. Adore Him first, Confess to Him next, offer Him Thanks after that, and then conclude with Supplications or requests for His intervention. Eleanor’s poetry indicates she had issues—‘burden and care’ (v.2)--she wanted Jesus to tackle, and that she felt He indeed offered ‘comfort’. Though undefined, Eleanor’s weight as a 42-year old woman could have been any of a variety of things – health, family, finances. So, she had the ‘S’ in ACTS in her mind apparently, but that wasn’t the entirety of Eleanor’s prayer. Instead, what comes across most in her poem is the desire to be with Him. Feel His presence in a beautiful, peaceful setting, knowing that the Creator longs to be a friend and protector there. We can assume the this poet-composer Adored, Confessed, and Thanked Him also, but her focal point seems to be His availability, His welcome to the person whose vision responds to Jesus’ contact.

‘He opens the gate’, Eleanor says. That’s not quite as illuminating as the God-son’s decision to wash feet, perhaps (John 13), but it presents Him in a light where I as a believer too infrequently see Him. I initiate prayer with Him every day. I need stuff; I need to tell Him I feel guilty; I want to express my gratitude, and tell Him I admire and am amazed at Him. What Eleanor says is that He coaxes me toward Him, as He pushes on that gate. He’s interested in me calling Him. He’s the Almighty, but He’s delighted to see me, as He waves me in and puts His arm around my shoulders. His invitation makes me feel valued. His attention is on little me! What a God, huh!   

The few biographic details of the composer were discovered at this site:   

Sunday, June 11, 2017

My Eyes Are Dry -- Keith Green

He must have been voicing the words of someone he knew who was much older, right? That might be what someone would ask, if they read the words of “My Eyes Are Dry” and knew Keith Green in 1978 in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California (see its seal here). After all, he was just 25, and some of the song’s words include ‘old’. What did he mean by that? Knowing Keith’s personality, you could instead surmise that he was talking about himself. Old doesn’t have to be physical. And how does one become rejuvenated, if the wrinkles on your skin or the tedium of life make you feel worn out? Just looking at Keith’s life – a radical take on the Gospel – would be a solution, albeit incorporating it into one’s life would require the Keith Green energy and personality, a rare commodity.

‘Life is short…make it count.’ That sums up what Keith and his wife Melody Green used for the Last Days Ministries (LDM) they formed just about the time that “My Eyes Are Dry” was gestating in Keith’s imagination. Both he and Melody had come out of the late 60’s-early 70’s generation searching for a genuine spiritual foundation. Their newfound belief in Christianity was so energized, that they readily reached out to house the needy in their neighborhood -- drug addicts, the homeless, prostitutes, unwed mothers, and others tossed aside by the culture. Faith was supposed to be real, and the Greens put it into action. Keith’s concerts reflected the same authenticity that he urged audiences to sing in words as if they were theirs. He must have been contemplating times when he’d felt stale and insensitive, even while knowing God was present. Keith’s method was not to cover up his valleys, but to expose them, confess them, and share with others how Jesus had refreshed his spirit. ‘If you’re in a low place right now, that’s where I once was’, Keith would tell them in so many words during an interlude in “My Eyes Are Dry”. Last Days Ministries– formally established in 1977 --  was fresh proof  that Keith and Melody were advocating this message not just to music fans, but to dozens of people they were lodging in their own home and other dwellings they’d acquired. If you feel dry (empty), old, hard, and cold, God is your oil and wine, according to Keith’s lyrics. He can make your life count again.

In keeping with their ministry’s motto, Keith Green’s life was indeed impactful, although tragically short. LDM is still operating, under Melody’s leadership, following the death of Keith and 11 others who were attempting to take an airborne tour of the LDM campus in 1982. This 28-year episode – Keith Green’s lifespan – is noteworthy, and still speaks of his zeal for Christ through words like those in ‘My Eyes…’. If I went to my eternal home today, have I left evidence of an inner conviction like Keith’s? Maybe I should make certain there’s some external portion to that internal piece, huh?          

See the following websites for information on the composer and the ministry he and his wife established:

Saturday, June 3, 2017

On Bended Knee -- Robert Gay and Jimmy Orr

‘It was a humiliating experience’, someone says. Another says ‘I was humbled…’. Is there a difference between feeling humiliated versus humbled? If my Webster’s Dictionary is accurate, the answer I would infer from its multiple definitions would be a ‘yes’. While being humble is a position or attitude I can adopt for myself, being humiliated is most often something that is imposed upon someone, either due to a situation or by other people. How do people who’ve curtseyed in the presence of earthly royalty feel? (See one example in the picture here, in which Queen Elizabeth II receives flowers from a young girl in 1954.) Which one was Robert Gay proposing when he wrote “On Bended Knee” in 1988, or how about Jimmy Orr when he added a second verse four years later? And, if I don’t willingly accede to a prostrate position, could something else that will utterly disgrace me transpire? Perhaps admitting one’s own warts are there is what Robert and Jimmy were thinking, but not necessarily just to avoid a harsher treatment. They both thought there was an outcome rather pleasing and beneficial flowing from humility. Yeh, let’s ask them someday.

Neither the originator, Robert, nor his friend Jimmy who added some more thoughts, have evidently shared what inspired their respective verses for “On Bended Knee”. Their circumstances are unknown, but they both thought about what it was like to be needy before the Holy God, and what it would be like to find rejuvenation in the wake of humility. Who Robert Gay was in 1988, even something as basic as his age, is a mystery. And, if Jimmy Orr is the British-born citizen from Northern Ireland who died in 1987 in North Carolina, how was it he crafted a verse attributed to him in 1992? Perhaps he’d written it just before his departure from life. Nonetheless, their respective verses tell something revealing about them both. Gay’s and Orr’s messages begin from a position neither was too proud to occupy. Getting on one’s knees must have been familiar, but not disagreeable. Love and respect flow effortlessly hand-in-hand with the humility with which they present themselves. You can imagine this was something they’d done many times, knowing they could count on rekindling an intimacy with God that begins with submissiveness in His presence. Admit I don’t measure up – He knows it anyway. He wants to bless those who seek Him out in truth. And, the most basic truth is this – He’s holy, I’m not. Robert and Jimmy help the Christian own up to that, and thus draw strength from Him in that reality. It’s only through Him that I can elevate my life. But it has to begin from a low position. I need not know what other pieces of Robert’s and Jimmy’s lives spurred “On Bended Knee”. They were lowly mortals, just like me.    

The pathway starts from down below, but with God I don’t stay there. He could fold His arms and scowl that I’m a mess that pollutes His presence. But, seeing Him in scripture informs me that He doesn’t feel that way. Oh, He’s disappointed when I fail, but He thinks I can choose not to stop there. Why did He choose to look directly at Peter when he denied Him (Luke 22:61)? Was it to humiliate Peter interminably, the way Judas evidently felt? Perhaps Jesus was just letting his friend know He’d seen his human, mortal side yet again. And, Peter’s response showed he realized where he stood, in comparison to his Lord, and especially to the truth. Only with this downfall did he stand up again. Are you Peter today? Don’t deny it. Admit it. You’ll feel better, once you purge yourself of that pride.        

See this site for information that potentially refers to one of the composers of the song:

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Lord, Take Control – Anonymous

If just a few words were feasible in the language banks of a God-believer, which ones would be the most important to include there? Maybe that’s not too remote a question to imagine the writer of the song words for “Lord, Take Control” asking, since the text of this pithy tune sounds like the response someone might utter after listening to Moses’ instruction between three and four millennia ago after his encounter with the Holy One at Mount Horeb (see him holding the Ten Commandments here). You and I were not there, but the instruction is no less crucial for those of us in the 21st Century A.D. The Messiah underscored their importance some 1,500 years after the great lawgiver first spoke them. The author of the words is not really anonymous – after all, Moses was only passing on what his Lord told him to say.

