Mine the Riches Therein

This week we had our semi-annual “corporate” meetings -- a day and a half during which our staff from TX and GA meet midway in our TN office to commiserate, strategize, eat, fellowship face-to-face for the next leg of our journey together. One special feature this time was a retirement dinner for Dora Ann who has played an important role in helping us develop and launch Growing in Grace, our children’s music curriculum now in its sixth year. To say she served well is an understatement as is “we will miss her.”

Tuesday morning I was up to bat leading the devotional. Rather than saying all the words myself, the day before I had asked the staff to be prepared to share a favorite hymn and in a few sentences say why it was a favorite. Here are some takeaways from that experience:

  • The Celebrating Grace staff is comprised of deeply spiritual and Christian people.
  • All of us are people of the book – the hymnbook. Hymns touch us deeply and give voice to that which otherwise can be difficult to express.
  • Sometimes a hymn in poetic form rather than interlined with music seems to take on new meaning.
  • Hymns stick with us and have extended shelf life.
  • There’s a whole lot of Bible in the hymnal.
  • Hymns seem to be and some surely are God’s more recent revelation.
  • Many of our staff “favorites” dealt with quiet, intimate, and tender places in their beings. Several included thoughts about resting, being at ease and at home in the presence of God.
  • Good hymns, like good literature and scripture are sturdy enough and rich enough to be studied -- the closer they are examined and pondered, the greater the riches revealed.

I had a delightful lunch today with forty-year friends Ray and Barbara who follow this column.  He commented that I usually conclude with a hymn lesson. If so, so be it. Today’s admonition is to visit a hymnal and mine the riches therein. “There’s gold in them there songs.”

Weslee and her boys (ages 12, 9, and 7) were here over the weekend and attended the early service at BUMC with me. It was Communion day and their first time to participate. (The older two had been baptized in their west TN Baptist church just last Sunday.) Conversation had en route home.

Papa: “You boys were really good in church this morning.”

A (age 9): “That’s because we were playing a lot of Hangman.”

J (age 12): “Yeah, that was great!”

Assuming they had been engaged in the service, their response was somewhat deflating -- dang, they missed the whole thing! Their conversation continued in the back seats when A or T (age 7) apparently made a disparaging remark about someone back in the west TN.

J: “Didn’t you hear the sermon? (Love your neighbor as yourself.) If you don’t, we’re going to have a problem.”

Evidently kids can multi-task -- play Hangman AND get the hang of a well-crafted sermon.

A: “That bread was good.”

T:  “Yeah.”

J:  “When you eat it right after you dip it in the juice, it’s great.

A: “Yeah, but then the bread is good after that, too. Two good things – awesome!”

One final hymnological take-away from Tuesday favorite hymnfest is that in many four-stanza hymns, stanza three often has a “pastoral care” theme. I discovered another such at BUMC Sunday following Communion. I’ve sung and led “More Love to Thee” all my life but had never seen stanza three.

Let sorrow do its work,
Send grief and pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers,
Sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me,
More love, O Christ, to Thee.

Words – Elizabeth Prentiss, 1869

Sunday morning early service was a tender time for me -- Weslee and boys with me, worship had been meaningful, the boys taking Communion for the first time, and thinking how blessed and proud Honey would be. Since her death more than two years ago, sorrow has done its work on me and I have made it thus far, but in that moment I needed some “sweet messengers” to sing that “sweet refrain” with me…and they did.

- Mark