Saturday, January 26, 2013

By Christ Redeemed -- George Rawson

George Rawson would have been familiar with various procedures in a legal framework, with the scales of justice (shown here), all necessary to maintain order and uphold established law. One must have a commitment, a loyalty, to legal mandates as like a foundation to a building. Would this kind of mindset have been influential in this 50-year old in 1857 when he wrote “By Christ Redeemed”? How many legal minds also compose poetry for hymns? Are the two natures – one legal and ordered, and the other artistic, expressive -- normally complementary? They were for George Rawson.

Rawson was a solicitor-lawyer in 19th Century England and also a man of Christian faith that was apparent in more than just membership and attendance in a local church. He was from Leeds (north-central England), where he was a solicitor, but he also was apparently active in the worship life of the Congregational church there. He is credited with helping assemble in 1853 a hymnal for the Leeds church; at least six of that hymnal’s works were his compositions. Perhaps this experience whetted his appetite, and led to his completing the words for “By Christ Redeemed” just a few short years hence. It was about this time, 1858, that he also helped some local Baptists develop another hymnal, this time with 13 of his works therein. Rawson reportedly composed a total of at least 50 hymn texts throughout his life. Not much is known of his legal reputation, other than his practice of his chosen profession for many years in the Leeds or Bristol, England (southwest England) areas. In his later years in 1876 and then 1885, four years before his death, he authored two more hymn collections. So, his mid-life hymnody in the 1850’s was not just a passing hobby, but something he continued to develop over the last 30 years of his life.  While his professional acumen is largely anonymous, his published hymn texts are said to be well-refined, with carefully and properly chosen language – not unlike what one could expect from a lawyer. This guy who knew how to write a brief also was apparently able to express himself poetically. Perhaps he needed this as an outlet, a respite from his professional life.

Rawson’s words in “By Christ Redeemed” show he must have been pondering the communion, and how that kept him and fellow believers linked to the Divine One. ‘Until He Come’ might have done as well for the title of this hymn, for the words consummate each of Rawson’s original six verses. They tell us that he sensed a fidelity to the supper that he as a 50-year old must have taken hundreds of times by the mid-19th Century when he considered its import. Doing something every week might become rote, too routine for the restless person. But, Rawson’s words and his life example communicate that there’s something - a testimony - that I give to Him and my spiritual siblings each time I eat this meal. Hey, can you hear that lawyer coaching you with this reminder as you sing now?           

For the original six verses, see this site:

See following site for further information on the composer:

Monday, January 21, 2013

How Beautiful -- Twila Paris

Look in the mirror, and ask yourself ‘Am I good-looking?’ Twila Paris might have been asking herself that sort of question during one period of her life, and resolving to say ‘yes’ as she pondered how to manifest her answer practically in everyday living in 1991. One way that we can see her answer is in the words of “How Beautiful” that she wrote and sang that year. Her words, both in the song and those she used to introduce it to listeners in 1994, show that she was impacted by Him, drawn toward Him, and wanted to imitate Him. How does one best do that?

Twila Paris had listened, as she had been for many years, she explained in 1994, a few years after composing “How Beautiful”. She had believed in Him and His purposes for some time, but felt He was showing her something more, about how to go further to reflect Him. As a child, Paris produced music by the time she was seven years old, the result of being with parents whose evangelistic outreach infused her with an experience that would influence the rest of her life. By the time she reached her early 30’s, Twila could have been described as a veteran of two decades of musical accomplishment. What else was there for her to learn as a 32-year old in 1991?  She says His message to her was about unity in the body, about a greater love for each other among believers. How one feels toward relatives, those to whom we typically reserve the term ‘loved ones’, is how we’re to feel toward fellow Christians, she declares. Be unified in serving each other, and the world outside of Christendom too, and so echo His love. She doesn’t share the precise circumstances of her life at that point, but Twila’s message need not be more specific to be true. Every group of Christians have experienced some discord and even division at times – it’s human, so a call for harmony doesn’t require further explanation. Twila emphasizes this message’s divine origin and the human reply in her verses.   

Paris suggests that we look at the Christ-Servant and then do as He did, describing the result with an adjective we don’t normally associate with a male, even if He is God. God is beautiful when we see Him serve, ultimately in death. That’s opposite of what popular culture says, including about gods like Venus (see Boticelli’s masterpiece depiction of her birth here). That’s Twila’s most baffling image – a suffering, bleeding God being beautiful. Perhaps that was part of what she was talking about when she said she’d received a greater understanding of how to show Him to others. He turns ugly into beauty. It only makes sense in the divine calculus, and in those who take Him on. So, don’t worry about the dirt under your fingernails, the scuff marks on your clothes, or the way you might smell after pitching in to serve. Another image that Twila reminds me is true involves me (a male) being His bride. So, I’ll get grimy following His lead, but he weds me anyway. How about that! If you’re still confused, perhaps the key here is seeing that beautiful isn’t the operative word in this song, but how.  Think about the ‘how’ in becoming more like Him.   

