Saturday, October 31, 2015

151. Hymn for the 12th Sunday after Trinity

This time the Epistle is 2 Corinthians 3:4-11 and the Gospel is Mark 7:31-37, the healing of a deaf-mute, which involved Jesus spitting, sticking his fingers in the man's ears and touching his tongue with a finger (possibly moistened with spittle) before groaning the Aramic word "Ephphatha," meaning "Be opened!" My original tune for this hymn is titled EPHPHATHA, but really there are loads of existing tunes that would suit.
He has done all things well!
The deaf hear Scripture read;
The slow of speech His praises tell;
His voice revives the dead.

He has done all things well!
It must indeed be He
Whom God would send to conquer hell;
The words and signs agree.

He has done all things well,
Yet deigns to use mere spit!
His fingers need no magic spell
His promise to transmit.

He has done all things well!
His word in all its forms
The pow’rs of earth must far excel,
Such marvels to perform!

He has done all things well!
If bonds of ear and tongue
His “Ephphatha” can so dispel,
What chains will not be sprung?

He has done all things well!
This confidence is ours:
In His new testament we dwell,
Served by His Spirit’s pow’r.

He has done all things well!
On Him alone we build,
And shall all other spirits quell
Till we with Him are filled!

He has done all things well!
No glory can transcend,
Nor ear can hear, nor tongue can tell
What Christ to us extends.

For He is working still,
Preparing us a place
Where we, all fetters broken, will
Both hear and speak His grace.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

150. Hymn for the 11th Sunday after Trinity

With this, at least the 150th original hymn I have written, I return to my "Sundays of the Church Year" hymn project. It is based on the story of the Pharisee and the publican (i.e., tax collector) told by Jesus in Luke 18:9-14, the Gospel for Trinity 11. In the last stanza there is just a touch of the Epistle from 1 Corinthians 15:1-10. The tune is SPIRIT OF CHRIST, which I wrote earlier this year for a hymn by my friend Matthew. Actually I ruthlessly bullied him into revising and condensing his original poem, which wouldn't have fit this tune, and in the end I think he liked his original version better; so perhaps this is not so much a case of reusing an existing tune as rescuing one all Tinkerbell like from the edge of oblivion.
Hear, you who trust your rightness,
Thinking yourselves exempt
While you, with feigned politeness,
View others with contempt:
Hear Christ describe the Pharisee
Who, praying to the Lord,
Other men’s sins abhorred!
Praising his pious purity,
He had his full reward.

Hear, you all-but-despairing,
Knowing your sinful ways,
Toward heaven hardly daring
To lift a hopeful gaze:
Hear Christ describe the sinner who,
Beating his breast in shame,
Owned sinner as his name!
Justified was he of the two
Who to the temple came.

Hear you indeed the story
Of the most holy cross,
Nor heed the lie of glory
Told to secure your loss!
Hold fast the gospel that alone
Points to your Lord who died!
Thereby does He provide
Grace to approach the Father’s throne,
Perfectly justified.

Noncompliant Dream

Early this morning I had a dream that broke all the rules of the "showed up in school in your tighty-whities" genre.

Rule 1: Without any explanation, you suddenly find yourself at school in the middle of the day wearing nothing but undies. Me? I showed up early for school in my undies, reckoning it was due to some kind of hazing ritual or a handicap in a game. I was just glad to get ahead of the morning rush.

Rule 2: Your response to the looks everyone gives you is to wish you could die of embarrassment. Me? I gave anyone who looked in my direction the "Got a problem with that?" stare.

Rule 3: You remain paralyzed with horror until the dream ends or you wake up. Me? I went to my locker, rummaged around in it and brought forth a T-shirt and a pair of sweat pants I had discarded there on some previous occasion. Not a perfect solution, still a horrible outfit, but at least it was one I could lie low in. Then the dream moved on to another challenge.

It would be nice to feel so in-control of the everyday crises in my waking life.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Full Cupboard of Life

The Full Cupboard of Life
by Alexander McCall Smith
Recommended Ages: 13+

Botswana's first private detective works a case she doesn't even get to finish in this fifth novel of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. It isn't terribly mysterious. Her client, a successful businesswoman, has decided to settle down and get married, so she asks Mma Precious Ramotswe for advice on which of her four suitors is the most suitable. Could it be the earnest, if dull, schoolmaster who takes a single-minded interest in reforming bad girls? The popular radio host? Or if neither, one of the others?

The investigation takes a back seat to other matters around the shared offices of the agency and Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. As has happened before in this series, things develop so quickly that time seems to run out on the case before the investigation really gets anywhere. But after all, the cases in this series are more studies of human character than actual mysteries.

Among the characters it studies are the matron of the Tlokweng Orphan Farm, who hectors the kindly mechanic Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni into agreeing to jump out of an airplane for charity. Then there's Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, who faces not only this terrible ordeal but also a confrontation with a tough but dishonest colleague in the auto repair trade. The absurd young apprentice named Charlie gets a starring role, and of course Mma Ramotswe stands at the center of it all, trying to bring her engagement to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni to its long delayed culmination.

What this book, and each book in this series, lacks in breadth of structure or in the force of a mystery-thriller plot line, it makes up in warmth, truth to its characters, gentle humor and a touch of lyricism. All these merits shine out even more in the audio-book version ready by Lisette Lecat. The next of so far 16 books in this series is In the Company of Cheerful Ladies.

Friday, October 23, 2015

149. Visitation Hymn

The Feast of the Visitation is July 2 in the historic Lutheran lectionary. The Epistle, for want of a better term, is Isaiah 11:1-5. The Gospel, really the text of this hymn, is Luke 1:39-56, in which the Virgin Mary (while pregnant with Jesus) visit her kinswoman Elizabeth (who is pregnant with John the Baptist). It's a text I have used before as the basis of a hymn, but to a different purpose. The tune is HOLY DAY, which I previously wrote for my "Third Commandment Hymn" - though the musical joke I worked into it doesn't have any relevance to this text.
Blessed shall all kindreds call her
In all ages yet to come,
Though sharp anguish would befall her
And the issue of her womb:
Mary, mother of our Lord,
Who believed the angel’s word,
Nor let maiden shame appall her
As she neared her cousin’s home!

How is it that flesh was able
To enclose our Lord and God?
Sooner may our supper table
Bear the flesh of Him we laud!
Can a womb become the shrine
Of the infinite divine?
Can a narrow manger cradle
Him who spans the heavens broad?

As the angel spoke, believing
Mary knew it would be so.
So Elizabeth, receiving
Her with joy, had felt the throe
Of the unborn prophet’s leap.
Can our hearts remain asleep,
Nor with her rejoice, perceiving
God incarnate here below?

May such faith as theirs be granted
In our time to such as us!
May Christ’s presence be implanted
By the Spirit even thus!
When as kinsmen of God’s Son
To His dwelling-place we run,
May our joyful hail be chanted
To His name in praise profuse!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

148. Ash Wednesday Hymn

Here I go again, way out of season, just filling another gap in my hymn tour of the church year! Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter (not counting Sundays, because they're all Easter), is the beginning of the Lenten season, which focuses on repentance and a spirit-over-flesh sort of discipline. The Epistle, which in this case would better be called the First Lesson, is Joel 2:12-19. It's actually not the only time this Old Testament prophet's slender, three-chapter book pulls Epistle duty in the historic lectionary; the other is Pentecost, with a selection from the end of the same chapter. The Gospel (for Ash Wednesday, mind you) is Matthew 6:16-21. The tune is UNCTION, which I wrote in 2003 for a hymn by N.F.S. Grundtvig.
Fast, dear children, mourn and tremble;
Rend your heart and not your clothes!
Solemnly come forth, assemble
Your transgression to expose!
Turn with all your heart, repenting
That the Lord might hear, relenting
From His just and wrathful oaths!

For your Lord is kind and gracious,
Slow to wrath, in mercy swift;
Prayer with Him is efficacious,
Turning curse to precious gift.
Gather young and old together,
Brides and husbands, seeking whether
He our bill of shame might lift!

Ministers and congregations,
Gather to be purified,
Lest our woes incite the nations
To blaspheme our Lord who died!
God will answer and take pity,
Saying, “O beloved city!
What boon will I not provide?”

Fast indeed, lest fleeting pleasure
Rule your heart with charms that cloy;
Rather seek eternal treasure
None can pilfer or destroy!
Fast to tame your vicious members
Till your frame its Head remembers:
Christ your fullness, Christ your joy!

Fast in freedom; fast in spirit,
Not as to be seen by men,
Nor by fasting to gain merit
Lest by pride you sin again!
Rather fast with Him whose dying,
All God’s justice satisfying,
Made you righteous there and then!

Fast in faith, yet feast on pardon
In Christ’s name these forty days,
Who from wilderness to garden
Walked by self-denying ways;
Lest His agony be cheapened,
Rather be your hunger deepened
For the love His cross displays!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

147. Hymn to Depart

I wrote this hymn to fill a use in my planned collection of "useful hymns." It goes to the tune GENESIS, which I wrote a little while back for a hymn on creation.
Go in grace, dear sisters, brothers!
Go in peace, your souls restored!
Go in love toward one another!
Go in faith toward Christ our Lord!
May God bless your meditation!
May He answer all your prayers!
May He strengthen your vocation!
May He lessen all your cares!

Live with patience, kind and gentle,
Humble, self-controlled and meek;
Be not haughty or judgmental,
But the mind of Jesus seek!
As you would be seen by others,
Be in truth, at inmost heart;
So build up your sisters, brothers,
As God’s temple, set apart!

Parents, tell your children truly
All that Christ would have them know;
To His presence bring them duly,
That their faith may thrive and grow!
By your teaching and example
True disciples will arise;
For the Spirit’s pow’r is ample
And God’s kingdom is the prize.

Come again, repentant sinners,
Knowing pardon is your need;
Whether experts or beginners,
Come, receive the gospel seed!
You who hunger for salvation,
Come and take the living Bread,
Every member in his station
Growing up in Christ our Head!

Go with joy, returning often
To be filled again with joy!
Let each planned reunion soften
Our regret at each goodbye!
And should triumph intercept us
Or the grave’s dividing veil,
Go to Christ, who will accept us
With His joy-perfecting hail!

Monday, October 19, 2015

146. Disability Hymn

This hymn is in memory of my dear sister in Christ, Alexis Wernsing, who died recently after a 40-year lifetime in which she bore physical disability with amazing cheerfulness and strong faith. I've had the sniffles the last few days, but at times when I catch myself complaining about it I am struck by the thought of the constant pain and weakness Alexis lived with every day of her life, when doing things I can do without a thought required total effort on her part. Her death is a sharp loss to the small congregation I belong to, but her freedom from the disability she experienced in this life, together with her inheritance in heaven, is a great gain to her. For the tune, I am going with DEDICATION, which I wrote in 1993 for another hymn.
Behold! The weak and the afflicted
Look to You, almighty Lord,
Trusting in Your healing word,
Wherein Your mercy is depicted
In the person of Your Son,
For all flesh the Stricken One.

Look down, O Lord, upon our blindness!
Shine into our haze and night
With the gospel’s healing light!
Our eyes of faith fix on Your kindness,
Waiting for the day we see
All as it was meant to be!

Give ear, O Lord, unto our crying!
Let Your voice our deaf ears reach;
Loose our tongues for faithful speech!
Keep us upon Your word relying,
Till we hear the signaled rout
And reply with ready shout!

Make haste, O Lord, to banish Satan,
Who delights in withered limb,
Failing organ, sullied skin!
The broken heal; the crooked straighten,
That when we have run our race
We may stand before Your face!

Help us to run and not grow weary,
Even should our road require
Double tolls and trouble dire!
Show us, when all seems vain and dreary,
Bracing gifts You left in store
When You passed this way before!

With Your pierced, risen body feed us,
And with Your shed blood refresh
Both our soul and feeble flesh!
At last to perfect wholeness lead us,
Raising us from peaceful rest,
In Your splendid image dressed!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

145. Hymn for the 10th Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle for this service is 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, a passage concerning spiritual gifts. The Gospel is Luke 19:41-48, Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and driving the merchants out of the temple. The tune I selected is FINNISH SONG from Suomen Koraalikirja, 1738, which interests me as a sort of major-key twin to the chorale DER AM KREUZ.
Howsoever you be gifted,
Fellow saints, be not deceived;
Some with kindred gifts were lifted
When dumb idols they believed,
Yet in helpless darkness drifted
Till the Spirit they received.

Oracles and tongues may flower
Though there be no Christian seed;
Only by the Spirit's power
Can we honor Christ indeed.
Therefore faith, at any hour,
Is our first and greatest need.

None can say, who has the Spirit,
That Christ Jesus is accursed,
Nor confess His name and fear it
Had He not confessed them first.
Other gifts we may inherit
Once on Him our hopes are nursed.

Though our gifts may greatly vary
God, who works in all, is one;
One is Jesus, born of Mary,
Though He also is God's Son.
Shall His members work contrary
To the body, on their own?

Gifts of grace like tongues and healing
May serve all, or may divide
Saint from saint with party feeling;
Better were they set aside!
Fix your eyes on Christ, so dealing
That His church be edified!

If you be uniquely gifted,
Fellow saints, be not puffed up!
Some God favors to be sifted,
Pouring pain into their cup.
By one grace we all are lifted;
On one living Bread we sup.

Let us glorify the Father
For His gifts of life and grace,
And the Son, our Lord and Brother,
Who gave all to save our race;
Nor neglect the Spirit - rather
Laud each Person in His place!

Nor let any be mistaken
What the Spirit's mission is:
Faith in Jesus to awaken,
Giving us of what is His,
Till with confidence unshaken
We cross over into bliss!

144. Hymn for the 9th Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle for this service is 1 Corinthians 10:6-13, the passage directly following the Epistle for Septuagesima. The Gospel is Luke 16:1-9, widely known as the Parable of the Unrighteous Steward. The tune is ST. ALBINUS by Henry J. Gauntlett, 1852.
When the stewards of God's word
At His bidding pledge remission,
Dare we doubt what we have heard
Or despise their sacred mission?
Lord, have mercy!

Though they be but sinful men,
Christ has called them for our blessing
To rebuke our sins, and then
Cover them beneath the dressing
Of God's mercy.

God's forgiveness they pronounce,
And as here so too in heaven
What in His name they announce
Is securely sealed and given:
Oh, what mercy!

What God speaks is always done,
Though through angel or apostle;
His name as the Holy One
Marks His promise with colossal
Truth and mercy.

Though His love they spend in haste,
As imprudent stewards acting,
God will not recall their waste
Nor rescind His word, detracting
From His mercy.

Sealed to us when Jesus died,
Borne to us in blood and sighing,
God's forgiveness is applied
By His mighty, never lying
Word of mercy.

Though they speak with lips unclean,
His called stewards speak with warrant
As though Christ Himself were seen,
Pouring out a drenching torrent
Of His mercy.

Jesus' risen breath we thank
For this promise, never broken!
We confide, as in a bank,
In His valid steward's spoken
Act of mercy.

We are thus in debt to those
Who commit God's pardon to us,
That to them He may disclose
Ample means of living through us
Heirs of mercy.

We have tasted such great love;
God forbid we should so harden
As to think ourselves above
Granting one another pardon,
Borrowed mercy!

Rather, let us more and more
Count it, Lord, our sweetest pleasure
One another to restore,
For we have no higher treasure
Than Your mercy!

Friday, October 16, 2015

143. Hymn for the 8th Sunday after Trinity

Again I'm skipping over a Sunday, since I wrote a hymn in 2007 that answers for the 7th Sunday after Trinity. As for the 8th ditto, the Epistle is Romans 8:12-17, the paragraph immediately preceding that of the 4th ditto. The Gospel is Matthew 7:15-23, near the end of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. I know of two tunes that could be used for this hymn: HEILGER GEIST, DU TRÖSTER MEIN, a 15th century German melody published in Bremen in 1633, and here placed above the following hymn; and ST. PHILIP by William H. Monk, 1823-89, below it.
Little children, be alert
Lest false guides your way pervert!
For the foe designs your hurt.

Clad as Jesus' little lambs,
They are hungry wolves; their shams
Tear the flock; their teaching damns.

You shall know them by their fruit,
Bad or good, as with the root;
Therefore, brethren, be astute!

No good comes if you imbibe
Teachings of that wicked tribe;
Only to sound words subscribe!

Even some who call Christ Lord
Shall on His day be abhorred;
Faithfulness He will reward.

So then are we, ransomed host,
Debtors to the Holy Ghost
For the gift we need the most:

Faith, by which He comes to dwell
In us, leading our steps well,
Changing us from sons of hell.

By His witness in our heart
We receive a second start
As God's children, set apart;

And if children, also heirs
With His Son, who gladly shares
Peace to soothe our daily cares.

Little lambs, your Lord is great;
Though in woe you walk and wait,
He will keep your footsteps straight.

Christ will make you truly wise,
Armored from the devil's lies,
Till you taste of Paradise.

Amen, Jesus! Quickly come,
Lest to wolves your flock succumb!
Bear us, Savior, safely home!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Kalahari Typing School for Men

The Kalahari Typing School for Men
by Alexander McCall Smith
Recommended Ages: 13+

In the fourth novel of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Mma Precious Ramotswe of Gaborone, Botswana works two paying detective cases. One is to help a successful man find and make amends to the people he wronged when he was a young scholarship student. The other is to satisfy the jealousy of a woman whose husband is cheating on her. But just as challenging, if not more so, are her personal conundrums, such as how to cope with an increasingly troubled foster son, helping her trusty assistant Mma Makutsi find romantic happiness, and staying in business while a new competitor, the Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency, is spreading the word that women are not cut out for the trade.

This is the installment when one of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's apprentice mechanics at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors gets religion in a Pentecostal church; when Mma Makutsi starts her own side business, only to have her head turned by a man who is not what he seems; and when the author himself seems to smile at his own main character out of a photo album shared by a real, live person who plays a minor recurring role in the series. Here the Scotland-based author gives us a clue as to where he mined these stories of Botswana manners, morals and minor mysteries.

Told with clarity and gentle humor, this story like others in its series presents a charming picture of an under-appreciated African country in recent times, peoples it with endearingly flawed characters, and challenges them with ethical dilemmas and emotionally explosive situations. That they come through all these with grace tells us something interesting, I think, about the character of their creator.

The audio-book read by Lisette Lecat was, as usual, a delight to the ears. As I write this I am already well into the next book in the sequence, The Full Cupboard of Life, which is followed by ten more. Its author has also published a three-book children's series featuring Harriet Bean, a five book ditto featuring an African boy named Akimbo, two Max and Maddy mysteries for young readers, ten or eleven Isabel Dalhousie mysteries, ten 44 Scotland Street novels, three Corduroy Mansions books, and four or five children's books featuring Precious Ramotswe, besides numerous other novels and several non-fiction titles including Who Invented Peanut Butter? and What W. H. Auden Can Do for You.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

142. Hymn for the 6th Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle for this service is Romans 6:3-11, in which Paul delves into the importance of baptism in the Christian's daily life. The Gospel is Matthew 5:20-26, roughly a paragraph from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The tune that stirred my creative juices was MEINE HOFFNUNG by Joachim Neander, 1680.
Whose work can surpass the measure
Of the scribes and Pharisees?
Who can merit heaven's treasure?
Who is there more pure than these?
Christ alone This has done,
All God's justice to appease.

Though we keep both jot and tittle,
Still our prideful hearts offend:
Pure at large, defiled in little,
By each faithless thought condemned.
Found in sin We would win
Flame and torment without end.

Yet Christ suffered and was buried
In the stead of sinful men;
After slaying death, He harried
Hell itself and rose again.
Now His bath Is our path
Out of sin and death's domain.

Baptized, we have died and risen,
Free to live as slaves of Christ;
His life raises us from prison
As His death paid all our price.
Thus set free, How shall we
Sell ourselves again to vice?

Slain and made alive by Jesus,
We now live, or rather He
Lives in us and more than frees us,
Slaves of death no more to be.
Ours He is; We are His,
Bound to serve Him joyfully.

Knowing this, we love each other,
Taking pattern by His love,
Making peace with any brother
Ere we treat with God above.
Thus God's grace We embrace,
And ourselves are signs thereof.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

141. Hymn for the 5th Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle for this service is 1 Peter 3:8-15, ending with the words "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts." The Gospel is Luke 5:1-11, the great catch of fish. The tune is WOHLAUF, DIE IHR HUNGRIG SEID, from a Bohemian Brethren hymnal of 1561.
Christ, whose pulpit was a boat
Full of strong men but empty of fish,
Dare we spurn the instruments You wish
Whereby Your aims to promote?

You said, "Launch out to the deep!"
Simon, perplexed, yet did as You bade.
Shall we, therefore, ever be dismayed
When faith requires us to leap?

You told them, "Let down your net!"
Tired and bemused, they did as You told,
Catching more fish than two boats could hold;
Can we this wonder forget?

Simon, kneeling, cried in dread:
"Go, Lord! Nor touch a sinner like me!"
You said, "Fear not; for you soon will be
Fishing for people instead!"

When our nets are empty, Lord,
When reason seeks more rational means,
Teach us by the pattern of these scenes
To trust Your powerful word!

You send us to every land
To baptize them, Your precepts to teach;
We need nothing more nor less to reach
All those engraved on Your hand.

Fill us, Lord, with holy zeal
That we may suffer well and be blessed;
Till we join You in victorious rest,
Set on our spirits Your seal!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

140. Hymn for the 4th Sunday after Trinity

I'm skipping Trinity 3 because I've already written a hymn on it. So on we go to Trinity 4, for which the Epistle is Romans 8:18-23, and the Gospel is Luke 6:36-42. The tune is HVOR SALIG ER DEN LILLE FLOK by Ludvig M. Lindeman, 1812-87.
Let all beware who seek to judge
And God's redeemed condemn;
Whom Christ-like mercy will not budge,
Who will not pardon them!
Beware the pit! For such blind guides
Know not what love in justice hides;
With every flyspeck they begrudge,
They lose the choicest gem!

As you would be forgiv'n, let go;
Give as you would receive:
Let your abundance overflow,
Your neighbor's need relieve!
Before his eye-mote you decry,
First take the rooftree from your eye,
That you may clearly see, and so
His healing may achieve!

Take counsel not in outward sight,
But from the inmost part;
Leave judgment to the Lord of light,
Who sees into the heart!
Should sin a brother’s heart turn hard,
Let him from fellowship be barred;
But hope that God may set him right
And penitence impart!

When they whom Christ has called proclaim
The judgment of the Lord,
They bind and loose in Jesus' name
As stewards of His word.
Rejoice when sinners mercy find!
For were God's justice not so kind,
You would be subject to the same
Dry vintage, fiercely poured.

Judge rightly by the word of God,
If you must judge at all:
Keep it, your shepherd's staff and rod,
Your rock and sheltering wall!
For now the world awaits with groans
Our revelation as God's sons,
When peace at last shall sound abroad
From Jesus' judgment hall.

Morality for Beautiful Girls

Morality for Beautiful Girls
by Alexander McCall Smith
Recommended Ages: 13+

In the third book about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency of Gaborone, Botswana, Africa, Mma Precious Ramotswe's highly capable secretary gets her second promotion. First Mma Makutsi rose to Assistant Detective. And now that the agency's offices are to be consolidated with those of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, while its proprietor and Mma Ramotswe's fiance Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is temporarily indisposed, she has also become Acting Manager of the garage.

Mma Makutsi quickly brings order to a business struggling under the idleness of its two frivolous young apprentices. The agency, meanwhile, carries on with its succession of low-key cases. Mma Ramotswe does an African impression of Miss Marple, staying at the family farm of a government man who thinks his sister-in-law is plotting to poison his brother. Mma Makutsi helps a fashion maven choose the most deserving winner of the Miss Beauty and Integrity contest. And while Mma Potokwane, matron of the Botswana Orphan Farm, looks after Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni during his course of antidepressants (don't ask), the possibility niggles at all of them that one of her young charges may have been a wild boy raised by lions.

As this series unfolds, it becomes increasingly apparent that it is not a set of murder mysteries or crime novels. The title of this book holds a hint as to what kind of stories are in it. Besides exploring the values of Africa at a tipping point between the traditional and all that is modern, it also provides deep reading of the character's hearts and a loving, lyrical depiction of the country next door to where its Scotland-based author was brought up. The scene when Mma Ramotse wakes up early at her client's family farm, basking in the distilled beauty of the land just before the sun rises and coarsens everything, is one of several passages of understated beauty conveyed with an exquisite economy of language. This is just one of many possible examples I have spotted, so far in this series, of what another reviewer (quoted on the cover of the next book in the series) described as "art concealing art." It is, I imagine, the perfect emblem of a dry and sparsely populated country whose natural beauty must, at its best, seem understated.

Like the books before it, I enjoyed hearing this one read on audio CD by Lisette Lecat, an international actress of African birth whose voice has a vast range not only of pitch and dialect but also of character and expression. I have heard few female audio-book readers who can deliver male dialogue as convincingly as she can, and even fewer male readers who can cross that line as well from the other direction. But I am especially in love with the voice she reserves for Mma Ramotswe, the kind of voice that makes me think a "traditionally-built" Botswanan woman might just be my type. After coming to the end of this book, I wasted no time before visiting the local library and checking out the fourth book in the series, The Kalahari Typing School for Men.

Friday, October 9, 2015

139. Hymn for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity

This is based on the Epistle, 1 John 3:13-24, and the Gospel, Luke 14:16-24. A hideous catastrophe befell me while I was writing this. I had written five stanzas to my own satisfaction, but when I went to save the document Word glitched out, said either the file was corrupt or there was a permission error, and deleted it - a document I had been working on since the first of the year. I was able to recover the document from a backup copy, and about two and three-quarters of the stanzas I had written were fortunately stored on the clipboard, and by memory I was able to recover the rest of stanzas 3 and 4; but rewriting stanza 5 turned out to be far harder than writing it in the first place. Here is the outcome, for what it's worth; the tune is LIEBSTER IMMANUEL, from a Leipzig hymnal of 1675.
Lord, when You call us to feast at Your table,
Shall we such honor and pleasure despise?
We of ourselves are unworthy, unable,
Unjust to others, unclean in Your eyes.

Yet You persist in Your kind invitation,
Offering pardon and life to the least;
Shall wealth or duty or other relation
Keep us from tasting Your heavenly feast?

Dear Lord! Forbid that, Your summons refusing,
We tempt Your word to withdraw from this place!
Soften our hearts lest, Your mercy refusing,
We close the door on our moment of grace!

Rather, Lord, choose us again, the forsaken,
Crippled and blind, the cast down and cast out!
As You have loved us, among us awaken
Love of each other, unfettered by doubt!

Grant, dearest Savior, that all who address You
May know the truth and in true love abide!
Cause us with confident hearts to confess You,
Joyfully trusting in Christ crucified!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

138. Hymn for the 1st Sunday after Trinity

Now that I've filled in all the Sundays of the "festival half" of the church year in my "hymns for every Sunday of the church year" project, it's time to move on to Ordinary Time. Depending on the date of Easter, there may be between 22 and 27 Sundays after Trinity in any church year, Trinity Sunday being one week after Pentecost. The nomenclature of Sundays after Trinity is historically Lutheran, while Catholics and Protestants follow other naming systems based on Sundays after Pentecost or Sundays of Ordinary Time in which, confusingly, the weeks have different numbers. Then there is the most recent wave of liturgical reforms, which dispense with propers filed under Such-and-such Sunday after Whatnot in favor of a numbered list of propers, each to be observed when Sunday falls within a given range of dates.

I think it's a bad idea for Lutherans to go along with this because, among other reasons, it distances us from the counsel of Dr. Martin Luther, whose books of House and Church Postils provide excellent examples of how to preach on the lessons for each Sunday after Trinity and the rest of the church year. I consulted his Church Postil sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity before writing this hymn, and I believe I profited by it. The Epistle for this mass is 1 John 4:16-21 beginning with the words "God is love." The Gospel is Luke 16:19-31, Jesus' account (not exactly a parable) of the rich man and Lazarus. The tune is HEUT SINGT DIE LIEBE CHRISTENHEIT, Nürnberg, c. 1555.
Lord Jesus, heal our scaly eyes
To see beyond the world's disguise,
Lest we take curse for blessing!
Your judgment comes with swift surprise;
Rich hypocrites You will despise,
The faithful poor caressing.

You tell of one who, lacking love,
Thought on his wealth, not things above,
Each day in purple dressing;
While Lazarus, too sick to move,
Lay starving, yet did not reprove,
Instead God's grace confessing.

Death summoned both men just the same;
The one to Abram's bosom came,
But Hades claimed the other.
The rich man, writhing in his flame,
Begged that the beggar go proclaim
Grim warning to his brothers.

But Abram said: They have God's word;
Let Moses and the seers be heard!
Not so, the rich man pleaded,
If one should came back from the dead!
If they believe not, Abram said,
His word were no more heeded.

Wise Savior, who arose indeed,
Once slain for every sinner's need,
Help us by faith receive you!
By grace forgive our worldly greed;
Plant in us mercy's fruitful seed,
And heal the faults that grieve you!

And if perhaps affliction comes -
The wounds, the dogs, the paltry crumbs -
With faithful hope sustain us!
Your grace the deepest Hades plumbs;
Permit then, Christ, as grace becomes,
The cross we need to train us!

Till then, let us in You abide,
O Love, the whole creation wide;
And likewise live within us!
Draw us at last unto Your side
When You stand as the Lamb who died
And rose again to win us!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

137. Septuagesima Hymn

The historic Lutheran mass for the third-last Sunday before Ash Wednesday centers on the Epistle from 1 Corinthians 9:24 to 10:5 and the Gospel from the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16. Here is my attempt to combine the two lessons into a single argument, set to a 19th century adaptation of the 10th century plainchant tune REX CHRISTE, FACTOR OMNIUM.
Dear Christians, be not unaware:
Both Jews and Gentiles have a share
In Jesus’ saving work and vow
From Moses’ exodus till now.

For even then the pilgrim Jew
Received the selfsame Christ as you:
In cloud and sea baptized and led,
They ate the living, heav’nly Bread.

Be careful, brethren, what you think!
The Rock that gave refreshing drink
And followed Moses’ smiting rod
Was also Christ, the Lamb of God.

Despite man’s evil, envious eye,
For all men’s good He dared to die.
Each whom He calls receives as one
The wages due God’s holy Son.

Beloved, run your race with eyes
Fixed on this everlasting prize!
Let none who share this hope, through pride
At last be lost, disqualified!

Learn what God’s Law demands of you;
Yet know Christ’s promises are true!
Then, clinging to His word of grace,
You too will see His beaming face.

136. Transfiguration Hymn

I am daunted by the task to compose an original hymn for the Transfiguration of Our Lord, when there are already several excellent ones, each approaching the story from a different but spiritually useful angle. The story of Jesus' transfiguration is recorded in Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36 and briefly with interpretive comments in 2 Peter 1:16-21, which happens to be the Epistle for the mass of the Transfiguration. The Gospel thereof is Matthew's account. The tune is the chorale MEIN SCHÖPFER, STEH MIR BEI by Franz H. Meyer, 1740.
Lord, how Your visage shone
On Peter, James and John!
For them alone the sight
Of garments white as light!
For them dead saints appearing,
The Father's dread voice speaking,
Till at the bright cloud's breaking
Your word roused them from fearing
To gaze with comprehension slight
On You, O Christ, alone!

Lord, as You left that peak
You warned them not to speak
Of features like the sun
Until Your course was run.
For You yet loomed the shaming,
The ruler's scourge and mocking,
The tree of anguish shocking,
But one blind heathen naming
The Son of God, O Christ, in One
So wretched, low and weak!

Lord Christ, our poor eyes spare
Such glimpses all too fair!
Give us instead as food
Your stricken flesh and blood!
For us Your promise certain
Is armor from sin's sallies,
Light on our road's dark valleys,
And hope beyond death's curtain.
To bear Your cross will be our good
Till we Your glory share!
The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord is a funny thing. In most of Christendom, outside Lutheranism and a few other Protestant bodies, it is celebrated on Aug. 6 or, in communities too conservative for the Gregorian calendar, Aug. 19. In some Scandinavian Lutheran bodies it is observed on the 7th Sunday after Trinity, a.k.a. 8th Sunday after Pentecost. Most Lutherans observe Transfiguration on the last Sunday after Epiphany, but among them those who follow the revised lectionary of the period influenced by Vatican Council II consider that to be the Sunday immediately before Ash Wednesday, formerly known as Quinquagesima. But in the increasingly narrow sliver of liturgical tradition in which I feel most at home, the Pre-Lenten "Gesima" Sundays still stand as a buffer between the Epiphany season and Lent; so Transfiguration is three weeks earlier on the Sunday before Septuagesima - except when there is only one Sunday after Epiphany, which can happen when Easter falls between March 22 and 24. So this hymn, understand, is intended for that interpretation of Transfiguration Sunday within a projected series of hymns for every Sunday of the church year. Perhaps ironically, it's the only scenario that includes the (slight) possibility of a year without Transfiguration.