Children, Interim Ministry, Music

But Like a Child at Home

My shepherd is the living God,
I therefore nothing need;
In pastures fair, near pleasant streams
you settle me to feed.
You bring my wandering spirit back
when I forsake your ways,
And lead me for your mercy's sake
in paths of truth and grace.

It can be hard to tell some stories about your children–their accomplishments or their gifts or their good fortune or happy moments in your relationship with them–without sounding like Hubris just begging Nemesis to stop by for coffee.

But I'm going to risk it.

Because #1 Son either shared or grew into my delight in singing along while listening to vocal music of one kind and another, we've done a lot of singing together. I got to hear his voice a lot. Mostly we loved singing along to musicals, and even today when I listen to the favorites in our collection, I imagine the parts he could play. On the trip to take him to college in 2004, we lined up our favorites and sang them with gusto, as if the chance would never come again.

Snowman joined in as a little fellow, although he became more of a listener when he began to pick apart the orchestrations in his mind. Still, even when he didn't want to sing so much himself, he didn't seem to mind if we did.

But we could not get LP to join us. She liked to hear the music the way it was supposed to be and still only tolerates the singing along sometimes. My days of singing in the car with a child seem to be over, and I miss it; I cannot tell a lie.

So I haven't heard our voices together much, except on the rare occasions we stand next to each other for a hymn on Sunday morning. I seize those moments when I can, but usually I am far away.

Last week, as I looked ahead to this final week in Freeport, and thought about the music based on the 23rd Psalm, I asked her if she would be willing to sing something with me for church. She surprised me by saying yes, and I suggested an adaptation of Isaac Watts' "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need," set to the good old tune from Southern Harmony, Resignation. We used the words in the New Century Hymnal, mostly because it seemed less complicated to be singing exactly what the organist would be playing and we had limited time to rehearse. We agreed this tune should work, even for two altos, one long-time and the other newly-minted.

This morning we got to church early to practice. It's kind of a strange thing for me to be the "Special Music," and I wondered if I would regret it. I sometimes sing in the body of a sermon if it feels like the right thing to do, and I sang for a while with the choir at Small Church. Back then we got a friend of #1 Son's to come and play guitar once or twice a year, and we formed our own little family folk group with the young music director there.

But this felt more exposed and I wondered if we would work, or for that matter sound, well together. But I talked with the organist about the introduction, and we began to sing together.

When I walk through the shades of death,
your presence is my stay;
A word of your supporting breath
drives all my fear away.
Your hand, in sight of all my foes,
does still my table spread;
My cup with blessing overflows,
your oil anoints my head.

It felt good.

Oh, we made a few changes after the first time through. I had to think about whether to sing all the lines in two parts, and eventually made some of them unison. LP asked for a slight pick-up in the tempo. We worked together to find a cut-off that gave us a chance to get our breath at the end of each verse.

Mostly, it amazed me how nice our voices sounded together. I managed to mangle a note or two when it came time to sing in the service, but really the whole thing felt wonderful.

I loved singing with my daughter.

The sure provisions of my God
attend me all my days;
O may your house be my abode,
and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
while others come and go
No more a stranger or a guest,
but like a child at home.

As we began the final verse, I had that feeling of relief I sometimes get on the last page of a sermon–almost home!!–and realized I knew the last bit well enough to lean into it and not be so focused on the page of music in front of me. I felt the peace of the settled rest, although it will not be in that particular church.

And it's funny, I've been preaching for more than a year about the lack of importance of a set place to be present with God, at the same time I've come to hope for my own ministry to be settled again. And I don't like where this is headed, but I suppose the truth for them is also the truth for me. I meet God in those moments when I get my eye off the page and feel the presence.

O, may God's house be my abode, and all my work be praise.

13 thoughts on “But Like a Child at Home”

  1. How I wish I could have heard you two. Peace and settled rest to you.
    (Thanks to you, the old Virgil Thomson arrangement will be going through my head for the next day or so. Now that’s the kind of earworm I’m glad to have!)

  2. Somehow reading the those words and imagining you and LP singing them brought tears to my eyes.

  3. Your post title is the one lyric in all of hymnody that always catches my breath. Every. Single. Time.

  4. That is my absolutely favorite setting of that psalm, and one of my very favorite hymns. I wish I could have worshiped with you this morning. Blessings, friend.

  5. Well, you know I LOVE that piece. :c) I wish we could have heard the two of you. I can only imagine how very special that felt. :c)

  6. I did hear that piece yesterday morning. I will attest to the beauty of the mother and daughter’s voices in pure, melodic harmony, the steadfast words of the song (when I heard the music start I knew there would be tears), and the absolute feeling of God’s presence in the faces of all gazing, eyes ahead, towards the two singing God’s promises, I felt more peace than I have felt at 1PC in a long time. It sounded as though I could hear tinkling bells…can’t find the words to express the sheer beauty of the moment.

  7. How lovely. My family are musical but I’m not. I often wish I could join in when they get out their instruments. So I also wish I had that to pass along to my kids. Being able to sing together seems like a wonderful wonderful thing.

  8. I love that song!! I sung it with my high school choir and have loved it ever since.

  9. I wish I had heard it! I’ll bet it was fabulous. I long to sing in a way that wont send people running away screaming!

  10. I read your post the other day but couldn’t think of anything very original to say. Today I have a playlist going on the computer of “River Songs” and suddenly there was the Virgil Thomson that Zorra referred to: Prologue to The River, a Depression-era documentary. I don’t ever remember singing this hymn as a young person (not sure it’s in the Pilgrim Hymnal) so I bet the first time I ever heard the tune was on my college roommate’s recording of The River and The Plow that Broke the Plains. And I agree with Cheesehead — that phrase is one of the shining lights of hymnody, for sure.

  11. What a sweet image. I, too, wish I could have heard it. And that line you quote at the end–yes.

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