Middling

The fancies and reflections of a loquacious ninja

Category Archives: Music

Beautiful Things

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”

  ~ Revelation 21:5

On a trip to help my dad pick up a lawn-mower today, I slipped on a hill that turned out to be muddier than it looked. I caught myself, but my hand was covered in earth as a result. I wiped it off as best I could, knowing with some annoyance that I wouldn’t be able to wash it off until much later. But a few minutes later, I looked at my hand in the sunlight — and scattered all over it were grains of something that sparkled in the light. I suppose there are specks like in any handful of dirt, but I’d forgotten about them. In those particles of dust and grime filling the lines of my palm, I saw a touch of beauty shining at me. That reminded me of this song.

Whether or not you’re familiar with it — even if you can’t yet relate to the heartfelt story of  pain and redemption captured in its notes — it’s worth listening to and giving time to reflect over:

One of the ways I think our Lord most delights to display His beauty is through using what is weak, what is despised, what is barren, what is broken, what is forsaken, what is worn and exhausted, to shine the very radiance of His face. He makes everything beautiful in its time — even pain, even weakness and defeat, even lowliness and ashes, even dust. We serve a God of beauty.

“One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in his temple.”

  ~ Psalm 27:4

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Let this day be seized

I’ve been struggling for the past week (longer?) to make the most of my time, to live each day fully. I still have such a long ways to go, in so many respects, but I’ve been encouraged recently by stumbling across these various tidbits. May they inspire and energize you the way they did me.

*    *    *

Want to make the most of every day?

Then remember that it is a gift. You never owned it, it was graciously given to you. Use it. Even when other small forces thwart you, you can still make the most of your day and enjoy it.

~ from a friend, posted on Facebook

*    *    *

Life is precious.
So I will not exist.
I will not get by.
I will not muddle my way through.
No.

I will Live.
I will cherish every sunrise.
Every heartbeat.
Every breath.
And I will prepare myself for countless more.
I will thank God for my health.
By embracing what is healthy.
I will nourish my future.
By nurturing my present.
And I will respect the gift that is my life
By inspiring others to do the same with theirs.
I will Live.

~ excerpt from Chick-fil-A’s Live. Love. Lead Anthem

*    *    *

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kB0oPgCexh0

*    *    *

“Thou hast died for me
May I live to Thee
In every moment of my time
In every movement of my mind
In every pulse of my heart.”

~ Valley of Vision

*    *    *

Friends, we’ve been given such a gift, and I know I’ve squandered enough of it as is. Let us waste nothing in forgotten gratitude or purposeless drifting. May we Live truly, abundantly, unto our King.

Carpe Diem,
~ Timothy

A word from Remarque/The sting, the indifference, and the triumph

Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine guns, hand-grenades – words, words, but they hold the horror of the world.

~ Erich Maria Marque, All Quiet on the Western Front

I finished my first war novel yesterday, All Quiet on the Western Front, for one of my history classes… Had I read it, I might have been tempted to breeze through the story too quickly, or gotten distracted by the number of commas and somewhat run-on sentences (which I suspect partly results from it being a translation from German; then again, that’s how I write sometimes too). But with a good audiobook recording, there is no such option… Mere marks of punctuation become gasps, human pauses and tones rife with expression; the human reality becomes manifest in a way that can’t be escaped by skimming ink on a page.

I’m not advertising for audiobooks or discrediting reading out of a physical book in any way. All I mean to say is I had no way out. The grey world Remarque fashioned enveloped me, engulfed my soul as I listened. The battlefields of the Great War (aka World War I) in all their awfulness, desperation and numbing deadness, became real to me; as real as they could have been, short of my being there in person. I heard nothing but words, words; but I felt the horror of the world in them.

One of the greatest points of emphasis in our class has been how prior to WWI, the West was at the height of optimism. Progress was inevitable, Western superiority unassailable, confidence unshakable. Then came the war.

It was more terrible than anything anyone had ever known. It shattered the tower of optimism the West had been erecting for at least a century. The delusion strained and broke under the weight of millions upon millions of corpses, strewing the battlefields of Europe. The wonderful technological advances of mankind became deadly: artillery that decimated entire regiments, gas that dissolved one’s lungs from the inside, machine guns that could mow down dozens or even hundreds in a single battle. And this was progress?

