Song for Rehearsal

Sanctuary-Choir-800x293A poem for the members of the Sanctuary Choir of Manassas Baptist Church, who have been through the valley a number of times, but who still keep singing.

Psalm 95:2: Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

It’s all so familiar

These notes on the page

The time (early evening)

The place, a room with chairs

Arranged in careful rows.

On one wall, a large “Friendship Quilt”

Hangs, with names of quilters long gone

Worked into the fabric.

In the front, a bulletin board

Displays of children and

Choir members past and present, (some gone on),

Next to a calendar

Where we record our projected absences.

On other walls,

Inspirational posters:

“I will sing to the Lord,”

“Make time for quiet moments,” and

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for

And certain of what we do not see.”

Our director holds forth

Behind her large metal stand to

Implore, cajole and persuade her charges

Through humor and other means,

To sit up straight, to pay attention to vowels

And for heaven’s sake, to breathe in the right places

Or carry over for measure after measure

Even if we run the risk of turning blue

And falling on the floor

For lack of oxygen to our brains.

We are a variegated collection of believers

Defined by personality, age, occupation,

Temperament and ability.

From where we sit, absent seasonal decoration,

It could be any month, any year, any weather, any point

In our shared history,

And so, much is the same.

In response, we lean toward our differences,

At the same time pressing on to

A desired unity of sound

And a purity of purpose,

We follow a transient thread,

Straining against the object nature

Of this world,

And sometimes,

Sometimes we glimpse

A purity of light and

Clarity of sound,

Part of the eternal nature

We seek in this world and the next.

We do so here and now in this space

If only we have eyes to see

And ears to hear

That which is neither

Here nor there.

But somewhere

In between.


Dan Verner

February 17, 2016


Unclaimed Blessings


Hands on Piano Keyboard

Ephesians 5:20: Give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at something for months or years and missed something that, once you saw it was so obvious that you wondered how you didn’t see it for that long. I once owned a S-10 pickup and didn’t realize for several years that it had a third door. I also didn’t know it had a burglar alarm until I set it off by accident one evening. And I didn’t see the arrow in the FedEx logo or the “31” in the Baskin-Robbins logo until someone pointed both of them out to me. We try to be observant and aware of our environment, but we miss out on important things sometimes.

Every week for decades, I have experienced a blessing which I never paid too much attention to, and it comes when Becky practices the music for the next day’s worship service. I’m usually upstairs when she’s in the piano studio downstairs, and I hear everything she plays quite clearly. She practices piece by composers we’re all familiar with—Joseph Martin, Mark Hayes, Dan Forrest, Handel, Mozart, Bach, Jules Massenet, Jean-Joseph Mouret, Beethoven, Franck, and the list goes on.

Now, Becky says she’s practicing, and occasionally she will stop and go back over a difficult passage, but for the most part the music sounds very close to what she plays the next day. It’s a private concert and a preview of the music that has touched and moved people in church and elsewhere for years. And only I and Nacho the cat hear it. It is indeed a blessing and until recently, I missed seeing that blessing. I am thankful to God for Becky, for her talents and for her willingness to use her gifts to bless so many. May each of us go and do likewise. Amen.

The Eye of the Cat

Lion and Tiger

1 Peter 3:12: For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought much about being a predator. We are, you know, and while I realize that most of us don’t run down our prey, rip it to shreds with our claws and devour the meat raw (although I’ve know some middle schoolers who are perfectly capable to doing everything on that list), we are still, in a sense, predators.

A friend of mine likes to walk in the woods behind her house. One day she came across five deer, four does and a buck who of course scented rather than saw her (since deer are legally blind during the daytime) before she saw them. The deer alerted and prepared to dash off, but my friend knew that if she looked directly at them, they would run since humans have predator eyes. She covered her eyes with her hand and peeked through her fingers. The deer stayed where they were for a few minutes and then calmly walked off. In their minds, she did not present a threat although she could have had a rifle or a bow and arrow. But she didn’t, and she knew how not to startle the little herd.

Like everyone else, I take my predator nature with me, including to the gym. As I walk in, I’m looking for cars of people I know to see who might be there. Like any number of animals, I want to identify other friendly creatures. I walk in, identify myself as part of the herd of exercisers with my smart phone, and make my way to the locker room, scanning the room not only for what the military calls “friendlies,” but also for threats. There aren’t too many threats at L. A. Fitness beyond my own weight, but I scan the room nonetheless. It’s instinctive.

