Saturday, May 19, 2007

"Singing with Devotion" (5)

Finally, Gerhardt's hymns are founded upon a physical piety. This is something alien to our modern sensibilities. Kleinig said that today we tend to live more in our heads than in our bodies.

In this section of his lecture, Kleinig first talked about how "physical" and "spiritual" are not opposites. Pr Esget touched on this in a blogpost several weeks ago. Last week Pr Petersen summarized what Kleinig said on this topic when he was speaking at Fort Wayne on May 10-12.

Gerhardt's hymns are very physical, but that doesn't mean they aren't spiritual. They're actually more spiritual than they'd be without the references to sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. After all, the true God uses created things to reach us with His gifts.

Our senses must be awakened by God so that we can receive the multitude of blessings He sends to our eyes, ears, and mouths. All five senses are used in Christian meditation and during Christian worship. But the senses are not used to reach out to God. No, they are the organs by which we receive what He gives to us.

In the original language, Gerhardt's hymns are loaded with vivid imagery: pictures of what was happening in Bible stories. He becomes the Lamb that taketh sin away and for aye full atonement maketh. Or I lay in fetters groaning; Thou comest to set me free. Or be Thou my Rod and Staff and Guide and draw me safely to Thy side. Or He whom the sea and wind obey doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness. But the images are often lost in translation and come out as "concepts" and "ideas."

We often come across the word "sweet" in Gerhardt's hymns, which is only one of the ways he alludes to the sense of taste. And oh, how oft Thy voice hath shed its sweetness o'er me.

There are also lots of references to touch: embracing, hugging, holding out the hand to one who is needy. For God's own Child in mercy mild joins thee to Him -- how greatly God must love thee! Or let me in my arms receive Thee; on Thy breast let me rest, Savior, ne'er to leave Thee.

Dr Kleinig concluded his first symposium lecture by discussing the JOYFUL PIETY that was part of Gerhardt's life and which comes through in his hymns. It was a spirituality of the cross. A spirituality which lamented human pain. But a spirituality where joy was pervasive!

"Singing with Devotion" (4)

Gerhardt's hymn show evidence of a sacramental piety. His hymns presuppose that Christians are participating regularly in the Divine Service, receiving the Sacraments. The hymns help catechize on what is going on with the sacraments, teaching about what we receive there.

Not only Kleinig but many of the speakers made reference to the abundance of sacramental references in Gerhardt's hymns that didn't come through in the English translations.
a) "All the best stanzas didn't make it into English."
b) The images and references to the sacraments often do not come through. As Dr Kleinig said, when translators must render concepts into English along with the constraints of the meter and rhyme, there just isn't much ability to set forth the images in the German poetry.
c) He pointed out how sometimes a hymn would talk about the life-giving nature of "Christ's blood," but be translated as the life-giving nature of "Christ's cross." Certainly nothing wrong with extolling Christ's cross. But the benefits of that cross are poured out to us in the blood of the Supper, and we've lost something when that doesn't come through in translation.


When you look at your sheets and blankets flapping on the clothesline, and when you realize that you can't take them to Goodwill because they're in such miserable shape, you begin to think that maybe you should stop being quite so frugal and go shopping!

"Singing with Devotion" (3)

Continuing with my notes from Kleinig's lecture on May 7...

Hymns today are likely to speak of our feelings for God. Hymns today often serve as religious self-expression. For Gerhardt, though, hymns would preach God's Word, and sometimes they were about a response to God's Word.

It was not unusual for Gerhardt to write in the first person:
I will sing my Maker's praises...
Jesus, Thy boundless love to me...
Guilt no longer can distress me...
O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is my paradise...
Oh, enter, Lord, Thy temple, be Thou my spirit's Guest...
Lord Jesus, who dost love me, oh, spread Thy wings above me...

Some have suggested that this is too personal and touchy-feely. But when you look at the words, they are NOT to the exclusion of other Christians. It's more like a corporate "I." "We" could just as easily be used. It's not unlike what we say in the liturgy: "I believe in God the Father Almighty..." or "Create in me a clean heart...."

Another evidence of Gerhardt's liturgical emphasis is the sequence of hymns he wrote. Thirty-nine of his hymns were written for a cycle that follows the church year. Although he knew that his hymns could be used to guide people personally, Gerhardt's expectation was that his hymns would be used corporately in the Divine Service, as well as being used corporately in the home for morning and evening devotions.

Friday, May 18, 2007

"Singing with Devotion" (2)

As I wrote earlier, Dr Kleinig discussed how Gerhardt's hymns are scriptural. The apostle wrote, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." Gerhardt knew that hymns steeped in Scripture would not only edify the one who hears the hymn, but even more would teach the one who sings to meditate and pray God's Word.

Some of Gerhardt's hymn are paraphrases of Scripture. Some are metrical psalms. Others are paraphrases of scriptural passages, such as Romans 8 being written into the poetry of "If God Himself Be For Me." Kleinig mentioned that we need to memorize more of the Bible, and it's easier for us to do when it's set to music.

Some of Gerhardt's hymns are prayers.

Almost all his hymns use phrases and terminology that are drenched in Biblical imagery and steeped in Biblical vocabulary. So it's not just the message or concept that is scriptural, but even the wording is drawn from the scripture.

Piety is not something produced by man's religious efforts. It is the Holy Spirit Himself who creates piety in Christians. And the way He does it is not solely by the Word which He gives and the faith which He imparts, but also because He is the one who produces the meditation and prayers on that Word.

The way Gerhardt uses God's Word in his hymns is something that has become almost alien to us as we have become more and more protestant. Gerhardt's hymns are full of God's Word. He encourages us to listen to Him and receive His gifts. This is not just something we think about, but something we hear with our ears, something we sing with our lips, something we feel, and something we taste. Gerhardt's hymns teach us to receive God's gifts and not what we are to "do" to be good little Christians.


For over a year, it's been high on the priority list to start teaching some singing. Not teaching songs, but teaching singing. Not all of the kids picked up singing, which I had thought would come naturally. The youngest, with the voice problems and birth defects in the larynx & pharynx is the one who really needs help. I finally started yesterday. First I determined whether or not she could hear pitch differences at all (playing two notes on the piano and asking whether they were the same). Then I asked her to match her voice to a note on the piano. Hmmm. We worked on it yesterday, and several times for a few minutes each today. The good news is that things are improving, and we even got three notes (C-D-E) sung on pitch in a row.

But the thing I find most interesting is how long it takes for her to hear the pitch and think before she sings IF she's going to get it right. If I hit the note on the piano and she la's right away, it will be off-pitch. But if she hears it and then waits a full second or second-and-a-half, she will usually hit the note smack-on right! Kids with vcfs supposedly have problems with auditory processing. What I noticed today about her hearing a pitch and WAITING before she could match it with her voice -- it fits perfectly. (I don't quite know what to do about fixing the problem. But it makes it clearer to me that the time-lag between her ears and brain is more of a problem for her than I want to accept.)

By the way, her next cleft-palate surgery was scheduled today. The date set is August 16.

Kleinig: "Singing with Devotion" (1)

My favorite speaker at last week's Gerhardt symposium was Dr Kleinig, although I must admit that Dr Krispin (whom I'd never heard before) was pretty impressive.

Kleinig's presentation started with a brief venture into showing that Gerhardt was not a pietist, did not start pietism, and did not write pietistic hymns. I'd never heard that there was an accusation toward Gerhardt in that direction. But I guess if you'd heard that, it was good that Kleinig began with the explanation that piety in the first decade or two of the 17th century was a piety of reception of God's gifts, and not a piety of what we do. Later in the century, pietism led to ideas that the heart is separate from the mind, and that both are separate from the body ... the body being bad. But this pietism was not part of what Gerhardt knew as piety.

Then Kleinig went on to discuss how Gerhardt's hymns were founded on
a Scriptural piety,
a liturgical piety,
a sacramental piety, and
a physical piety.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


My daughter was diligently copying much-needed recipes out of my recipe box so that she could take them with her to her new home. I caught her copying the gumbo recipe. I told her it was no good. Poor girl. She thought that, just because she saw me using that recipe every time I made gumbo, it really truly was the recipe. How silly.

Nathan (who is an avowed soup-hater) likes my gumbo. So one time while I was making gumbo, I wrote down the actual recipe and gave it to Katie. Katie conceded to post the recipe to her blog. I'm not sure that this recipe is actually what I make; I "wing it" in the kitchen too much to get accurate recipes recorded. But all I know is that we've only had gumbo once that could compare to this, and that was from some doozy down-home cooks in Mississippi. The trick to making good gumbo into great gumbo is to cook the roux (the sauteed veggies with flour) for a very long time (over half an hour) on very low heat, scraping the pot constantly while the flour browns. It takes time. And it's good if you don't bother. But it's superb if you do brown the flour for a good, long time.

