"What is essential in the work of art is that it should rise far above the realm of personal life and speak from the spirit and heart..." C.G.Jung

Monday, March 8, 2010

Blogging a Christian Message

"Where Two or Three Are Gathered Together"
A message presented to Louisa Christian Church, Louisa, Virginia
By C. Page Highfill 

Recently the lyrics I wrote for a church hymn about 10 years ago were selected by my sister’s church to serve as their Choral Introit for the beginning of their worship services. Soon after that invitation, the church also invited me to speak one Sunday morning and unfold some of the background motivations and purposes behind the lyrics. I gladly did. I am posting the text to that message here, because I believe the true story behind the lyrics is the greater significance, and it also illustrates a genuine example of Heart and Spirit working together through others, for others. That’s what this Blog is about. Here is the message.

Good morning. It’s a real pleasure to finally be here today – after so many snow storms and postponements. I’m sorry I missed your Youth Sunday. You know, we’ve had so many snow storms, that I had another birthday. And now I’m too old to be a Youth anyway. Not really – Jesus said. And, we’ll talk more about that later. I’m here today to tell you the story behind and the Biblical influence on your new Choral Introit, the words of which God guided me to write about 10 years ago for a special music event honoring my mother and her music ministry.

During the sunset years of my mother’s life, she lived at Imperial Plaza, an assisted living facility in Richmond, Virginia. My wife Kate and I would pick mom up each Sunday morning and take her to First Baptist Church. She was always dressed so nicely, because my two sisters, Pat and Betty Jean would visit her during the week and select her dress for Sunday, leaving a note pinned to it in the closet so that the nurses’ aide could identify that “Dress for Sunday.”

On our way to church, mom would so often tell Kate and I of the joys she had that week playing her piano in the dining room, after dinner for the residents. And they all would sing hymns together. I learned later that actually we have very little control over the presence of Joy. We can’t buy it, or demand it, or create it ourselves. Joy is the result of Jesus’ presence among us. Or as my sister Betty Jean reminded me, J-O-Y is the type of JOY that Jesus Offers You.

Well, when mom played her favorite hymns at dinner, she and her resident friends often continued to sing through dessert and into the cleanup phase and beyond. Jesus must have been there. Because that’s the joy my mom was experiencing. And she loved it. Her resident friends loved it too. Often as Kate and I walked down mom’s hallways to our car, going to church, residents would stop mom, look into her eyes and ask if she would be playing the piano tonight. Mom always answered, “Yes, God willing.” There was a very special relationship among residents and mom’s music.

During the Christmas season of 1999, Pat and Betty Jean along with my brother, Jerry, came up with a great idea to host a special sing along gathering at Mom’s place for her and her resident friends, staff and outside guests. Mom, Pat, Betty Jean and Charlene a cousin, could all play the piano during the sing along. They could also sing with everyone else there, and Jerry, could also sing a solo. It was to be a very special music event to be held just after the Christmas season. Weeks before the event, I wondered what I could do to help. I immediately knew that one way to help was for me NOT to sing. My brother and sisters agreed.

But maybe I could help in another way. I prayed about it and searched the Bible for God’s will for me. Then, I came across Matthew 18. And that’s where I found the words I was looking for. As our scripture today I would like to read you some of those words from Matthew 18 (NKJV)

1 “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”

You see here Jesus telling us to become as a child. Here in Matthew 18 Jesus begins a fourth discourse talking mainly to his disciples about relationships….relationships in the church, and in the Kingdom of heaven. And he is telling us too who will have the highest rank in heaven -- children, or more specifically the humble pure spirit of a child.
Now in verse 10…

10 “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
The status in heaven may then be the INVERSE of our worldly status. For surely the humble spirit of a child is not the highest worldly status, is it? Yet the scriptures tell us; when we embrace the weak, we embrace Christ.
(Verses 18-19 From Eugene Peterson’s - The Message) 18-19"Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action.”

This Message continues into the posts below.

Blogging a Christian Message, continued

(NKJV) 20 “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Yes, they’re the words I was looking for. And the context is relationships. That’s’ what my mom was doing through her music – nurturing relationships between her resident friends and Jesus, who then joined them in their midst. That’s why Joy was there too. Well so, how could I bring this all together in some way to support mom and maybe even add to her ministry?

Later, God nudged me – to write this down and develop new words for one of mom’s favorite hymns, words which would connect parts of Matthew 18 and what mom and her friends were doing. Mom and I talked about it. Then she and I made a list of her favorite hymns. I went through those and picked "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" for its well-known music. The tune is very familiar to many people and it can be sung largely from memory.