If I see someone I know, we talk to each other and so recognize our relationship like a cat running down the steps to greet her owner when “her” person comes home. Once I’ve changed into my workout clothes, I spend ten minutes on the treadmill and, except for the furry coat and blinding speed, I run like a big cat. Unlike the cat, I don’t run for food, but to try to take off the results of too much food. As I exercise, I’m constantly aware of people around me, although they are all members of my tribe. This was brought home to me last week when I stopped at the watering hole (aka the drinking fountain) to fill my water bottle. Someone had left seven cents in change on top of the fountain’s casing. I didn’t take the money not only because I’m honest, but also because it might belong to someone I know, someone who is part of this clan of exercisers. If I saw the same change on a sidewalk or in a parking lot, I’d take it with hesitation. I don’t know who dropped it, so I don’t hesitate to take it. It could very well be one of my daughters who dropped it and I would be stealing from them, but I don’t know that unless they tell me that they dropped seven cents at L. A. Fitness, and I doubt they would bother to do that. If they did, I’d give it back to them, again just not out of honesty, but because we are related.

So, we are predators, and we will do anything to protect our herd, group, clan, organization, or family to insure that we’ll continue to survive and lead useful, productive, happy lives and leave a legacy of children or art of whatever else we have been about.

As Bette Midler sang in “From a Distance,” “God is watching us,” but the God who created us and made heaven and earth is not looking down on his creation with the eyes of a predator. No, God looks on us as children with eyes of the most incredible love that anyone has ever experienced.  And God calls us to own our human nature, to realize that we do not have to act on these primitive impulses, and instead live to share God’s love by showing love, spreading joy, practicing peace, demonstrating patience, fostering kindness, sharing goodness, proving faithful, displaying gentleness and maintaining self-control.

We are indeed wonderfully and awesomely made, but we need grace, love and peace from God to overcome our animal nature and to grow into the full likeness of Christ. And may this be so for each of us. Amen.

Taking the Curve

Hands on Cessna Controls

I don’t know if you are fond of shortcuts or not. I know I am—I think it’s fun to figure out back ways and go down side streets in the hope of saving a little time or seeing something different. Of course, these detours don’t always work out, but that’s another story for another time.

There are all kinds of shortcuts—in cooking, in working with wood, in gardening—almost anything can be done more quickly or more efficiently or faster if you want to. Of course, you can take your time and do things slowly and be all old school about it. It’s entirely up to you, and I won’t say a thing if you do.

One example of taking a curve came when I went with former choir member Lee Dearmond on a Pilots for Christ mission to Fort Wayne. Lee was International President of the organization at the time, and we were to meet a couple of members from Minneapolis who were bringing a boy and his mother from the Mayo Clinic in that city. Going out, Lee let me take over the controls after about an hour. I kept on course by following the straight green line on the Cessna’s GPS. Lee told me to keep it right side up, which gave me a start at first. Then I remembered that light aircraft are extremely stable, which meant I would have had to have tried really hard to flip the airplane. I flew on for an hour while Lee dozed. As a result of this stint at the controls, I tell people I have one hour as “Pilot in Command,” in capital letters. Impressive, I know.

We came to a waypoint where the GPS indicated that I should make a 90 degree left turn. I was slavishly following the green line and approaching the turn when Lee woke up. “Turn,” he said.

I thought, Why? I’m not supposed to turn yet. GPS

“Turn now,” Lee said, a little more emphatically.

I kept going. Finally, he put his hands on the controls. “I have the airplane.”

Now, FAA regs stipulate that if a real pilot in command says, “I have the airplane,” whatever imposter happens to be flying that airplane at that time must relinquish control immediately. If I had not, I would have been subject to civil and criminal penalties, and Mr. Lee, as we called him, wouldn’t have let me sing with him in choir any more. So, I took my hands off the yoke and mumbled, “You have the airplane.”

Once Mr. Lee had taken over, he put the Cessna into a sharp left bank, turning inside the GPS track and cutting off the corner of our course. I saw what he was doing: by not following the track, he saved time, money and expensive aviation fuel by taking the curve.

We got to Fort Wayne early since Lee flew most of the way. If I had continued flying, we might still be up there. Or not.

The spiritual implication of this episode is, I think, clear. Often we set ourselves on a course that we have determined and nothing can keep us from finishing that track no matter what. We will have our way, even if it is not the best for us or anyone else. But God sees what we’re doing, steps in, says, “I have the airplane,” and guides us back onto the right path. And this happens time after time after time until we realize that God really does know what is best for us, that we are fallible human beings and that we need to follow God’s leading, not just once but for all time through eternity. Praise God for a plan that takes the curve and leads us to a better place.