No longer did the world seem orderly, rational, and always improving. Now, it seemed senseless, violent, chaotic and void of meaning. And so, the castle of modernity crumbled, and the ghostly form of post-modernity began to rise from the ashes. Nihilism and hedonism became respectable – what else was left? When the order of the universe seems to go to pieces at your feet, what else can you do but numbingly conclude that nothing truly matters? That the opiate of pleasure is all that remains?

The cry of Ecclesiastes became widespread: “Meaningless! All is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Therefore, eat, drink and squeeze what little pleasure out of this rotten life you can, before it all comes to an abysmal end…

Yesterday we were under fire, to-day we act the fool and go foraging through the countryside, to-morrow we go up to the trenches again. We forget nothing really. But so long as we have to stay here in the field, the front-line days, when they are past, sink down like a stone; they are too grievous for us to be able to reflect on them at once. If we did that, we should have been destroyed long ago…

“Just as we turn into animals when we go up to the line, because that is the only thing which brings us though safely, so we turn into wags and loafers when we are resting. We can do nothing else, it is a sheer necessity. We want to live at any price; so we cannot burden ourselves with feelings which, though they might be ornamental enough in peacetime, would be out of place here. Kemmerich is dead, Haie Westhus is dying… Martens has no legs anymore. Meyer is dead, Max is dead, Beyer is dead, Hämmerling is dead, there are a hundred and twenty wounded men lying somewhere or other; it is a damnable business, but what has it to do with us now – we live… We will make ourselves comfortable and sleep, and eat as much as we can stuff into our bellies, and drink and smoke so that the hours are not wasted. Life is short.

Remarque could have merely described the numbing effect of the war on the main character and the other young soldiers in his novel. But he did more than that… he made you live it with them. He made you experience the sheer weight of the agonizing horror, the desperate purposelessness, and (eventually) the stoic indifference that these soldiers felt – that they had to make themselves feel to stay alive enough to function one more day. I felt nihilism creeping into my own soul as I listened; how can one believe in purpose, in meaning, in any sort of goodness in life apart from carnal pleasure, after experiencing what these men experienced on a daily basis for nearly four years? Each man was like a card in a deck, randomly shuffled and left open for the wind to whip about in any direction it pleased;  some straight into the fire, some only to be singed, some to be seared so badly that it would have been better if the whole card had been burnt, damned at once to the flames rather than this agonizing half-existence of torment. All at the whim of the breezes.

Little wonder that they became indifferent. How can life have meaning after a living Hell like this? What purpose or ultimate value is there in an empty, heartless existence of Russian roulette? A game without thrill, without order, without plan or purpose… only death for the randomly selected and emptiness for the survivor. A game so vicious that the only way to survive is to let it all sink down, down like a stone, into the recesses of one’s being… The sting is too much. Indifference becomes the only way to cope. It all must be… must be meaningless.

But that’s just it though… If there was no meaning in it all, if life had no purpose, if all of existence truly was nothing but chasing after the wind, a random game where it doesn’t matter who dies and who survives to emptiness… why would death matter? Why should we fear it so? Indeed, if life had no meaning, death wouldn’t either; it would have no sting. If there were no meaning or purpose in life, there would be no terror in dying, no horror at the atrocities of this world, no agony in war. Remove absolute goodness and you have an amoral world; and no longer can you be touched by the grasp of evil and suffering, because all is meaningless. The young men of Remarque’s novel let their feeling sink down into them, make their hearts stony, because they realize this. If they continue believing in purpose and meaning, they shall be torn to pieces by the horror before them. But if they are indifferent… if all becomes meaningless, then the terror of seeing death and unspeakable pain all around them is numbed. “Fear we do not know much about — terror of death, yes; but that is a different matter, that is physical.” The real suffering, the heart-pain one finds in seeing one’s comrades fall and writhe in agony… that can be muffled away if all is devoid of meaning. They cut themselves off from the feeling of death by cutting themselves off from life.

They are unable to handle the reality of death; not because it doesn’t matter but because it matters too much. And the only way they can bear the piercing, terrifying gaze of death is to make nothing matter. Only keep yourself busy doing nothing; pursuing empty pleasures that have no substance but distract for a time so that you don’t have to remember the emptiness within you. It can’t be filled, but it can be ignored. So let it sink down… it’s the only way to keep living.

Thus far, I have lead a stain-free existence. Even for a fairly well-off, middle-class citizen of a ridiculously privileged nation, my life has been remarkably free from pain. And when compared to the daily, crushing suffering of millions across the globe, it almost makes me sick. Certainly it makes we wonder… why should I be spared? I’m no better, I know that for a fact. And whenever I catch the smallest glimpse of the suffering others have experienced in this world, down through the years and to this day, my words fail me… but still, I must ask: Why so much pain, so much agony? Why the seemingly pointless suffering, the endless groaning, the futile pleas for relief? Why does death reign so strong?

I know nothing of the suffering of those soldiers in that Great War; I might imagine it pretty well on the receiving end of an audiobook through the mastery of a writer like Remarque and an actor like the one I opened my ears to. But even when I do suffer truly one day, I know that I will never know a fraction of the pain that they or other millions of inhabitants of this world and its history knew daily in their bones and hearts. I don’t have all or even most of the answers, and I don’t even have the true experience of pain to back up the little I do know. But what I do know is this:

There is another way. There is a solution, and it is not to turn one’s heart to stone, appealing as that is. It is not indifference, it is not meaninglessness or vainly chasing pleasure to make the pain go away. And it is not embracing the death.

It is life itself swallowing death up.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In our human frailty, we could not dream of speaking such bold words. Death is too mighty, immeasurably too awful for us to taunt… Yet when we serve a Lord who triumphed over the grave, who became the victim of death – and won anyway – only then can the victory be sounded. Only then is the sting of death removed – not by removing life as well, but by Life overcoming all the force that Death can boast. It is only by the triumph of Life over Death.

Today, I celebrate that triumph. I have no victory to boast of in myself; but I boast in my Lord who overcame all, who is Life Himself, who died and now lives forevermore. And because I am in Him, I do not fear the power of death.

One day – perhaps through war, perhaps through another medium of evil – one day, I will suffer, and this time not merely through my vicarious imagination. It will be real to me as it never has been before. Will my neat ideological categories hold then? Will I be able to keep myself from allowing a heart of stone to sink deep into me, to harden with indifference, as my only means of survival? If all my words were merely a theory, I doubt it. Better men than I have cracked under far less.

But because I stand in a reality, because my confidence comes not in an optimism in mankind or a philosophy in myself, I can say with full confidence that, by the grace of God, it will be possible to stand fast, with a heart of flesh that is willing to be broken again and again, and made new each morning by new life. It can be done; it has been before. I know not if I will be adequate for the trail – I probably won’t be – but I serve a God who is faithful. And no matter how weak I am, no matter how powerfully Death rears its head and crushes me beneath its load, the One who is called Life is greater yet.

I learned the sting of death from Remarque in a way I have never known before. I felt a fearful indifference bent on survival rise up in me as never before. But just maybe, I understand my Lord’s triumph over Death in His everlasting Life a little bit better this day because of it.

Wishing you a Resurrection Sunday filled with the true knowledge of His power,

~ Timothy

Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite?

When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night

Where is the victory, where is the prize?

When the grave robber comes, and death finally dies

~ Petra, “Grave Robber”

A restless Sabbath

I realized last night that I needed a day of rest.

From what I understand from Scripture (and there are people I highly respect who would disagree with me), I don’t believe that I’m morally obligated to keep a Sabbath. But I think God knew what He was doing when He set down the pattern of six days of work, one day of rest. Plus, given the holiday tomorrow, I knew I would (hopefully) be given enough time to pay my assignments their due.

And so, I decided today would be a day of no schoolwork.

The day flew by, even more rapidly than I’d expected. At first, it didn’t feel that different; perhaps it just took a bit for me to log out of the schoolwork mentality. But about halfway through the day, I was struck by a seemingly out-of-the-blue thought/conviction that caught me slightly off-guard:

I don’t want to just rest from academics; I want to rest in God. But what does that mean? What does it mean to find true repose in Him, and in Him alone? I sensed a longing, a restlessness in my spirit that I didn’t quite have an answer for…

A few minutes later, I attended a dance lesson today that left me totally and curiously drained (I’ve danced longer and more intensely many times before; I guess in those cases my adrenaline was enough to keep me from realizing how tired I was until much later). An hour and a half of involuntary, physical repose afterward had never been so sweet…

Perhaps too often, I go through my day running on a kind of spiritual adrenaline, unaware of my dependence and need for my Creator. And as I learn to remember the restlessness inside of me, I will find the sweet repose that only He can supply.

Lord… teach me to be restless for You.

“…our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.”

~ Augustine

Christmas carol exegesis

Christmas-Carols-Origin-and-History

I wasn’t able to craft a fully coherent Christmas message this year, but since I’ve mentioned my difficulty with finding meaning in Christmas music before (my post on the season from last year), I thought I’d indulge in a bit of exegesis in some of the carols I’ve heard most often and loved singing most this season. If nothing else, I hope that my scattered thoughts give you encouragement you to ponder more deeply the music you sing and hear this Christmas.

*     *     *

O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining.

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

‘Til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.

To be holy means to be set-apart. It doesn’t refer to the intrinsic worth of an object, but the value placed on it by another; the rocks in an altar holy to the Lord are rocks like any other but set apart for a special purpose, as are the living stones set apart by God to be a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5).

That night so many years ago was, in many ways, like any ordinary night. Yet it stands apart from every other night in history. All else melts away like morning frost in comparison to this: the Lord of all the Universe stooped low enough to enter His creation, wrapped in flesh and nestled in a food-trough.

Were the stars, excepting the one that lead the Wise Men, brightly shining that night? Did they array themselves in all the splendor they could muster at the joy of welcoming their Maker into the universe? Or did they look like they do every night? I could see it being either way; God does seem inclined to be incredibly poetic at times, and starkly undramatic and unglamorous at others (sending His Son to be born in a stable is a good example of that).

However the stars looked that night, the dear Savior came. Why? Why come to this fallen world, a figment still of what God had intended it to be, yet bound by its corruption and rebellion since Eden? Why come to a planet that to this day, two thousand years after the Holy birth, still lies pining in its sin, groaning for its redemption?

Simply this: to testify to the truth that would set men free (John 8:32, 18:37). To bring light to darkness, to make a way of redemption for all who are willing to follow it and eventually, for all of Creation. The Hope of the nations appeared in Bethlehem that night, and the hope of His returning fills the universe still to this day. When the Lord of the heavens appears on the earth to bring salvation to man, there is hope indeed. And faced with such humility and sacrifice — God Almighty stepping down from His celestial throne to become a part of a messy, fallen world, that He might redeem it — how can the soul not exult in feeling its true worth? God doesn’t need us. But if He wants us, if He loved our race enough to take on our weakness and enter our lowly existence, how He values us can hardly be made any clearer. And that is where our ultimate worth lies.

When we sing of a Holy Night, we truly do sing of a night unlike any that has ever been or ever will be.

*     *     *

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh

Come peasant, king, to own Him.

The King of Kings salvation brings

Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

I never realized before how much this verse is saturated with the Kingship of Christ. Even the first line speaks of bringing gifts befitting a king. He is worthy of that honor, and far more.

Yet the Savior’s birth belongs to the rich and poor alike. Peasant and king, lowly shepherd and Magi, the lowest and the highest and everything in between, all may lay claim to Him; good thing too, because all need Him and none deserve Him. Yet any heart that is willing to grant Him its scepter, a heart that truly loves Him, is one He will deem worthy to enter and reign in.

Why He would deign to sit enthroned in our lowly hearts when He has a throne in heaven is beyond me, but I am grateful. Thank the Lord that He, the King of Kings, bore a salvation for us all.

*     *     *

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The long-awaited, long-expected Messiah’s arrival is truly an event for every son of Israel and daughter of Zion to rejoice greatly over. Foretold in ages past, He had finally come. God with us, a promise made reality.

Yet, it is a promise that the adopted children of Abraham have cause to rejoice in as well. As the angel proclaimed to the shepherds, it is a news of great joy “for all people.” As old Simeon exulted in the temple courts, this salvation was to be “a light unto the Gentiles,” as well as the glory of Israel.

I rejoice for the children of Israel who have received their long-awaited Messiah. But I am also exceedingly glad that I, a Gentile and stranger to the old covenant, may enter in and share the Light of Salvation with them as a child of the New Israel. Thanks be to the Lord for that!

*     *     *

Sing, choirs of angels! Sing in exultation!

Sing all ye citizens of heaven above.

Glory to God in the highest!

O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him,

O come let us adore Him, Christ the L0rd.

Translated literally, the Hebrew hallelujah simply means “praise the Lord!” But more than merely a vague expression of praise, the term is a plural imperative, i.e. an instruction or even command to many. A more apt translation would be, “Everyone! Let us praise the Lord together!”

To me, this verse seems to be the same way. I’ve always sung this verse concerning the angels in a nebulous, praise-the-Lord kind of fashion. Perhaps you have as well.

But that’s not what the text says. It’s an imperative, a request or even command to the hosts of heaven themselves! Then it turns to address the whole Body of Christ, all whose citizenship lies in heaven above.

When we tell angels to sing in exultation, “Glory to God in the highest!”, I have little doubt that they can hear us. Perhaps they join in every time we invite them to as well. At any rate, whether we invite the angels or our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to sing to God’s glory with us, let our invitation be a sincere one.

He is worth singing about. Truly, let us come before Him and adore Him for who He is: our Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, Friend, the Light of all men, the Firstborn of creation, the perfect Son of God.

Wishing you a merry and most blessed Christmas,

  ~ Timothy

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I first heard this song last Christmas, but it seemed especially appropriate this year, in light of all that happened in Connecticut so terribly recently…

Based off of a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (the full poem can be found here), this song has been running through my head quite often of late. Whether or not you’re already familiar with the poem or song, please take a moment to listen. Whatever is filling your heart and mind this Christmastime, I pray that this song encourages and strengthens you.

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

~ Hebrews 13:20-21

Liberty

I was recently working on a paper concerning the Puritans and how they viewed (and lived in light of their view of) freedom. One of the verses I used was 2 Corinthians 3:17, and the moment it popped into my head, this song would not leave me alone.

Even if you’re familiar with the song, check out this collab between Shane & Shane and Phil Wickham. Good stuff.

Here’s to being free indeed!

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'”

~ John 8:34-36

Live Like That

This song has been the cry of my heart for some time now. The first time I heard it on the radio, it felt as if someone had dipped a pen into the inkwell of my heart and written a poem with it. I don’t know if it rings the same with you, but it’s worth hearing if you’ve never heard it, and being re-listened to if you have:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

~ Matthew 5:14-16

Hungry

I attended the graduation ceremony of a friend last week, and heard this song for the first time as part of the short worship set at the beginning. It was a rare opportunity; I usually like to sing to everything, especially worship music (and if I can find a working harmony, even better). But here, I found myself not knowing this song that everyone else clearly was familiar with and loved, a song that they were now singing out with all of their being. So I just listened.

Generic? I suppose you could call it that. But drinking in the words (especially the first two lines) makes me aware of how heartfelt they are. Sometimes the simple, even slightly generic words say it best.

(Speaking of heartfelt words, I found a short interview excerpt from the writer, Kathryn Scott, about what she was living through when she wrote this song; check it out if you enjoy Scottish accents.)

Maybe you’re familiar with this song. Maybe, like me until last week, you’ve never heard it before. Regardless, reflect on the words for a spell. Consider the worth of our Lord, and how we can do nothing but fall to our knees at His feet and give Him all that we have and are in response.

Consider how He alone ultimately satisfies our hunger.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
for righteousness, for they will be filled.

~ Matthew 5:3-6

How He Loves

This song has been haunting the back of my mind for the past few days, like the ghost of a dear, long-forgotten friend. It’s doubtless been years since I last heard it, up until a few days ago, and it’s not left me alone since. If you’re not overly familiar with it, you’ve probably heard the chorus before at least.

Regardless, let this song fill you for a moment. Reflect on that everlasting, unshakable, deep, deep love… After all, it belongs to you, especially if you are in Christ. It is yours today. Do not make the mistake of forgetting how He loves you…

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

~ Ephesians 3:14-19