Great is Thy Faithfulness
While reading the book of Lamentations I was reminded of an overcast day in April of this year when I was driving down I-170. It was rush hour and I was literally the only person on the road because of the state-wide mandatory lock-down due to COVID-19. One month later after the Memorial Day weekend the city of St. Louis along with the rest of the country was up in arms because of the murder of George Floyd, yet another senseless murder of an African American male by a white police officer. Just as in Lamentations it seemed that death and destruction was running rampant in the streets.
We were concerned about the most vulnerable in our cities, the children and the elderly. We were concerned about the thousands of people who had lost their jobs. We were concerned about the hundreds of small businesses that would not survive these times. There was a sense of fear, loss and discouragement in the air. People were not allowed to be with their loved ones during sickness or death, the time when we are used to coming together to comfort each other. Families were not allowed to visit each other.
And then, just like that, in July, sunflowers appeared. Bright yellow sunflowers standing tall in a field, stretching up to the heavens. Children were laughing and playing while running through the fields. Couples were taking selfies while walking through the fields. Though times remain uncertain as it relates to the COVID-19 we can be assured that God’s faithfulness is great. Just as Jeremiah proclaimed God’s greatness in the middle of his lament, the sunflowers remind us that God’s faithfulness is something we can depend on in good times and in bad times.
We are seeing His faithfulness in the faces of the people who are giving out food packages. We are seeing His faithfulness in the faces of the people who are giving out diapers. We are seeing His faithfulness in the faces of the young people who are grocery shopping for the elderly. We are seeing His faithfulness in the faces of people distributing face masks. We are seeing His faithfulness in the faces of the health-care workers that go to work every day. We are seeing His faithfulness in the faces of the clerks at the grocery stores, and on and on. Just as we have seen His faithfulness in the lilies of the field, we are seeing His faithfulness in the sunflowers. Great is His faithfulness!
While looking for the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness several versions by major recording artists appeared. This one is being sung by a bridesmaid in a wedding party. Watch as the Spirit overtakes the groom.
The Lord is in His Holy Temple; let all the earth be silent before Him. Habakkuk 2:20
One of the things I always remember from The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis is when the senior devil tells the story of how he almost lost a “patient”. The “patient”, according to the senior devil was an atheist. One day while this atheist was reading in the British Museum the senior devil observed that the thoughts of the atheist were straying from those the devil wanted him to have, perhaps leaning toward believing in the Creator God. The senior devil at once sprung into action so as not to see twenty years’ worth of his grooming the atheist go awry. The senior devil did not try to use a rational approach to make the mans mind come back to the thinking of an atheist. He instead chose to use a tactic that was so ordinary the man would not think that he was being manipulated. The senior devil introduced the thought of hunger into the unsuspecting man’s mind which in turn made the man leave the museum to get some lunch. As soon as the atheist left the museum and stepped out onto the sidewalk he was distracted by a newsboy shouting the headlines from the newspaper. Along with the newsboy shouting Lewis tells us that there were other noises such as a bus going by. The senior devil knew if he could just get the man to step out into the street then he, the devil, would win. The chatter of the world kept the man from thinking about what he had been reading that might have turned him toward Christianity.
How often are we distracted by the noises of today? It seems that we have an abundance of things to take our attention away from the reason we were created. We have Facebook, Twitter, television, endless streaming services and on and on. How much screen time have you used lately? If we would only view the world as if Screwtape, the senior devil, was talking to us would we change our viewing habits? Are we being tricked into watching our favorite news channel so that we can hear the current chatter of the day? What would happen if we kept silent for 5 minutes a day? Would we grow closer to God? You be the judge.