So, I began composing new hymn lyrics, springing from Matthew 18. That 20th verse says exactly what I saw happening at Mom’s dinner hymn sings. "For where two of three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

As I began writing, I imagined – what mom may have been thinking as a “wish-message” to those in the dining room; I think it was, "Come join in." So, that became the message of the first stanza.

1 - Come and join us all to sing now,
Help our spirits chase the gloom,
Sweep away our cares with praises,
And our joys will fill this room.
And the chorus then tells us why.

And the chorus then tells us why.

For where two or three are gathered,
Together in His name,
He is in the midst among them,
Filling hearts with love's proclaim.

The second wish-message I sensed was, "We are all one big family here." So that thought became the 2nd stanza.

2 - We are all like one big family,
Leaning on each others’ days,
With a Precious time to offer,
All our voices to God's praise.

Then the third wish-message I sensed was, "Now, let's celebrate His presence." So became the third stanza.

3 - Celebrate His presence here now;
See that smile across my face.
Yes the grin is deep from within,
flowing from His loving Grace.

Well, mom played that hymn during that special sing-along event – while about 50 or so of us sang the words with her. (I sang quietly) She also played it many times at her dinner concerts – up until her death. Then, I thought these new lyrics would surely retire too, as her theme-song to gather her friends together and sing praises to the ever-present Lord. And, as far as I know, the words were silent for many years.
This Message concludes in the next post below.

Blogging a Christian Message, concludes

Then, as you might imagine, when I received Pat’s e-mail asking me about the possibility of using the first stanza and chorus of mom’s hymn as your Choral Introit here at Louisa Christian Church for your worship services, I was thrilled for mom and everyone who worked so hard to put together that special sing-along for Mom. And, certainly I continue to be thrilled over the lyrics being activated again; and I don’t think I have ever heard it sung more beautifully than we all heard it today.

I think mom was listening too. And I think another lesson from Matthew 18 is evidenced in this next step for mom’s hymn. For who would have thought that the years of silence from this little hymn, since mom’s death would now be graced with new life, a new relationship and hopefully new meaning for you and others? Thanks be to God.

Now, as we prepare to conclude this service today, might we carry with us the realization of the relationships Jesus was talking about in Matthew 18? Remember the child’s humble spirit is the highest rank in the kingdom of heaven. Might we be reminded too that every time we acknowledge our faith in Jesus’ name and respond (even silently) to other Christians in a group, we launch that powerful “togetherness in his name” relationship with Jesus in our midst? Think about JOY there.

Remember when the early Christians did that? Standing among groups in town, some of them would get a stick and doodle in the sand. Then, one by one some of them would draw a fish in the sand? You’ve seen the Christian fish on the bumpers of cars, and in Christian literature? Ever wonder what that symbol means? That fish in the sand drawing was their secret signal to other Christians in the crowd, “I am a believer.” Others in the crowd including Roman spies did not know the meaning of the fish drawing. Now, you know what happens when two or three of them are gathered together, and they draw that fish in the sand? JOY.

Now, we can do that too. We can acknowledge this – even in a grocery store… just by recognizing a couple of other Christians across the aisle – maybe members of this church and we beam our faith to them through a smile and maybe a simple nod…our symbol – acknowledging, “Yes, I am a believer too, and I love the Lord.” Then, even before we can send out a prayer invitation for the Lord to join us – he’s already there in our midst. We can LIVE his presence by example among others… as we,

Celebrate His presence here now;
See that smile across my face.
Yes the grin is deep from within,
flowing from His loving Grace.

Celebrating His presence – can be done among us without saying a word, can’t it? I love that little reference you have on your church website which says, “Preach the Gospel at all times…and when necessary,
use words.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


"You and I have been offered an unique observation point." So begins "Wellsprings," a brief essay from my book, Thin Places and Five Clues. Wellsprings was mentioned by a recent reader as being particularly noteworthy for him. It is included in this blog post as a metaphorical plea for us to work together for local, regional, national and world peace.
"You and I have been offered an unique observation point. From it we can see groups of people gathered around dozens of hand-dug wells, peering down the open excavations, straining to get a glimpse of the Great Overflow Dynamic, as it is called. It is known as the river of life. Deep below -- running through all of the wells and connecting each invisibly with a dynamic energy, the juncture of which is usually missed by the excavators above.

Each of the well sites has a sign designating its claim to the Dynamic. Some hold the sign high, proudly exclaiming the superior location of its site and thus the best access. Others use their sign as a shovel to scrape away the loose soil from around the opening. Others use the sign only to confirm their location.

We observe fights breaking out at some of the sites, people pushing and shoving each other, throwing stones towards other well sites which are believed inferior and a threat to the source Dynamic. Others strain to get into a better position near the deep void, to peer below - often loosening the soil and causing clumps and rocks to fall into the well -- splashing into the pure water below, and enraging the crowds into accusations and disciplines.

But, the pollution, as they shout at each other, is not realized to extend to all of the wells since they are all served by the same great source. Those at adjoining wells look over in disdain while lulling in comfort about the purity of their well. While the splashes of debris are not recognized as a temporary and natural process the river uses in its own dynamics.

There is an endless array of sites stretching out beyond us, some with large groups, some with just a few huddled together peering down into the shaft. Some with one person. Some sites are vacant...perhaps abandoned. And, some which apparently are only drawn to the crowds are clustered around dirt only. No well. Just a staked claim, in dirt, for they see only holes at the other sites and not the source below. They see only dirt and empty holes. Yet the Great Overflow Dynamic energy still mingles below.

Murmurings abound, mostly honoring access points to the Great Overflow Dynamic. It has become symbolized among those gathered. Some refer to it as G.O.D. Others as simply GOD. Others portray it as the Great Spirit. The site signs are raised high in celebration as the groups cheer around some internal signal. One sign reads Jewish. Another Presbyterian. Independent Thinker. Buddhist. Islam. And on and on.

Yet, we can sense from our observation point that each expression is veritably sacred at its core. Not because of the fashion of their apertures in the earth. Nor because of their signs nor their proclamations, which often are against each other. Their loving sacredness emanates from each, in their own way, craving to tap the fringes, the hemline, the small bits of seemingly imperceptible and imponderable vapors of the Great Dynamic through their own crude wells. Our own wells. Pinholes in the vast infinite cosmic sea of GOD."

Copyright (c) 2009 C. Page Highfill, all rights reserved

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Through the Gate

The other day I received an e-mail from Don, a college classmate of mine who had just finished reading my book on Thin Places. He had some good comments including the mention that his wife had obtained six additional copies of the book to give to friends. Wow! Thanks. But it was his ending p.s. which really caught my attention. I have always admired Don's special talents. Even our professors saw that specialness, and so often gave him a better grade on communicating certain projects than the rest of us. Maybe we still got better grades than we deserved. But my friend Don always spoke with that certain authority of genuineness that is in itself a source of learning for the rest of us. He still does.

At the end of his comments, he noted two pieces of my writing in the book which really jumped out at him. One was a summary I had made of a poem I had written and included in the book describing my Thin Place experience at Kingsmill, Virginia, a stone's throw from where this Country was born. The other piece was an essay I included at the end of the book entitled "Wellsprings."

His thoughts have become an outline for this and the next blog post here. Below is the poem, then the summary, both from my book, "Thin Places and Five Clues in Their Architecture." My next post here will be "Wellsprings." Thanks Don.
Stale leaves crackled
against the rusty old gate
hung heavy on thick hinges
spiked deep in stubborn piers
near Jamestown, Virginia
hushed in off-season quiet
under a November dawn.

Its iron bars still gate tough,
with rods and hard welds
fixed like an opaque now, while
sensual spaces between bars
pave transparent avenues,
where dreams and time flirt
with the mooring river beyond,
among whispering ruffles, which
tickle tree roots along the shore.

And there, mingled in the mist
guarding its river secrets,
stands the veiled outline of a sailor
silhouetted below the yellow sky
staring across the river slick
at a small ship anchored in the fog
freighted with a handful of seeds,
navigated by gauges of passion,
fueled by winds yet forgotten.

He then leaned to the craft,
hollowed hands at his mouth
and megaphoned a discovery
out to tuned ears on board,
while I stood there mute, peering
through the gate's cold grid,
stretching against today's bind.

"Bring the others!" He shouted
joyfully in English tone with
unquestionable authority,
lofted out at the shadowing ship,
berthed just off shore, and
a few hundred years away.

"And the tools,"
he hollered again, loudly,
bellowing - "This is the place!”

And so it was, soon to be,
when a grandson, now long dead
might have built this 2-way gate,
to divide and separate,
yet open a glimpse of history,
this place to birth a destiny
right here -- through the gate.

We are all a part of a gate to potential Thin Places for others, aren't we?  Thus, we encourage others to look not "at" us for all they will see is rust, broken pieces, bent hinges and other examples of the opaque now.  We hope instead that we may inspire others to see the spaces between the bars, the moments when a light shines through us, to illuminate the transparency of the Cosmic Truth, and His fingerprints all around and through us.

Copyright (C) C. Page Highfill, all rights reserved