Sunday, March 26, 2006

Gospel Vespers

I'm in a quiet mood after a great day. This afternoon, it was my turn to be the music leader at our Gospel Vespers service. This new monthly worship service was my Dad's brainchild. The idea is to have a monthly, music-driven worship service, that is based on one of the stories of the Gospels. Each service has a different music leader, representing all forms of gospel and contemporary Christian music.

Our Gospel reading today was The Two Housebuilders. One build a house on the sand and it was washed away by rain. But one built a house on the rock, and it stood strong through the storms. Dad was our preacher today, and he did an awesome telling of the story by acting out the "characters" of Sandy and Rocky, and telling about the houses that were built on each of them. He then told the story from the point of view of Jesus, and how all houses should be built on Him. It was great. Really great.

My job was to lead the congregational singing, and to choose music that reflected our gospel theme. I was so lucky that Monika and Gerald jumped in at the last minute to join in the music. The last time all three of us performed together was two years ago when we worked on the cd. What a blessing to be together today! Gerald and I took turns on guitar. Monika sang harmonies and played tambourine. Gerald also played djembe (an African hand-drum) and I lead the singing.

We opened the service with We Have Come Into His House, as a way in inviting God into our presence, and as a way of getting people in the mood for worship. We then lead everyone in some great and joyful singing on Standing in the Need of Prayer, Great is Thy Faithfulness, and Give Me Oil. I had placed drums and shakers in the pews, and everyone picked them up and played along. I had fears of a stiff crowd who wouldn't want to play along, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Everyone sang and clapped and even boogied a little!

After the sermon, I sang my solo piece: Upon This Rock. I sang it to one of Allison Durham Speer's tracks. What an awesome arrangement! It just builds and builds til it ends on a super-high-B-something. I was pretty nervous about it leading up to today. Not only is it a challenging piece, but I had never sung with a track before! Never! I realize this is second nature for a lot of people, but it's not done a lot up here, and I'd never done it at all. So I practiced like crazy and visited the church for a dry run yesterday. I think I found it intimidating because you're completely on your own. There is no accompanist to follow you, and no one to cover up your mistakes. But in the end, I really enjoyed the experience. I'm building up my track library, and today was a great way to start this new skill.

After the solo, we returned to group singing. We did Spirit of the Living God acapella. So beautiful! There were a lot of singers in the congregation, and we had lots of spontaneous harmony. We sang What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and then taught the congregation I Go To the Rock. ( A standard down South. Not so much up here. )

One of the things I really wanted to do was to have seamless transitions between the singing and the prayers. I invited people to stand, sit, or kneel for a time of prayer. When everyone was settled, we sang one verse of Sweet Hour of Prayer, with Gerald on guitar. As the singing ended, Gerald started to improvise some gentle lyrical tunes on the guitar. It was over this that I began to pray. I didn't have any prayers planned, I just asked God to help me address the needs of the congregation. The whole thing felt beautiful and easy. As I felt this time coming to a natural closure, I invited the congregation to stand and sing The Lord's Prayer. We have a great arrangement where the words fit the tune of Amazing Grace, so everyone sang out.

We then sang one of the greatest "rock" songs ever - Rock of Ages. After a quick thank you from the church warden, we ended with my favourite, This Little Light of Mine. I rewrote a few verses so they reflected our Gospel theme. "When I'm in the sinking sand, I'm gonna let it shine!". Again, people sang, clapped, shook, drummed, and boogied out to the song. It was just awesome!

My main goal today was to lead people in worship of God, and I think I accomplished that. I, of course, had some technical things I wanted to accomplish - singing to a track, smooth transitions, working with our trio - and there were definite successes in all these areas. But the main goal was to allow a space where people could feel comfortable to sing out and make a joyful noise unto the Lord. A space where they could pray. A space where they could feel the presence of God.

I feel so blessed to have this opportunity. When you give it all to God, it's amazing how much He gives in return!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Me and the monks.

So, for Lent this year, I decided not to give up chocolate or ice cream or driving too fast. (Sorry, Mom!) Instead, I decided to take up a dedicated study of the Bible and my own spirituality. Some days I think it might have been easier to give up chocolate.

The first thing I've done is join in our church's Lenten study: Passport to Easter. (We actually have a blog for it. The link is in the column to the right.) Each day, we read a passage from Matthew's Gospel. We have a study guide with questions and "food for thought". I like having the booklet cause I can write all my thoughts down in one place. Once a week, we meet for a discussion. It usually starts with a question about the last week's readings, but it's been delving into some pretty deep territory. For example, if Jesus was God and Man, then who died on the cross - God or Man? Or did just part of Him die? It's like the angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin debate everyone tries to do in university. No firm answers, but a great journey!

Today was the second part of my Lenten intention. I attended a quiet day of prayer and meditation at a local monastery. I will first admit that I have never stepped foot into a monastery, and was a little nervous as to what I may find. Would it look like a church, or worse, like some kind of chamber? What should I wear? Was my pink fuzzy coat inappropriate? Would I have to speak Latin? Luckily, my fears were as silly as they sound now as I write them out in black and white. (Awkward sentence, but you know what I mean!)

The monastery is actually in a gorgeous old Victorian house in the west end of town. In the corner of a large living room is a small altar, but other than that, it just looks like a lovely old home. (The furniture is a little out of date, but I digress.) The second floor has rooms for overnight guests, and the third floor is for full-time members. The brothers were very welcoming, and were a wide variety of ages. About thirty guests gathered for our quiet day.

The theme of our meditations were prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. One brother lead each meditation. We started with prayer, which was a great way to calm our minds for the day. We then had an hour of silence. We could find any spot in the house, and being such a large place, it was easy to find a quiet corner. They had a few suggested guidelines on how to spend this quiet time, so, Bible in hand, I curled up in a cozy chair and opened up a passage in Luke about how to pray. I spent time reading, meditating, and taking little notes in my journal. (I may have the start of a new lyric!) After an hour, we all returned to the living room for a service of Holy Communion, and the second meditation on fasting. I always considered fasting to be all about food and the not-eating of it. But the brother introduced all sorts of ideas on fasting from other cultures and religions. He suggested that instead of simply giving up food, we can give up any thing, any vice, that separates us from God.

In a funny bit of scheduling, lunch followed the talk on fasting. Lunch was also silent. Frankly, a little dinner music would have been nice, but it did kept the calmness of the day intact. Actually, lunch did have one really cool moment. I looked over at a man whose shirt had a logo of St. Thomas's church on it. This is the church in Newfoundland that I grew up in! Dad was the rector there! This man had moved to Newfoundland just after we moved to Toronto, and St. Thomas became his home church! How's that for a small world?

After lunch followed another hour of silence. I jumped into the Bible again, and had a nice little romp through Psalms. Listen, I don't know if this was a certain translation or what, but in this edition, the Psalms talked about unicorns! Seriously! No one ever told me there were unicorns in the Bible. Between the unicorns in Psalms and the giants in Genesis, I'm getting a whole new view on the Bible. No one taught this stuff in my Sunday School!

Our final meditation was on almsgiving. The brother related his stories of living in New York and being repulsed by street people. And let's be honest, everyone who's lived in a big city has had that feeling. He mentioned that, in his past, he never gave money to street people because he figured he couldn't cure their poverty. However, almsgiving is not necessarily about curing poverty, but about relieving the poverty and discomfort of the current situation. We can't fix a street person's life by giving them a dollar, but we can possibly relieve their hunger on that day. If we don't want to give a dollar, we can buy them a coffee or a meal. After all, we all need to eat. We all need a warm place to sleep. We all need eye contact and a friendly smile. It won't fix everything, but it will relieve the weight of that day.

Today was great. I will admit that I'm not usually very good at inviting quiet into my days. I like to fill my hours with music and words and activity. It was nice to slow down and relax into the great silences. To "be still and know that you are God". I will definitely do this again.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Adventures of a ... Wife!

Wow, it has truly been a life-time since I wrote in my blog. How warm and reassuring to return to this place. The last few weeks have just been tremendously wonderful. If I were to write my own script, I don't think I'd change a moment.

On February 10, at 4:30pm, I walked into my home church to marry my beautiful Gerald. It was completely overwhelming! (a.k.a.: I couldn't stop crying all day!) Mom and Dad both walked me down the aisle, preceded by my best friend as my "Babe of Honour". Dad did the ceremony, and let me tell you: It may be generally intense when the priest asks if you want to take this man for the rest of your life, but try having your own Father ask you! After the ceremony, we all shipped off to a gorgeous hall for a night of great food, dancing, and much love all around.

For anyone who's interested (and I guess I'm saying this cause I always want to know), here's a list of our wedding music:
- Attendants' processional: This Little Light of Mine.
- Bridal processional: I Vow to thee my Country (Holst)
- Hymn: I feel the winds of God
- Choir anthem: The Wedding at Cana (written by Me!)
- Signing of the register: Because He Lives.
- Solo: Perfect Picture (written and sung by Gerald!)
- Lord's prayer: sung to Amazing Grace tune.
- Communion hymns: Be Our Chief Guest Lord, and Here I am Lord.
- Marriage processional: I'm Feeling Fine.
- First dance: Have a little faith in me
- Last dance: Take it with me

I do have to share this really great moment: Gerald and I used the vows written in the Anglican wedding service, but later in the service, we each had special words written for each other. I had given Dad my speech to hold, but he thought that was my speech for the reception. So when it came time to read my special words, they were in another room. Dad made sure everyone had a little laugh over the upset, and went out to get the speech. In the gap, Boni reprised Because He Lives, but we were all standing there a little awkwardly. Gerald looked at me and said, "Well, what do we do now?". And I said, "Well, I guess we sing!". I turned to the congregation, and we had this spontaneous singalong of Because He Lives. It was awesome. Lots of people knew the song, and those who didn't had huge smiles on their faces. As soon as we hit the final bar, Dad walked back in with my speech. A slight mishap that spawned a perfect moment!

Two days later we were on the plane for Costa Rica. If you haven't been to Costa Rica, I highly recommend it. The people are great and the food amazing, but the real show is the natural surroundings. On a daily basis we were treated to volcanos, wildlife, waterfalls, rainforests, cloud forests, and the Pacific Ocean. I didn't have a moment when I wasn't overwhelmed by the beauty and wonder of creation. How people can see this stuff and not believe in God, I don't know!

On a day trip we visited a church that had been made from parts of an old ship. All of the exterior and interior walls were metal! It was just gorgeous, but even more importantly, it was acoustically stunning! I asked if I could sing a little, permission was granted, and I sang It Is Well With My Soul. The sound was awesome. The tiniest softest note traveled right through the whole space. A few days later, I was talking with a woman who had been there. She and her family were on the trip because that day was the anniversary of losing a family member. They didn't want to face their grief surrounded by reminders of daily life. How completely did I understand this! She told me how they were all Christians and how their faith was getting them through. She told me how my song had brought them comfort during these days. I just felt so blessed that she would share this story with me. A few years ago, her story would have been my story, but now God is using me to bless those in mourning. It is awesome what can happen when you just say "Yes, Lord!".

After a week of beaches and sunburns, we hopped on the plane again, this time to spend the final leg of our honeymoon in Nashville. I can't remember if I've mentioned this in the blog yet, but Gerald and I are planning on moving to Nashville this year to further our musical pursuits. Ger had never actually been there, and since we were traveling anyways, we thought we might as well spend some time in Music City and have a little fun. What a great time! Our first night there, we played an open mic at the Hall of Fame Lounge. Ger did "So Far" and "The Last Chapter", the latter of which made the emcee cry! Then I jumped up on stage and we did "My Father's Arms". Everyone was so generous, and we've been invited to perform there when we get back to Nashville.

The next night was the Bluebird Cafe, and an awesome in-the-round concert. The songs were great, and all four singers are friends, so the energy was just infectious. After the show, we followed the crowd to Hotel Preston and continued the musical party. The next day was bumming around downtown, and at night, we saw the Opry at the Ryman. What a treat! I, of course, didn't know any of the country singers or their songs. But the final act was Ricky Scaggs and Kentucky Thunder. Yee-haw! They were amazing! There are no real words to capture that kind of skill and passion. Just impressive!

We got to see some friends, and make some new ones. We met Canadians who had moved to Nashville in various ways, all to follow the big dream. We got great encouragement, and hard advice. And we got tonnes of inspiration! It is so clear to me that God wants us to follow this path. I'm such a homebody, that the idea of actually selling everything and moving is absolutely terrifying. But we are truly fighting for a greater good. We are going for the dream that so many people pack away in comfortable jobs and old age pensions. And the truly awesome part is that we're facing this journey together. Hand in hand. With God and family supporting our every move.

"I feel the winds of God today. Today, my sail I lift!"