The Jews call them part of the Shema. So, was the one who composed “Lord, Take Control” of Jewish derivation, or just an admirer of its implications? Asking the Lord to take control, by means of commanding my heart, mind, body, and soul, is nearly a word-for-word recitation of what Moses said all Israel was to do (Deuteronomy 6:5) in order to obey God’s law. (I’m seeing the word ‘body’ as a close parallel to ‘strength’, the actual word used in that ancient prayer.) It’s also what Jesus reiterated for those standing nearby to listen as He carried out his mission (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30); and it’s what He agreed was paramount, when someone He quizzed responded with these words (Luke 10:27). Aren’t we glad that Moses and Jesus summed up the law with a one-sentence command? Because Jesus agreed this Jewish affair was in fact what He too was emphasizing, you and I can employ His words to follow God, without regard to the excruciating details of other Hebrew laws. We can imagine the modern-day composer of this musical Shema making note of Moses’ and Jesus’ words, and adding his or her own summation of what obedience to these words imply – give God control. Another fellow – Paul – would sum up his version of what it meant to obey completely the Shema; for him, it was to make oneself a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). To Moses, Jesus, and Paul, loving the Lord with all one’s heart, mind, strength/body, and soul = living sacrifice = the Lord’s in control.              

Could it be that a nameless composer determined “Lord, Take Control” was the most effective way to transmit a message he or she was trying to get into the heads of listeners, via a musical vehicle? It’s an inner quest, when someone seeks to follow Him completely. But, like a healthy, well-balanced, but light meal, one need not consume much to draw energy from sustenance. This compact, yet meaty musical feast has all the necessary ingredients. A desire for true devotion – like what one says in the Shema -- is perhaps best accented with music. God used this method with David, after all. Why would He stop using it? Can you hear Him in our music today?

Only bible references and this blogger’s own opinion are used to present the story of the above song.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Tarry With Me -- Caroline Louisa Sprague Smith

How does a 25-year old woman come to write a song in the first-person, imagining what an elderly person might be experiencing? That’s the curiosity of what Caroline Smith wrote in 1852, probably as she sat one day in her Andover, Massachusetts home, and said musically “Tarry with Me”.  Some of the credit for what Caroline penned may be attributed to a minister she’d heard speak about that time, too. Apparently, she wanted to provide words for senior citizens, perhaps even some she knew, that would resonate with how they felt when approaching the end of life. Undoubtedly, it’s a consequence of advancing age, when those people lose with increasing frequency members of their own generation. Oh, there are still others around who they may know, but what’s it feel like to see life’s light growing dimmer?

Loneliness. That’s the overriding sense of what Caroline Louisa Sprague Smith gathered from a sermon she’d heard. Not difficult to imagine, since most people have probably been there at least once. But, few people besides the elderly live with this creeping phenomenon in quite the way they do. So, the words of a sermon that Caroline heard in Boston, not far from her Andover home, must have had some special quality to motivate this young woman’s poetry. 'The Adaptedness of Religion to the Wants of the Aged' was how a minister named Dexter entitled his thoughts that consequently inspired Caroline. She made two attempts to urge her poem’s publication: once, soon after the sermon she’d heard, in 1852-53; then, over 30 years later, when she was about 57 years old, and just two years shy of her own mortality’s conclusion. Was she suffering in 1884 with the loneliness of which she’d written as a 25-year old? She subtitled her poem with the words ‘An Old Man’s Prayer’, so we can assume it was a man to whom she intended to give voice with her words, though we know not his identity; perhaps it was a male relative or acquaintance. Asking God to keep one company as life fades is analogous to watching a day’s light vanish bit by bit in Caroline’s thoughts. ‘Darkness’, ‘shadows’, and the ‘evening’ are linked with the ‘grave’ in “Tarry with Me”, but Caroline doesn’t wallow hopelessly or become maudlin with this thought. ‘Rest’, ‘sleep’, and even ‘cheer’ are present when the Lord tarries. I can endure this, if He is here.

Caroline Smith had a message, not just with the words she composed, but the position from which she wrote them. If I’m young, I can act like life is carefree, or I can empathize with those who are emotionally slogging through something. Whatever they’re feeling just might afflict me someday. That’s Caroline reaching out with her heart in 1852. And then, just as she suspected, the words she’d written connected with reality for herself three decades later. She must have remembered, too, how the ‘Old Man’s Prayer’ found solace. The Divine One’s the tonic, my companion-remedy, for this malady called the blues.  

See these two sites for accounts of the song story used as basis for this blog post: