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[This post will alienate most of you, my dear readers. Be warned.]
Two weeks ago I played the piano for dear Anna's wedding. Anna's uncle and aunt, extraordinary musicians from Georgia, played violins. We had a sort of impromptu string trio. As we were reviewing music for the prelude, Uncle John, fiddling around, played the familiar phrase that begins Pachelbel's Canon. I shuddered. Fixing a glare, pointing my index finger, I proclaimed "This will be a Pachelbel Free Wedding!!"
For a moment I rested my face in my hands.
"I'm sorry. It's just so overdone..." I barely knew these people and here I was issuing commands.
John grinned. "Why do you think we know it by heart?"
"So you don't really want to play it?"
"No." One syllable conveyed his meaning, make no mistake.
I exhaled and sighed at the same time. "We are on the same side of the river?"
Pachelbel's Canon in D is the original three chord, twenty-two verse ditty. Exquisite the first seventy-three times you hear it. The seventy-fourth time, however, it loses its charm. Wedding musicians are bone weary of this piece. How many bridesmaids in the world have hesitation-stepped down an aisle to Canon in D? Somewhere beyond twenty-six million is my guess.
It's time to stop the madness, people. If the bride or groom request Pachelbel, I will gladly (and sweetly!) play Pachelbel. But when I am asked to choose the music, it is good-bye dear Johann, I wish you well.
Back in the day, Paul Stookey's Wedding Song was the rage. Practically a one note, one chord, monoculture of a song. Pick a note, a low note you like, and sing it three times to the words "There is love." Then repeat the same note with "There is love." Three same notes yet again to make sure the audience knows there is love. It finally fell out of favor. It has been a happy twenty-five years since I've heard that gem at a wedding.
It's time to give Pachelbel's Canon a well-deserved rest. Let our great-grandchildren rediscover it.
John, Rebecca and I played a postlude until the last row of guests were leaving their seats.
"It's a wrap!" I gratefully smiled. It's always a relief to not have muffed it up.
In muted tones, with a twinkle in his eye, John played the opening notes of Pachelbel's Canon.
I just laughed.
So profound was Anna and Robert's wedding that I can't stop pondering its potent magic.
The families supporting and standing behind Robert and Anna are a fortress of fidelity. Three sets of grandparents sojourned to our beautiful Shire to witness the vows. I'm guessing around 150 years of marital faithfulness are represented in their marriages. Winsome, dignified, charming. These gentle folk are who I want to be when I grow up. Their flame is still burning, their love abides, they joyfully treasure each other in the sunset years. Clearly, their children and grandchildren adore them, rendering preference and respect. It was a comfort to move among these well-oiled relationships.
Also behind the bride and groom are delighted parents, grateful to be in this moment, so proud of their child and so pleased with his/her choice. Parents who have worked diligently to arrive at this junction, who rejoice to see maturity and beauty in their children.
Beside Robert and Anna are ten siblings (plus four added by marriage). Their devotion is palpable. Their toasts were deep with emotion involving some long, very throat-lumpish pauses. There's a shadow of grief—the tiny sorrow of separation and change—the kind of shadow that with its shades highlights the bright joy. You see, these dear ones are cherished and respected. And yet, there was no sense of you-aren't-good-enough-for-my-sister (daughter, brother, son).
Robert and Anna are both glorious; a glory that comes from all directions: inward, upward, downward, outward.
Photo credit: Rebecca James
Each family's culture was represented. Many of the Taylor clan wore salwar kurtas to the rehearsal to reflect their Indian heritage. The Hurley appreciation of excellent music was evident with Uncle John and Aunt Rebecca's violin contributions to the music and in the congregational hymn We Are God's People, the processional in other Hurley weddings. The Callihan rehearsal dinner had cowboy boots as centerpieces and barbed wire on the serving table. Callihans enjoy dramatic productions: the guys wrote and produced a skit for the evening's entertainment.
It is deliciously simple and profoundly mysterious, this love between Robert and Anna. Grounded in faith, expressed in humility, bounded by restraint, Christ-centered, other-oriented, staggering in its beauty, strong as death. They are not perfect, but there is an excellence in their love that called for a robust celebration: navy dresses with daffodil yellow shoes, bold bright flowers, Anna's entrance to For All the Saints, a homily focused on dancing together, a feast of home-made pies, a Father-Daughter led Grand March, Robert and Anna's first dance to Eric Bibb's Gratitude, and their departure as we sang the Lutkin Benediction. It was good. It was fitting. It was full of glory.
