“Is it odd, or is it God?”*

(*A question heard in a twelve-step meeting.)

The Swedish Lutheran poet

The Swedish Lutheran poet

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If you’ve been reading my postings, you know I’m getting ready to hustle off to Oslo (and points east, ending in St. Petersburg) with the choir of Calvary Lutheran Church in Richland Hills, Texas.

I’m going as accompanist (mostly organ, some piano), not as a singer. After 15 years of smoking—I quit in 1979—and 20 or so years of drinking way too much (mostly vodka, 90-proof)—I stopped in 1986—and now not seriously singing for many years, I make pretty awful sounds when I try to sing outside a range of about five notes.

At times during our performances I will be expected to play organ music. This may sound a bit over-the-top sentimental (it is not), but when we are in Sweden, we will be prepared to sing a hymn known to all Lutherans in the United States and presumably in Sweden, “Children of the Heavenly Father,” the words by Lina Sandell, and the tune a Swedish folk tune arranged by Os­kar Ahn­felt. The English translation of the first stanza is

Children of the heav’nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given
.

The Swedish original is

Tryggare kan ingen vara,
Än Guds lilla barnaskara,
Stjärnan ej på himlafästet,
Fågeln ej i kända nästet
.

Viktor Anderson, the director of the Calvary Lutheran choir, and I decided I should play a chorale prelude on the tune before the choir sings it—and we invite the audiences in Sweden to sing along. We decided that because I told him I have in my repertory a lovely organ setting of the tune.

Thinking about the hymn, I had in my mind’s ear the beginning of that chorale prelude (a chorale prelude is an arrangement of hymn tune as a solo work, usually for organ). As a matter of fact, with my vodka-tenor croaky voice in private, I could sing through the first section of the prelude. I knew I was not making it up.

The American composer

The American composer

When I got out the score of the collection of pieces I thought it was from, I was (mildly) horrified to discover it was not there. I could not for the life of me remember the composer or where the piece might be filed in my apartment. I fretted over the dilemma for three or four days, not wanting to tell Viktor I had imagined the music.

The last few days, I have been in a divestiture mode—that is, sorting and pitching stuff from my computer room which has essentially become my attic. Several boxes of stuff have been there since 2004 when I hurriedly moved in.  Sorting one of those boxes of (mainly) old photographs, I was pitching all that were of scenery I had forgotten or of people I did not recognize. I came to the last layer in the box, having thrown away most of its contents, and on the bottom was a single volume of organ music.

It is a collection of chorale preludes by Donald Hustad, for many years the organist of the Billy Graham campaigns whose work as musicologist and theorist of Evangelical worship is of the highest importance. The third of the preludes in the collection is the setting of “Children of the Heavenly Father” I had been singing to myself for a week.

The volume has performance markings from my high school organ teacher. I learned it in 1962. I am not sure I’ve ever played it since then.

Yesterday afternoon I was depressed. If you have to ask about what, you obviously don’t understand depression. I was about to indulge myself doing something that would have made me feel worse. My phone rang. It was a friend who had just received from an academic journal a rejection letter for an article he had submitted. He was having trouble working through his disappointment, so he called me. Our conversation helped him decide what to do that would be constructive rather than giving in to some indulgent behavior to mask his hurt. When we ended our conversation, I went to the organ and practiced for two hours—the one thing that will always lessen, if not lift completely, my depression. I know that absolutely, but when I’m depressed, I forget.

Some of my best friends would say these things are “God deals.” That is, God arranged them. If I believed in God, I’d be surprised if God didn’t have better things to do than serendipitously show me where an old piece of music is hiding, or prompt a friend to call me to find some solace for exactly what I need to talk to him—or someone—about.

But it does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

The heavenly father?

The heavenly father?

2 Responses to “Is it odd, or is it God?”*

  1. bobritzema says:

    Of course you can regard all of this as coincidence. Then again, a month or so ago you wrote about the things you want to do yet in your life, and you included something to the effect that you wanted to figure out what you believe about God. I’m a believer, so I am inclined to take what happened as a response to that. The events may have not been a big deal, but they made sense to you as something more than the sort of random things that occupy everyday experience.

  2. Thank you, as always. No, I do not seem these things as random.

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