The prophet Habakkuk was speaking to the people of God in a time when the world was in much turmoil. The northern kingdom had been destroyed and the Babylonians were threatening to conquer Judah. Instead of going to lunch as the atheist did Habakkuk stayed in the library and had a conversation with God. Regardless of the circumstances Habakkuk chose to rejoice in the Lord. I chose the following version of the hymn The Lord is in His Holy Temple because of the lack of instruments. Take a few minutes out of your busy day and be silent before Him.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8
Today was the annual pilgrimage of the North City Deanery Interracial Relations Committee. This year’s pilgrimage took us to the Shrine of St. Joseph in downtown St. Louis. This magnificent church is the site of the second Vatican approved miracle for the canonization of St. Peter Claver who was a Jesuit priest. He is the patron saint of enslaved people, the Republic of Colombia and ministry to African Americans. From the Shrine we processed to the site of the first St. Francis Xavier “College” church in St. Louis where enslaved Africans were allowed to worship in an upstairs chapel. It was at this site that we heard the story of Matilda.
It seems that in 1823 the Jesuits came to St. Louis from Maryland to expand their mission, and brought six enslaved people with them. Matilda’s parents were two of the enslaved. Matilda labored as an enslaved person at St. Louis College (now) University. In 1847 Matilda, listed as a colored servant, purchased her freedom and the freedom of her youngest son for the sum of $300. Matilda paid the money in installments to St. Francis Xavier College Church.
What caught my attention as I was listening to this story being told was the fact that one year after Matilda bought her freedom, she received the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation as a free woman and parishioner of the same Church that had enslaved her and her family.
As we processed on, I thought of Jesus walking the streets of Galilee and how people dropped what they were doing to follow Him. I was engulfed with sadness and hope as I remembered stories my grandmother had shared with me about people like Matilda. I would like to think that even though they were enslaved, they felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in the people they encountered. I would like to believe they felt the presence of Jesus walking the dusty streets of St. Louis. I would like to believe they understood that we are all children of one God however misplaced the actions of some are. I believe Matilda did. Today I hope that the people who see us retracing the history of African American Catholics in St. Louis feel the presence of our Lord and Savior and come to believe that we are witnesses to His love for all. I walked today where Jesus walked. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5irhNWG8G8c
When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions? Daniel answered, “May the king live forever”! Daniel 6:20-21
The simple definition of faith is believing something is true. Biblical scholars will tell us however that faith is two-fold. We must not only believe that something is true, we must commit our lives to it. In the case of Christians that belief is that we have a God that created us and loves us. God loved us so much that He sent is only Son into this world to save us. This is an easy concept to believe when life is good but what about when things are not going as we intended?
God’s servant Daniel is a great example of holding on to your faith regardless of the circumstances. Daniel did not deny God even when his own life was at risk. Daniel’s faith was unwavering. When he was told he had to break the dietary laws of his people he refused to do it. When he was told he had to pray to another god, he did not do it. Daniel understood that he was created to serve and magnify God and he did this even though it would cost him his life. He was thrown into the lion’s den and came out unscathed because of that faith. This story reminds us that a mere king’s seal cannot stop the power of God. Darius sealed the lions pit just as Pilate would order the tomb of Jesus to be sealed many years later.
As a vocalist one of my favorite genres of music is the Negro spiritual, sometimes referred to as slave melodies. Spirituals were created by the enslaved Africans that were brought to the United States. Although they were deprived of many things, i.e., their language and culture, their music could not be taken away from them. Through the singing of the spirituals they could tell this new world about their unwavering faith.
Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord was written for chorus by Undine Smith Moore, a prolific writer of this genre of music. Professor Moore was the granddaughter of slaves. Upon her graduation from Fisk University she attended Juilliard and graduated from there cum laude. Undine taught piano, organ, and music theory at Virginia State University from 1927 until she retired in 1972. The arrangement is a fast-paced so I chose one that has the lyrics and one that is a recording of the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil. Job 3:26
Despondency has a way of creeping into your life without you knowing it. Listening to the evening news, both local and national, can sometimes bring you down. Not getting that well-deserved promotion can bring you down. Being laid off from work can bring you down. Not having enough money to pay your bills can bring you down. Hearing the words, “there is no cure”, can bring you down.
When God’s servant Job cursed the day he was born, he was probably a little more than despondent. He asked question after question trying to understand why he was in such a predicament. Even though Job said there was no peace, no quietness, in the back of his mind, and even though he still had questions, he must have known that God was with him.
I do not remember the exact day and time I first heard the song Blessed Quietness, but it has always given me a sense of calm. Just recently I attended a prayer service for an eight-year-old boy that was killed by a stray bullet. At the service the family and religious leaders spoke about a God that can heal. They spoke of a God that is merciful. Unlike Job, we know the entire story. We may still have questions, but we know that Jesus died so that we might be redeemed. We know that He promised to send a comforter, the Holy Spirit, to abide in us forever. I left the prayer service with a sense of hope. When you think you have no peace, no quietness, but only turmoil, there is a Blessed Quietness you can call upon to ease the suffering. Below are two versions of the song, Blessed Quietness.
Joys are flowing like a river
Since my Comforter has come
He abides with us forever
Makes the trusting heart His home
Blessed quietness, holy quietness
What assurance in my soul!
On the stormy sea, He speaks peace to me
How the billows cease to roll
There the wicked cease from turmoil and the weary are at rest. Job 3:17
Have you ever been so tired it seemed as if you could not put one foot in front of the other? Are there days when you do not want to get out of bed?
Growing up in a Southern Baptist church the format of worship services was that the deacons of the church would stand before the congregation and start what was called devotion. Devotion was the prelude to the actual church service. The deacons started this part of the worship experience by singing, usually without musical accompaniment, a standard hymn. As a youngster I would be transported to another place in time, visualizing everything the song depicted, transfixed by the lone beat of the lead deacon’s foot against the floor. This singing was usually slow and solemn not like the upbeat choir music that would usher in the church service.
I was at a church revival when I first heard the song The Wicked Shall Cease From Troubling, penned by Jessy Dixon. It was nearing the end of an era when African American Gospel singers traveled the country, one venue at a time, singing praises to God. In those early days, choirs sang in churches, quartets and “groups” traveled about from city to city, church to church, one concert after another, singing praises to God. They used their own transportation and because of segregation laws when they were traveling the Southern highways and byways they were not welcome in mainstream hotels and restaurants. Many a day and night they would sleep in their cars and eat food cooked by the people of the churches they were visiting. There were times when they would leave one engagement, travel all night and sleep in the car to be ready for the next engagement. I remember feeling a sense of happiness upon hearing this tune because, no matter what was going on in my life at that point in time, with God on my side, everything was going to be alright.
As I look back on those days, I remember the joy on the faces of the various artists as they sang. Times were lean, the money was not that great and the concert engagements not that many. What kept them going was their faith and belief that there was rest at the end of life’s journey. That the weariness they felt and the injustices they had to traverse would be rewarded in the end. Much like Job, there might have been times when they questioned God as to why the road was rough, but never did they give up on the mission of spreading the Gospel.
I invite you follow the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQ3p9hKez-c to listen to this uplifting tune. This video features the composer, Jessy Dixon, along with Dorothy Norwood and Edgar O’Neil singing lead vocals. Billy Preston is on the organ. The refrain is:
The wicked shall cease from troubling
The weary shall be at rest
All of the saints of the ages
Shall sit at His feet and be blessed
How Great Thou Art
For as long as I can remember I have been a singer. I started singing in the church choir when I was about eight-years-old and continue to this day spreading God’s Word through song. As a young child living in the inner city, my first memory of singing is me getting ready for church and getting a song stuck in my head. As I walked around the house singing my mother, after telling me two or three times to stop, smacked me in my mouth. For some reason she did not think it was appropriate for me to sing Money (That’s What I Want), a popular Ray Charles tune, while getting ready for Sunday School, go figure!
The concept of Then Sings My Soul…reflections of a songstress has been rolling around in my head for quite some time. Tonight, while reading Scripture I decided to start penning something. So here goes: this platform is where I will reflect on Scripture as it relates to a song that I am familiar with. I will give the Scripture I have read, the name of the song it reminds me of, where I was when I first heard the song, the history of the song and any reflections I might have related to the song.
I pray that something I share at some point in time touches your soul and reminds you of our Creator. The One who, when I look around at all He has created, makes my soul sing.
When I consider Your heavens, the works of Your fingers, the moon and the stars…Psalms 8:3