As Robert and Anna danced the next generation looked on, hopes and dreams germinating.
My husband and I are separating today. I'm headed "up the branch" to celebrate dear Anna's wedding to Robert. Curt leaves tomorrow for Washington to celebrate dear Lori's wedding to Gunnar on the same day. These brides are treasures to us: radiant, glorious jewels. I love to witness a wedding with my hand firmly gripped by Curt's, but I am up to the rim with joy that we can each take part in these concurrent weddings.
When I need only a few minutes of reading material, I often go to Alphabet Juice for a quick fix. On this double celebration week, I was astonished to discover what "good" means.
from root ghedh- to unite, join, fit. Other derivatives: together, from the Old English togaedere, from the Germanic gaduri, in a body; gather, from the Old English gad(e)rian, from the Germanic gaduron, to come or bring together.
When we hear the words, "We are gathered here today to witness the joining of two lives," it will all be good.
There are bleak moments in our life when it feels as if the world has pitted itself against us. We grow unthankful and our hearts lose hope. It's usually at these times our mothers give us breakfast and tell us to snap out of it, and we are forced to rejoice at how good we have it.
Father, we can't thank You enough for the impact and example our mothers have had on us over the years. Their industry, faithfulness, love, discipline, and unworldly care should give us pause to consider there's more to the story than meets the eye. You have a majestic plan, and in this plan is redemption, and at the forefront of this battle are our mothers.
We can't pray enough, Father, for protection of our mothers in their role as helpmate and guide. Give them patience and grace in what sometimes may feel like combat in raising their young ones.
Bless the work of their hands in their homes and bring prosperity upon their many endeavors. We as sons, daughters and fathers are forever indebted for Your design of the family and how it beautifully reflects Your kingdom and character.
Bless our mothers who give of themselves completely and selflessly. May we honor them with our love and respect. "Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates."
In Christ's name,
* In our church we regularly pray for our families and for the nations of the earth. Yesterday Brian, a young dad himself, prayed this prayer for mothers. He gave me permission to share it with you.
Nellie Harper 3/23/20 - 5/7/1968
My mom's death from an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder was sudden. There were no good-byes other than a casual "bye, Mom!" tossed over the shoulder as I left the house.
As I re-read some of her letters, I notice how she said good-bye to my dad, a college professor teaching in another state. And, these many years later, she continues to instruct me.
I miss you here - really seems lonesome without you - just a few weeks like we had in Sept. spoils me. But since I love you so much I know that it will always be that way - I don't get used to you being away, I just wait for you to come home.
Je t'aime beaucoup, beaucoup...
Now I must close - surely do miss you. Guess I didn't write partly because I was just too lonesome and didn't want to sound too sad. Those spells come when I feel as though I just have to see you, and anticipating a week end without you seems too much. I just must not think ahead to weekends but take each day as it comes. And the thought of you using so much time and energy and losing out on your studies just to come home doesn't cheer me any either. All in all it is not the most satisfactory situation, but it is the best one for us now or else the Lord would change it, of that I'm sure.
Must close for now. I do love you and, like Danny, I often would like to give up because "I want you". But because of you I take heart and strive to do a good job here.
But we'll keep on in our feeble way.
I love you and I just can't get used to having you gone so much — howbeit the Lord has given joy and peace just to know that you are busy for Him.
Time to close — wish you were here to talk to instead of writing. Take care of yourself these busy days. We love you and your name is mentioned ump-teen times a day. I'm learning that when you really love a person you never get used to having him gone — it gets worse instead of easier. Hurry up, summer!
I love you and miss you so much. I would like to have a week or so together with no other responsibility but to catch up on all we've missed this winter. But we can only dream of such a time with all the cares of this world upon us.
Like Jimmy says "Daddy can fix anything." But it is not primarily a handy man that I need here, but to have your love and fellowship in person.
Oh, Mom. I remember you. Forty-five years it has been and I continue to note your absence. I wish that your daughters-in-law, your sons-in-law, your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren—every one of them—could know you the way my brothers and sisters and I know you. I wish I could call you on the phone and exclaim today's good news: the next baby is a GIRL!! I can hear your chuckle at my exuberant joy.
