Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Life and Lent: Thoughts from Frederick Buechner

In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year's income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year's days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.
  • When you look at your face in the mirror, What do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?
  • If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?
  • Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?
  • Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?
To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Funeral Message: A Life Set to Music

Most of us enjoy listening to music, and some of us can make a little music for ourselves. Fewer still can play music for others. Then there are a precious few who have music in their heart and in their blood. Sallie Van Dyke’s whole life was set to music.

In her childhood days, learning to play the piano, it quickly became obvious that Sallie had more than an aptitude for music and more than natural ability. Sallie had a heart for music. She loved it. Music was a way to express her thoughts and feelings, to celebrate life, and it was a gift she could share with others.

I think of Sallie playing the piano at the Middle School all those years, accompanying so many students, the choirs and ensembles, the trios and duets and solos. Boys and girls who first learned to sing catching the tune from Sallie, finding their fledgling voices in her lovely music. What a good gift she gave to them, helping a new generation find their song.

We can almost hear the music.

Sallie loved to make music for her Maker, she loved to play and sing for the Lord at church. She was the church organist for many years and other times she was playing the piano. I don’t know how many brides marched into our church while Sallie played or how many times on occasions such as this, grieving people were comforted by her sweet music. Many times, I’m sure. Sallie sang first soprano in our church’s choir and she also sang in a women’s trio with Dorothy Kirkpatrick and Patty McLaughlin for some 20 years. Sallie was making beautiful music for our church but primarily for an audience of one, the One whose name is above all names, Jesus Christ.

And all across our community, in choral groups, instrumental ensembles, at club meetings, concerts and programs, Sallie was right in the middle of it, playing and singing or savoring and celebrating the music, those wonderful songs.

We can almost hear the music.

And then when Elbert and Sallie married, Sallie took her music on the road, so to speak. Not officially, but as they traveled all over North America, Sallie found unexpected places and times to share her gift of music. Wherever Elbert spotted an old piano, he would ask permission for Sallie to play and the answer was almost always yes.

It happened in old plantations across the south, in several museums, in little shops, in antique stores, and even in one honkytonk bar where Sallie played so well the owner offered her a full-time job. (By the way, they were just passing through the bar. She did turn down the job.)

And wherever she played people would stop to listen, tours would be suspended, groups would gather around to hear Sallie’s music brightening the air with song.

One time, Elbert and Sallie were traveling up north and went by “The Little Brown Church in the Vale,” the actual church that the old gospel song is based on. There was a wedding ceremony about to begin, but there was no music arranged. Elbert asked if they would like to have some music and you guessed it, Sallie played an impromptu wedding, far better than they could have hoped for.

Wherever they travelled, up and down the coast, crisscrossing the country, Sallie played on.

We can almost hear the music.

And then the years of illness came, and slowly, steadily, Sally began to slip away from us. Her sharp memory began to fail her and her bright, insightful mind would no longer cooperate. A brain tumor began its deadly work of driving the life from her faltering body.

But not so fast. Sally held on tight to three precious possessions, three sacred somethings that held her fast and gave her strength and a reason to live. Her faith in God, her loving husband, and of course her music.

Sally gave her wonderful gift of music to all of her fellow residents at Good Samaritan Nursing Home. She would play and everyone would gather around, eager to hear her music, every song bringing back wonderful memories of days gone by. What a blessing she was. What a gift she has given.

Even when she could no longer recognize her own friends, and when she could remember little else, still Elbert would wheel her down the hall and put the old hymnal in front of Sallie and away she would go. “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.” “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.”

We can almost hear the music.

And you can bet your life there is plenty of music in Heaven, and there’s a little bit more than there used to be, now that Sallie has arrived.

I wonder what a celestial piano looks like in Heaven. Just how grand can a piano be when it sits in the place Christ prepared especially for Sallie.

Don’t you worry, Elbert. You won’t have to ask permission for Sallie to play on that piano and she won’t have to ask either.

Her Heavenly Father has welcomed her and has already made His request. “Sallie, you have played beautiful music for so many, for so long and so well. Now, my child, play for Me.”

And, we can almost hear the music. Amen.