Called by Name

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name;
you are Mine. (Isaiah 43:1)

This verse is usually used to show that God knows us so well that He knows my name. But Pastor has talked about this passage in connection with baptism. He has suggested that it's about God calling us by HIS name.

When Middendorfs adopted their daughter, they made her theirs and gave her the family name. Sure, they called her by her first name. But because she became their very own daughter, she was given the name "Middendorf."

Last summer, my daughter Katie was called by a new last name: Fischer. Yes, Nathan calls her "Katie." But that doesn't particularly make her his. Calling her "Mrs Fischer," however, shows that she is his. Matt was pleasantly surprised by Rachel's desire to be called by his name. Apparently, he knows very few young women his age who want to "belong to" a man such that they would be called by his name.

Fear not.
I have redeemed you.
I have put the name "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" upon you when the water was poured over you and the sign of the holy cross was placed upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.
I have made you My bride and given you My name.
You are Mine.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wedding Flowers for the Frugal

Would it be anathema to suggest that wedding flowers don't have to be planned ahead of time? If it's not important to have the whole church decked out in flowers, it's possible to wait till the day of the wedding or the day before, and run into the grocery store or Walmart. We spent less than $20 for Katie's wedding flowers last year. Next week I expect the same. Around here, the smallest, simplest floral arrangements are a minimum of $20-25. But you can get a small vase from Goodwill for a dollar or two, and for $4-5 you can get a bunch of carnations and daisies and greenery from the produce dept of the grocery store. Or you can get a nice big bunch of roses and babies' breath and greenery from Walmart for about $12. These flowers can be used for the bride's and bridesmaids' bouquets and for altar flowers just as easily as going to the traditional florist shop.

"Rise, My Soul"

I've been wanting to think aloud here, musing on the things I heard at the Gerhardt symposium last week. But I've barely been home since we returned from vacation, and there's this little situation of laundry and unpacking and getting back into the swing of things, as well as preparing for our daughter's wedding next week. So in the meantime, I want to jump up and down and say, "Ooooh, oooooh, ooooh! Everybody go check out Pastor Esget's blog every day for the next 17 days!" He's posting one stanza per day of Dr Kleinig's translation of a marvelous Gerhardt hymn -- one I'm going to need to memorize. Of the whole symposium, I thought Kleinig's two lectures were the highlight. And the second one was even better than the first. Part of his second lecture involved discussing this particular hymn and the theology behind it. So go read it! And sing it! And learn it!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Chicken Jokes

Why did the chicken cross the road?
The police officer said,
"I don't know, but if you give me five minutes with him, I'll find out!"

Why did the chicken cross the road?
Hemingway said,
"The chicken crossed the road to die, alone, in the rain."

Einstein said,
"The atom crossed the road because it was time to split."

Why did the fried chicken cross the road?
She saw a fork up ahead.

Make Up Your Mind

There was one thing last week at the Gerhardt symposium that made a bigger impression on me than anything else.

Two presenters mentioned their grandmothers, singing and singing and singing as they went about their chores. They each mentioned how Grandma had learned many Gerhardt hymns by heart, and that she knew all the verses. Another presenter commented about how his parents had taught the brood of kids many hymns. Several other presenters commented on how important it was that our people get to know Gerhardt hymns, learn them by heart, have those hymns on their lips, and grow to love these treasures.

However, I also heard throughout the week that we need new translations. We heard that so many of Gerhardt's hymns are lacking in the sacramental references that are clear in the original German. We heard that some of the hymns are in language that is too theological and that it needs to be simplified.

The preface of the catechism says about the words that are learned by heart: "Young and inexperienced people must be instructed on the basis of a uniform, fixed text and form. They are easily confused if a teacher employs one form now and another form -- perhaps with the intentions of making improvements -- later on. In this way all time and labor will be lost." Granted, these words were written about the Commandments, Creed, and Lord's Prayer. But there's wisdom there: people cannot be expected to remember words if those words keep changing from one decade to the next.

So which do we want? Do we want new and improved translations? Or do we want to have people hang onto those words they have memorized and prayed and sung and loved? If we want to go for "new and improved," what will the laymen think when the pastors urge us to learn hymns by heart, knowing that they'll just change the words on us again pretty soon, so that whatever we learned will be fuzzed and muddied and lost because of the word-changes?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Borrowing Words

In the church, it's sometimes hard to know whose words are whose. Can there be plagiarism when it is all God's Word, given by the Holy Spirit, for the edification of the body of Christ? Do the collects belong to the Church or to the translator? Does a person have to pay for quoting the catechism in a book?

Last week we were at the Paul Gerhardt symposium held in St Catharines, Ontario. One of the sessions I attended was about Bach and Gerhardt. There was that period of Bach's life when he was expected to come up with a cantata per week. Now, that's a tall order. The speaker showed us how Bach would borrow Gerhardt's words and lines. One cantata was entirely based on a Gerhardt hymn, Bach's additions to Gerhardt's text expounding upon the words that were engraved in the people's minds and hearts. I thought it was a wonderful thing ... but you couldn't get by with it today.

Bad Puns

Leif Erikson went on a voyage. After several years, his wife noticed that his name was no longer on the village registery. She went in to ask about it: "Have you taken Leif off your census?"

A fly buzzed around the barn while the farmer was milking. That obnoxious bug went right into the cow's ear, and then shot out into the milk bucket. It was in one ear and out the udder.

Two cannibals meet in the jungle. One tells the other that he found a couple of monks the day before. He captured the missionaries, took them home, and boiled them. But they tasted terrible. The other cannibal said, "There's your problem! Those were friars."

The snail went to the used car shop. He found the smallest car on the lot. He checked with the salesman to make sure it was fast. He agreed to buy it if he could have a big "S" painted on the side of the car. When the salesman asked why, the snail responded that he wanted to hear people say, "Look at that little S-car go."


In the hospital waiting room today, the lady next to me suddenly became very upset. She was in for tests, expecting that she would need surgery immediately afterwards. She was sitting there, dawdling away the time, when she noticed her hospital bracelet. The name on it was not her own. The birthday was not hers. The doctor was not hers. She wondered what they would've operated on, after she got put under anethesia, with her wrist bracelet saying she was somebody else. "This is the kind of thing you read about, but you don't expect it to happen to you," she said.

It makes me very thankful that, at Childrens, they always tell us to check Maggie's wristband before they attach it to her. But it also makes me wonder about the care at our local hospital. Scary....

Seven Things

My friend Jane tagged some of us to list seven random, uninteresting things about ourselves. So here goes:

1. "Feeder" goldfish seem to live longer at my house than do the fish intended to be pets.

2. I wear Birkenstock sandals, even in the winter.

3. Every family vacation has had a big-time school fieldtrip worked into it.

4. After having a baby, I'm not worn out and exhausted, and I can't get to sleep for at least 12 hours.

5. I didn't get my drivers license on my 16th birthday because the DMV was closed that day, so I had to wait another whole long day.

6. I like Renoir.

7. It took me 22 months to paint my kitchen.

I'm supposed to tag seven people. How's about we try: Katie, Rachel, Karin, Jenny, Lora, Elizabeth, and Kim? But if you can't, you can't.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires

In an attempt to clean up some sorry old cast iron skillets my mom found in the attic, my husband started a fire out in the burn pit. He got a nice fire going and buried the skillets so as to burn off old grease and food and rust. When I went out there for a moment, I noticed a nearby stump smoking. Three weeks ago, he got the fire so big that he actually set a nearby tree ablaze. Today the remainder of the tree was again on fire.

"Uh.... do you know that that tree stump over there is on fire?"

"Yeah. I do."

"Ummm. Okay. Just so you know....."

Unbelievable. I'm not sure whether to hide the matches or just go on the assumption that that one particular tree was suicidal.

(By the way, Mom, the big skillet couldn't take the heat. The little one, though, is ready for Rachel and her steel wool.)

Mothers Day

Below is a poem I wrote over ten years. Actually at that point I had six kids, but "six" didn't rhyme as easily with what I wanted to say.

Observe a frazzled mom of four --
Kids pound upon her bathroom door;
They crowd around her at the store;
She's on the phone; they chatter more.

She loves them lots,
But time alone
Is such a rarity.
To think that as
A teen she yearned
For popularity.