Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hymn for Palm Sunday

[A palm tree in Kenya, 2005]

Last week I did my quickest ever piece of song-writing.
I am chaplain to a school for children with severe and profound learning difficulties and every month I take an assembly there.
When I arrived on Friday morning to take this month's assembly the Head-Teacher informed me that one of the children who had been in the school for many years would be leaving that day to go to another school. There had been very little advance warning that this was going to take place.
The Head-Teacher asked me if I knew of any song we might sing to the girl as a sort of farewell, but I couldn't think of anything. Then, for some bizarre reason, I impulsively suggested that I might write something to use at the end of the assembly. This gave me about five minutes to come up with something. I borrowed a pen and quickly scribbled down some lyrics, refining them as best I could, but it left me no time to come up with a tune in advance of singing it. So the 'music' was 'composed' on the fly as I was singing it. To my amazement it worked.
But, of course, it was the ultimate in disposable music as I am not sure if I could remember now what the tune actually went like.
I spent a little bit more time on the following hymn for Palm Sunday.
It is based on the understanding that the word "Hosanna" is not so much a shout of praise as a cry for help - "Come, save us!"
I can only show the text here but if anyone wants a copy of the music I can supply it by email- if you leave an email address.

Blessed is He

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Comfort the people weighed down by their grief;
Comfort the sad and the tearful;
Come to bring joy and a welcome release
and new hope for the troubled and fearful.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Challenge the people entranced by their power;
Challenge their easy indiff'rence;
Come to bring justice and truth to the world
and establish a new kind of kingdom.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

(c) Iain D. Cunningham, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Addressing the Issue

[waves of bubblewrap crashing on the shore!]

I’ve just emerged from a tsunami of bubble wrap!
I’d been wrapping up my daughter’s laptop so that it can be returned for repair. There’s so much bubble wrap… and boxes within boxes… that I’m beginning to wonder if I actually remembered to put the laptop itself in! Now I just have to wait for the courier to find my address, uplift the parcel and take it to the correct address.
Nowadays with GPS Sat Nav and all sorts of online mapping software there should be few excuses for anyone being unable to find an address in the UK.
Real life, of course, is rarely ever as simple.
My wrestling match with the bubble wrap was interrupted by the sound of my doorbell. It was the engineer from Satchwell come to check out the electronic control panels for our church’s heating system. Having eventually found the church keys under the pile of wrapping materials, I went over to the church with him to give him access to the boiler room. He asked me how the heating was working. I replied that, as far as I knew, everything was pretty much ok at the moment but I confessed that I try to take a back seat in such matters, preferring not to know very much about how it all works, in case I ever get left with the job of setting timers etc.
So I opened the boiler room for him, left him the keys, and went back to my parcel tape.
About 30 minutes later the doorbell rang again. It was the engineer, not just returning the keys but also asking me directions to a neighbouring church; the one he was supposed to have gone to and which, coincidentally, has the exact same Satchwell control system for its heating. Ooops!
But I’m not complaining. Our system has been thoroughly checked over and is working well. I have the engineer’s word on that score… and there won’t even be a bill to pay.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sad farewells

[Tide creeps over silver sands on Islay]

I have just returned from the funeral of Robert Young who until very recently had been the Principal teacher of Drama at Carluke High School. Only a few months older than myself, Robert had recently taken early retirement but, sadly, never got the time to enjoy it, dying very suddenly and unexpectedly.
Robert was much loved by staff and pupils alike at Carluke High. He was an inspirational teacher; enthusiastic, passionate and conscientious. He brought the very best out of the young people in his care, developing the self-confidence of many young adults. But, then, he always saw the best in others and brought the best out of everyone he met.
He was a sincere and committed Christian whose faith was most evident in the way he treated other people with kindness, respect and genuine warmth, all summed up in his disarming and open smile. We shall miss him.
On returning home, I also learned for the first time of the equally unexpected death of one of my colleagues, and fellow hymn writer, Rev. Leith Fisher, who was also a respected author and broadcaster. I first met Leith in the late 1960's when he was still a Divinity Student and I was still at school, and I have always had the greatest admiration for him. More recently we worked together on the Church Hymnary Revision Committee and a number of Leith's own hymns are, thankfully, included in the latest Church of Scotland hymnary, known in this part of the world as CH4.

Sudden deaths like these certainly make you stop and think about the fragility and brevity of human life, but they also make you realise the importance and value of human friendships, and the eternal significance of love.
Leith's own words from one of his hymns, says it so much better than I could:

[HYMN 689 in CH4]

Just as the tide creeps over silver sand
flooding the bay with slow and steady gain,
like brightening dawn across the eastern land,
certain and sure is love that comes again.

When empty eyes stare at the vacant chair
and none can touch or fill the heart's deep pain,
into our void of desolate despair,
Jesus, pour out the love that comes again.

When every road ahead seems blocked and barred
and doubt corrodes our will like acid rain,
reveal your wounds to us whom life has scarred,
and help us see the love that lives again.

When threat and fear conspire friends to betray,
and bitter failure every hope has slain,
when broken trust makes dark the dismal day,
Jesus, speak of the love that comes again.

As sure as tide and dawn your love has come,
come to redeem our failures and our pain;
Jesus, come now, and find in us a home,
revive us with the love that comes again.

Leith Fisher (1941-2009)

Words: (c) Leith Fisher.