The following link is the primary source for the song’s story: (Twila Paris’ comments before she sang the song during a 1994 event)

See following sites also:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

10,000 Reasons – Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman

Bless the Lord, O my soul…(Psalm 103:1)

It started with some words written 30 centuries earlier, from the heart of a songwriter-king, one who was said to have a heart after God (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22) (David is shown making music here to King Saul, in this Rembrandt masterpiece). So, at its most fundamental perhaps these words’ origin is God Himself. That might be what Jonas Myrin would say if you asked him how he started writing a song called “10,000 Reasons”, which his friend Matt Redman later helped him finish off in 2011. The words unmistakably have the imprint of verses that believers would recognize, if they read an ancient text that today remains the source of many of our faith songs. The Holy One reminds us through that king who is some 30 centuries old, and through these contemporary composers, that there’s too much evidence of His goodness to ignore.   

There are clues in the song story of “10,000 Reasons” that both Myrin and Redman must have had their bibles open when the words for the song came to them. Myrin apparently had the chorus – whose first six words match the Psalmist-King David’s Psalm 103 – composed already when he showed his idea to Redman. Then Redman wrote three verses, whose ideas reflect what the remainder of the psalm says about all the ways the Creator has given to His offspring. Redman and Myrin also must have been awestruck by what they studied, because they fashioned another phrase – in fact, the song’s title – to emphasize the enormity of His gifts to civilization. Redman says the two composers collaborated for less than an hour to finish the song’s words, perhaps a testimony to the value of the text they chose as their springboard. The words Redman added for verse one come straight from what he says about the psalm’s meaning for himself – I have a reason to praise Him every day that I awaken, if my outlook is right.

How long would it take to mention 10,000 things He has done for me? We might lose count after just a few dozen. Would it make more sense to make each day count for one reason, and do that 10,000 times? Do some simple math – it’d take 28 years to accomplish this task. Redman and Myrin expand the scene further. Try 10,000 years of praising, because that’s what we look forward to doing, according to their concluding verse. If each day of that span was used for one reason, that’d be 3.65 million reasons! Do you suppose that would be enough? The Infinite, the Eternal One, can be counted upon for more, don’t you think? In Redman’s and Myrin’s own words, that’s when we’ll really be singing like never before.  

The following link is the primary source for the song’s story:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Breath of Heaven -- Amy Grant and Chris Eaton

She was 32 and was having her third child, or she was a teenager and having her first child. Depending on whom you think about when you hear Amy Grant’s and Chris Eaton’s collaborative effort “Breath of Heaven”, you might picture Amy on stage as she sang and recorded this song, or maybe it’s the young girl she would want you to see – Mary, the mother of God the Son. They’re 21 centuries apart, but both have known what it’s like to carry a life inside herself. In 1992, Grant heard the song by Eaton and knew she identified with it, albeit with some revisions. Her own pregnancy, her third with a daughter Sarah, was a gift, so in that way, she and Mary had something in common.

The story of the song’s development can be told no better than to read it at this link:
It’s about Mary’s emotions as she was near the time to give birth to the Christ-child. The chorus calls upon God as the ‘breath of heaven’, not something we hear very often (but pictured here in Corrado Giaquinto’s 18th Century The Holy Spirit masterpiece). Is that what it’s like to carry life inside oneself, to feel that you’ve been breathed upon by the very holiness of Him? Believers have the Spirit as a gift, but so often it’s not that tangible, to be quite frank. But with an actual, physical, small life growing inside, that’s another matter. And, to know that, ultimately, He gives life, changes how a young woman might think too. After all, isn’t that part of why we humans consider childbirth so important, that He’s given us something precious? In Mary’s case, her sense of responsibility in bringing the baby in her womb into the world is certainly unique. So, perhaps it takes a woman who has borne life to come part of the way to connect with Mary. It was her third time, so maybe Amy Grant reached out with her accumulated child-bearing experience in this endeavor in 1992.    

The song by Grant and Eaton has served more than one purpose. Grant thinks of it as a prayer for mercy, as she explains in the 2001 book by the same name that she’s authored. It seems to make her reflect on how she connects with the audiences who gather to hear her sing, about how to pray for the masses who need God’s leniency. And, the song is also part of the 2006 movie The Nativity Story, whose screenwriter says he used the song at the start of each day for inspiration while writing the film’s screenplay. A song, a movie, and a book…how many other media might we try to get a handle on God’s breath, this Holy Spirit? Could working in a hospital maternity ward be another medium to get me closer to understanding how God breathes life into human form? How about working for His purpose wherever I am, asking to sense His work in me? Being with other believers, feeling the collaborative, collective surge of worship, is another way we make our small effort to find the breath of heaven, right? At Christmastime, reading, hearing, and seeing the birth story just reminds us that He really inhabits people, and something amazing did happen – and still does happen -- as a result. Hey, did you just take a breath…or was that Him?    

The following link also shows all of the verses and chorus of the song:

See links here for biography of the composers: