Air and Simple Gifts

One of my favourite parts of the Inauguration was this performance of “Air and Simple Gifts“, John Williams’ new “arrangement” for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration, featuring Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano) and Anthony McGill (clarinet). What strikes me most about the piece is the incorporation of “Lord of the Dance” one of my favorite Celtic Christian melodies. I cannot help but wonder if it is a deliberate connection to Obama’s professed faith, or did Williams simply like the Celtic melody.

Here’s the video from YouTube. I love how much Yo Yo Ma is obviously enjoying the experience.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the piece “Lord of the Dance” was quite popular in contemporary Christian circles in the late sixties/early seventies. It was written by Sydney B. Carter, a freelance British writer and broadcaster. He wrote the lyrics which tell the basic story of the life of Jesus using dance as a metaphor for the gospel message. The lyrics were original written by Carter, but the melody is a variation on a 19th century Shaker tune that Carter adapted for the hymn. He has three other contemporary hymns to his credit.I’ve always liked the piece because of its use of metaphor in representing the Gospel.

Hearing the primary message of Jesus’ ministry presented in other ways has always appealed to me because it causes one to look at the gospel in other ways, helping to broaden and deepen our appreciation of its universal appeal.

Another wonderful example of this is Calvin Miller’s ‘Singer Trilogy.’ in the three volumes Miller presents the story of Jesus as an epic poem telling the story of the Troubadour, who has been called to sing the ancient Star Song, and pays the ultimate price for doing so. The three volumes in the trilogy are ‘The Singer’ which presents the story of the gospels, ‘The Song’ a representation of the Book of Acts, and ‘The Finale’ which explores the imagery of the book of Revelation. I highly recommend it to anyone, but especially to those who appreciate epic poetry and stories.

I present for your consideration as you listen to “Air and Simple Gifts” a second or third time, the lyrics to “Lord of the Dance”

I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth,
At Bethlehem I had my birth.

Refrain Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee,
But they would not dance and they would not follow me;
I danced for the fishermen, for James and John;
They came to me and the dance went on.

I danced on the sabbath when I cured the lame,
The holy people said it was a shame;
They whipped and they stripped and they hung me high;
And they left me there on a cross to die.

I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black;
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back;
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone,
But I am the dance and I still go on.

They cut me down and I leapt up high,
I am the life that’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.

Permission to Do Nothing – Granted!

It’s been a long month — storyteller’s workshop, worship conference, video testimonies, worship projects, barbershop concerts, drama rehersals. Not a lot of free time for writing as I would like. Finally got a free night this past Sunday. Resolved to spend the evening doing as little as possible. Roberta planned on reading a book, I was going to relax with some great jazz music. Then it hit — guilt!

Even as we settled down for the evening we hadn’t gone very far when both my wife and I felt it. We were actually planning to do nothing! We were about to commit the sin of being unproductive. How could we think of such a thing? More than once Roberta looked up from her book and said, “There are things I should be doing. I shouldn’t be just sitting here. (long pause) But it’s all I want to do!”

I knew how she felt. I had to remind both myself and her that that not only is doing nothing NOT a sin, it is a command of God! It would seem that God knew his creation would fall prey to the insatiable drive to ‘do something’, and so he commanded one day’s rest in seven to address the need for rest. For the record, even two thousand years ago, in the time of Jesus, this was considered a little strange. Many people regarded the Jews as lazy and irresponsible because they took a whole day off every week.

What I have always wondered however, is why we have this overwhelming drive to be busy in the first place? Why do we get so fidgety and restless when we do nothing? Why is the same level of inactivity that is acceptable lying on the beach, so unacceptable in our own living rooms?

I have a theory.

I think we all suffer, to one degree or another, from the tryanny of our own attention span.

That’s right – the tyranny of our own attention span. The same hightened sense of boredom that has us flipping channels, also keeps us from slowing down and just enjoying the moment. And in a world dominated by the 10-second sound byte, the video montage, and the one-minute news update, the situation has become even worse. There are many people today that are simply incapable of paying attention to anything for any length of time.

The result is we have trouble simply enjoying the moment. When we do spend a few moments resting, doing nothing, before long a little voice in our head says, “Okay, been here, done this. What’s next? Come on people – I’ve seen this movie before. Show me something new.”

Of course on the spiritual level there’s another aspect to it as well — fear.

I have come to the realization that some of us are reluctant to stop
doing because when our minds are not filled with these activities then we might be tempted to “think“. And this is bad because thinking can lead to contemplation. And contemplation can lead to introspection. And introspection can lead to having to face some hard realities about ourselves, and nobody wants to do that. And so because of our fear of facing who we really are, we occupy our time with as many activities as possible so that we don’t have time to think about how good or bad a person we might be.

Of course, on the spiritual level, this is all very good for the enemy. Satan of course has no desire to see God’s people spending a lot of time in quiet contemplation because they just might be quiet long enough to hear the still small voice of God. They might, even without intending or planning to, take head of the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit; and we all know what that could lead to.

So here’s my challenge to you. Take a few minutes, or dare I say it, one day a week, and strive to do nothing. You just might find it’s the most productive thing you’ve ever done.