Your letters inspire me. I can take heart and strive to imitate you, to become a Nellie Harper to my people. Thank you for pouring yourself out for us, for giving us yourself, day after day after day. Thank you for being the best mom ever.
Before we drift to sleep, I read aloud (sometimes just a paragraph, other times a page or two) from Mark and Grace Driscoll's Real Marriage; we wake up to The Last Battle (snicker about that combination).
When I drive the car, I listen to Kathleen Norris' Acedia & Me. Acedia means lack of caring...sort of like depression, but different.
If I have an afternoon with my eight year old grandson, our real aloud is Where the Red Fern Grows. We are at the happy parts of a compelling story; Gavin begs for one more chapter.
I'm plowing through Colin Thubron's book Shadow of the Silk Road, a travel memoir. I believe this is the loveliest book cover...ever! So much terrain is unfamiliar; it takes longer to assimilate this reading. I had read the first two chapters a while back and put it down. When I retunred to it a few months later I had to start at the beginning. With forty pages to finish, I've read Thubron through China, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and we're entering Turkey.
Donna at Quiet Life started a book club reading Bonhoeffer. I listened to it in 2012, and immediately bought the print copy because I wanted to read it with my eyes. What a remarkable family! What a rare jewel of a man!
So you could say I'm filling my mind with art, Asia, apes, apathy, Achtung!, amicability, and adventure.
I need it. We need it.
Feedback from faithful friends.
How am I doing?
Where could I improve?
Eager to protect, afraid of exposure,
unwilling to change: a miserable route.
Humility is the path to growth.
Bruce Marshall's author blurb on the back cover:
Bruce Marshall is a dark, smiling man, fundamentally serious, four-square in appearance, definite in manner. He has a great fund of pity for humble, toiling people whose virtues are seldom proclaimed, a vigorous and delightfully malicious humor, and a savage dislike of bullies, stuffed shirts, humbugs and toadies.
Many of my favorite stories involve priests: G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown; dear Mr. Harding in Anthony Trollope's The Warden; Father Tim in the Mitford books and Father Tim novels; Brother Cadfael in Ellis Peter's medieval mysteries; the priest in Jon Hassler's Dear James.
Father Smith is a Catholic priest in Presbyterian Scotland, a priest who prays daily for Scotland's conversion. I don't think I've ever read a novel with such a strong emphasis on Catholic theology, and, at first, I found it off-putting. But I discovered that I appreciated many of this humble man's thoughts. I think any conservative would appreciate the struggle to hold on to the old ways.
When he had been a boy himself, Father Smith had longed to be grown up, because he had believed that it would be easier to obey our Lord as an adult than as a child, and he had been disappointed when he had found it was more difficult.
When he was happy, Father Smith always sang snatches from the psalms as he walked the street.
Always remember that you can't see into other people's souls, but you can see into your own, and so far as you really know there is nobody alive more wicked and ungrateful to Almighty God than yourself.
Father Smith felt that it was a pity that one ever heard anything at all on wireless sets, because it seemed to him that new inventions were coming out much too quickly, and that if amusements went on becoming more and more mechanized as they seemed to be doing, people would no longer require to use their intelligence to fill their leisure, and literature, poetry, and the drama would be pop goes the weasel per omnia saecula saeculorum...
...and those who weren't weeping had a great distress on their faces because they knew that a great clumsy slice of man who had known all about God's mercy would walk among them no more.
The book opens at the start of the twentieth century with the priests wondering how to respond to the first cinema in town. Father Smith baptizes two babies, whose lives we follow throughout the story. When the Great War begins, Father Smith works on the front line as a chaplain, hearing confessions and praying over the dead. His bishop predicts a spiritual revival will come out of the war, but Father Smith finds reality to be much different. What held my attention was Father Smith's grappling with the tension from the static doctrines of the church and the rapidly changing culture.
I learned a host of Catholic nomenclature: sedilia (stone seats for the clergy), asperges (the rite of sprinkling Holy water), pyx (the container that holds consecrated bread), and pro-Cathedral (parish church temporarily serving as cathedral).
I wish I could remember who recommended this. I found it absorbing reading, but I have no desire to read it again. The cheerful humility makes me want to explore another book by Bruce Marshall.
The Holocaust was storm, lightning, thunder;
wind, rain, yes.
And Le Chambon was the rainbow.
— Jewish mother whose children's lives were saved at Le Chambon
Let me digress: One habit served me well and introduced me to the story of Le Chambon. I read books with a soft lead pencil in hand. When a word, phrase, sentence or paragraph nudges me, I mark a line in the margin, | . When I read an unfamiliar word or one I can't confidently define, I put a √ in the margin. And when I see a reference to a song, a painting, a book title, an event that I'd like to know more about I also use the √. I usually don't stop reading to look further at the subject. But when I comb through the book a second time, writing down compelling quotes, etc. I will follow up on the check marks.
How did I find Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed? I had decided to cull out Barbara Tuchman's sparkling book of essays, Practicing History, from my library, a decision that still gnaws. Before I let it go, I transferred notes to my journal. In an essay entitled Mankind's Better Moments Tuchman notes some astonishing accomplishments:
the enclosure of the Zuider Zee in the Netherlands adding half a million acres to the country;
the marvel of Gothic cathedrals;
the perseverance of La Salle, who mastered eight languages before he set off exploring;
William Wilberforce's work to abolish slave trade;
Le Chambon, a Huguenot village in Southern France devoted to rescuing Jews. √
Le Chambon? I had heard of Huguenots—French Protestants—but not Le Chambon.
Intrigued, I found this clip on YouTube:
And I found Philip P. Hallie's book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed. The book is essentially a biography of the Reformed pastor, André Trocmé and his wife, Magda. Trocmé's belief in God was at the living center of the rescue efforts of the village xxi. Le Chambon was a remote mountain village, predominantly Protestant (Reformed and Plymouth Brethren) in a predominantly Catholic country. The Trocmés were unshakably committed to obeying the Sermon on the Mount 28.
In practice this means that the village rescued between 3,000 and 5,000 Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. They kept many Jewish children at a private school; some family groups stayed until they could seek refuge in Switzerland. All the villagers took great risks, but they considered harboring others more important than their own safety.
"Look hard for ways to make little moves against destructiveness." — André Trocmé
Trocmé attended Union Theological Seminary in 1925 (five years before Dietrich Bonhoeffer was there) and found the Social Gospel too secular, too rational, lacking piety. Like Bonhoeffer, Trocmé lived intimately with those he shepherded.
For the rest of his life he sought another union [an organization he belonged to as a child during WWI], another intimate community of people praying together and finding in their love for one another and for God the passion and the will to extinguish indifference and solitude. From the union he learned that only in such an intimate community, in a home or in a village, could the Protestant idea of a "priesthood of all believers" work. Only in intimacy could people save each other. 57
A recurring motif in the book is that André Trocmé gave himself. He gave himself to his people, visiting them in their homes regularly. He gave himself to his community by his involvement in their lives. When he came home his children rushed him, enveloping him in hugs because he brought himself to them. Hallie expatiates on this theme in one of the most profound passages in the book:
When you give somebody a thing without giving yourself, you degrade both parties by making the receiver utterly passive and by making yourself a benefactor standing there to receive thanks—and even sometimes obedience—as repayment. But when you give yourself, nobody is degraded—in fact, both parties are elevated by a shared joy. When you give yourself, the things you are giving become to use Trocmé's word, féconde (fertile, fruitful). What you give creates new, vigorous life, instead of arrogance on the one hand and passivity on the other. 72
At one time, Trocmé is asked whether another group struggling in WWII should practice non-violent resistance. His response was that a foundation first has to be laid before such a tactic can be efficacious. Trocmé, along with Pastor Edouard Theis and schoolteacher Roger Darcissac had poured their lives into resisting evil and teaching their neighbors before such visible means of resisting became necessary.
I tend to look for perfect heroes and tidy endings. I was sad to read that a personal tragedy reduced Pastor Trocmé's faith and that Mme Trocmé seemed to hold faith at arm's length even as she worked indefatigably.
Writing about this book brings threads of recent events together: Today, April 9th, is the anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's death. There are striking similarities and certain differences between André Trocmé and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As I look at the photo of the Trocmés above, Magda Trocmé reminds me of Edith Shaeffer, a different kind of rescuer, who died on April 6th. And finally, the news of Rick Warren's son's suicide on April 5th coincides with a Trocmé family tragedy.
Ever curious, I wondered where the surviving children were. I discovered that Nelly Trocmé Hewett, 85, was giving talks last October and is scheduled to speak tomorrow at Macalester College in the Twin Cities. How immensely would I love to be in that audience.