25 August, 2007

Contemplation: Harolds, Swans, & Sinos

Baton Rouge, LA -- As a very small child, I did not know what a sino was. I don’t remember being overly concerned because the Sunday School teacher and my mom seemed to say it with such confidence that a discussion of the word would probably just take time away from more important things like playing blocks or puzzles. So, I just kept right on singing. I guess I was around 8 or 9 when I finally realized that Jesus loved me and this I know as opposed to Jesus loves me this sino.

As a married adult with no kids, I was more knowledgeable of words. But in my early 20’s I still lacked those organizational skills which would prevent me from scheduling two simultaneous activities, each requiring a long evening’s energy. Such time ignorance also hindered my urgency to ask why the choir was singing “Make a Swan.” I did eventually ask my Sunday School teacher, a member of the choir, what they were singing. I discovered the song was actually Make us One. I found it hilarious and made the mistake of telling him my error, which he told to a couple of other members. We knew we should never look in each other’s direction during that song.

Totally separate from preparing today’s article (which I began formulating on Monday morning) one of my kid’s was discussing a history test during our family’s Tuesday morning breakfast. Specifically she asked about the word “heraldry.” I confidently explained that the word had at its root the word “herald” which meant “to proclaim” like Hark the Herald Angels Sing. (I must warn the reader here that, with my kids, I try to always speak confidently of history and word meanings and it’s up to them to check out if I’m wrong. But, that’s beside the point.) The angels were proclaiming or heralding the announcement of Jesus the Messiah’s birth. All four of my kids were shocked at the news that the angels were not all of the same name: Harold. Yet, they simultaneously seemed very relieved that the mystery had been solved.

The seeds of this article were actually planted on Monday morning when a positive and encouraging K-Love caller claimed to overhear her 5 year old singing, “I am a friend of God, He calls me Frank.” Before she could ask, her 8 year old spoke up and said, “No, it’s not Frank. It’s not Frank, it’s Fred. I am a friend of God, he calls me Fred.” I, at that moment, began to wonder. Does the truth of the literal words really matter?

Could it be that the feelings generated by the perceived words are really what counts? Since we all have stories like these, it began wondering if any of the old great revival preachers who have gone before us may have had similar experiences. Shockingly, much like the news revealed about Mother Teresa this week, I was able to successfully find a unique set of letters. After extensive searches through a private London library, I discovered a “lost” letter collection of C. H. Spurgeon. (The library find was “accidental” and was meant to just pass time after a canceled flight to Tibet.) These letters had been withheld from the collection sold in 1905 to William Jewell College. “They never made it on the S.S. Cuban,” said the private library curator who wished to remain anonymous.

At first, I was only able to find passages indicating struggles that Spurgeon had with his feelings. For example:

“If our salvation depended on actual faith or words, we’d be lost one day and saved another because our faith waivers from day to day and we never actually say the same words, nor should we engage in such vain repetition. Since we cannot know the exact words that display belief, we can be assured of the feelings. Salvation depends on feelings. We live by feelings. Even if those feelings are weak, they are still feelings. Weak feelings are better than no feelings at all. The spiritual element of feelings about God delight me. Feelings, sweet feelings. Be it ever so feeble, there’s nothing like feelings. I dread lest sloth or pride should overcome me and I should dishonor the gospel by neglecting feelings, deep feelings, and sin against God.”

I knew I was on the right track. I felt I was getting close. Then I found what I was looking for. Spurgeon wrote:

“I hope that you have enjoyed your visit with us last Tuesday evening. As we had discussed truth, I thought of earlier days and was immersed to the chin in remembrances. In particular, it charms me as I think of my error in concluding the words to be ‘bull-work’ rather than ‘bulwark’ in Luther’s hymn."

No doubt, Spurgeon was referring to Hedge’s recent English translation of Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God. In particular, he was amused at his own mis-hearing of the line, “a bulwark never failing.” Spurgeon went on to explain that, though he had the wrong words, the feeling within him was a positive one, so the actual words did not matter.

Through my contemplations and studies, I have learned a wonderful lesson. I now have a deeper appreciation for the ambiguity of truth. Regardless of the actual words used, my feelings and the all-encompassing role that feelings play in my life are the only truth I really have. My truth may be different than yours. It is comforting to believe, that whether I’m a “Friend” or a “Fred,” whether “I know” Jesus or “sino” Jesus, or whether the angels were “heralds” or “Harolds,” I am free to enjoy my truth-journey.


Andy Naselli said...

Here is another potential error that is much less forgiving: "The moonshine's full at His command" vs. "The moon shines full at His command" (from Isaac Watt's "I Sing the Mighty Power of God").

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh.... they never write 'em like I sing 'em!

Jacob Douvier said...

My friend's wife allegedly use to sing, "Come Thou Font," prompting my friend to expand the song to
"Come Thou font of Times New Roman," and the rest escapes me.

Alice C. said...

When my mom was a little girl she thought the line in "He Leadeth Me" was "His faithful flower I would be..." That's kind of a nice picture, isn't it--even nature being faithful?

Oh yeah, and when I was little I thought Shirley Goodness and her friend Mercy were following me around--all the days, all the days of my life. No joke. I finally figured it out when my older siblings teased me mercilessly about it.

Tom Chantry said...

Have you ever heard of Gladly, the cross-eyed bear?

Jeff Voegtlin said...

Lead on! O kinky turtle.

Anonymous said...

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Lori said...

I might be that woman who sang "Come Thou Font."
My husband expanded it to "Come thou font of New Times Roman, size 12 and double-spaced..."

Aaron Pelly said...

I don't recall hearing of "Gladly, the cross-eyed bear," but my dad did tell me that in seminary they sang about "the constipated cross-eyed bear."

JamesR said...

We actually do have a cross-eyed bear named "Gladly"!

I recall sending my brother a birthday card that had some hymn parodies. "Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah ... I forgot where I parked my car."

My favorite is "I'm screaming at a white sheepdog" (I'm dreaming of a white Christmas) - thanks to Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Companion bunch.

Joseph said...

Reminds me of my friend Andy. You know, Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, and he tells me I am his own.

Joseph said...

Jeff V.--

Still laughing about the 'kinky turtle.' That's funny right there.