A Quote Off My Shelf

These are more and longer quotes than I typically post but they were too beautiful to abbreviate or reduce. A.S. Peterson’s concluding sequel met and exceeded all of my expectations. The book will shatter your soul then gently, tenderly mend it together again.  The motif of music is strong throughout the book and captures best the book’s themes of redemption, of beauty coming out of suffering and sin, and of longing for home and a Love that conquers all.

“Turn it all to beauty.

She walked to the rail. When she turned and sat upon it, she heard a sailor in the crowd murmur that she might play them a tune. She hoped he was right. She needed the voices to be wrong. Fin raised the instrument to the cleft of her neck and closed her eyes. She emptied her mind and let herself be carried back to her earliest memory, the first pain she ever knew: the knowledge that her parents didn’t want her. The despair of rejection coursed through her. It fathered a knot of questions that bound her, enveloped her. Waves of uncertainty and frailty shook her to the bones. Her body quivered with anger and hopelessness. She reeled on the edge of a precipice. She wanted to scream or to throw her fists but she held it inside; she struggled to control it. She fought to subjugate her pain, but it grew. It welled up; it filled her mind. When she could hold it no more, exhausted by defiance and wearied by years of pretending not to care, Bartimaeus’s words surrounded her.

Got to turn it beautiful.

She dropped her defenses. She let weakness fill her. She accepted it. And the abyss yawned. She tottered over the edge and fell. The forces at war within her raced down her arms and set something extraordinary in motion; they became melody and harmony: rapturous, golden. Her fingers coaxed the long-silent fiddle to life. They danced across the strings without hesitation, molding beauty out of the miraculous combination of wood, vibration, and emotion. The music was so bright she felt she could see it. The poisonous voices were outsung. Notes raged out of her in a torrent. She had such music within her that her bones ached with it, the air around her trembled with it, her veins bled it. The men around fell still and silent. Some slipped to the deck and sat enraptured like children before a travelling bard.

…It throbbed and pulsed, channeled by elemental forces of fear, love, hope, and sadness. The bow stabbed and flitted across the strings in a violent whorl of creation; its hairs tore and split until it seemed the last strands would sever in a scrape of dissonance. Those who saw the last fragile remnants held their breath against the breaking. The music rippled across the ship like a spirit, like a thing alive and eldritch and pregnant with mystery. The song held. More than held, it deepened. It groaned. It resounded in the hollows of those who heard. Then it softened into tones long, slow, and patient and reminded men of the faintest stars trembling dimly in defiance of a ravening dark. At the last, when the golden hairs of the bow had given all the sound they knew, the music fled in a whisper. Fin was both emptied and filled, and the song sighed away on the wind.

Peterson, A. S. (2010-12-07). Fiddler’s Green (Fin’s Revolution) pgs. 79-81, Rabbit Room Press.

 

“What do you know of the Knights?” he asked.

Fin shrugged. “I thought knights were only in children’s stories until a few days ago.” Jeannot smiled.

“A man could do worse than to live in the stories of a child. There is, perhaps, no better remembrance.”

“Until the child grows up and finds out the stories aren’t true. You might be knights, but I don’t see any shining armor,” Fin said.

Jeannot stopped near the gate of the auberge and faced her. “Each time a story is told, the details and accuracies and facts are winnowed away until all that remains is the heart of the tale. If there is truth at the heart of it, a tale may live forever. As a knight, there is no dragon to slay, no maiden to rescue, and no miraculous grail to uncover. A knight seeks the truth beneath these things, seeks the heart. We call this the corso. The path set before us. The race we must run.

Peterson, A. S. (2010-12-07). Fiddler’s Green (Fin’s Revolution) pg. 147 Rabbit Room Press.

 

She chased the song like a hound fast upon a scent. She pursued it through a forest primeval: a dark land planted with musical staves and rests and grown thick with briars of annotation. On she went and on still until she caught sight of the song ahead of her, fleeting and sly. “I see it,” she said aloud, though she didn’t mean to.

…And then she caught the song. She fell upon it and music poured from the fiddle’s hollow, bright and liquid like fire out of the heart of the earth. Pierre-Jean drew back and stood mesmerized. The room around Fin stirred as every ear bent to the ring of heartsong. It rushed through Fin and spread to the outermost and tiniest capillary reaches of her body. Her flesh sang. The hairs of her arms and neck roused and stood. She sped the bow across the strings. Her fingers danced on the fingerboard quick as fat raindrops. Every man in the room that night would later swear that there was a wind within it. They would tell their children and lovers that a hurricane had filled the room, toppled chairs, driven papers and sheets before it and blew not merely around them but through them, taking fears, grudges, malice, and contempt with it, sending them spiraling out into the night where they vanished among the stars like embers rising from a bonfire.

And though the spirited cry of the fiddle’s song blew through others and around the room and everything in it, Fin sat at the heart of it. It poured into her. It found room in the closets and hollow places of her soul to settle and root. It planted seeds: courage, resolve, steadfastness. Fin gulped it in, seized it, held it fast. She needed it, had thirsted for it all her days. She saw the road ahead of her, and though she didn’t understand it or comprehend her part in it, she knew that she needed the ancient and reckless power of a holy song to endure it. She didn’t let the music loose. It buckled and swept and still she clung to it, defined it in notes and rhythm, channeled it like a river bound between mountain steeps. And a thing happened then so precious and strange that Fin would ever after remember it only in the formless manner of dreams. The song turned and spoke her name—her true name, intoned in a language of mysteries. Not her earthly name, but a secret word, defining her alone among all created things. The writhing song spoke it, and for the first time, she knew herself. She knew what it was to be separated out, held apart from every other breathing creature, and known. Though she’d never heard it before and wouldn’t recall it after, every stitch of her soul shook in the passage of the word, shuddered in the wake of it, and mourned as the sound sped away. In an instant, it was over. The song ended with the dissonant pluck of a broken string.

Peterson, A. S. (2010-12-07). Fiddler’s Green (Fin’s Revolution) pg. 174, 175 Rabbit Room Press.

I noticed that Goodreads only had one quote from this beautiful book. That simply wouldn’t do, so I added 22 more. 😉 You can see more quotes here. 

Reviewer’s Digest // Music Resources

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On Wednesdays I am not only a blogger, I am also a piano teacher for young children. My class is a preparatory class. I do not teach on the piano, I teach music history and theory, relying on good literature and interactive activities to engage the imaginations of children ages 3-10 and cultivate in them a love for music. In addition to books on my family’s shelf, I went through a list of “Popular Children’s Books on Music” that I found on Goodreads. About a quarter of them I found at my local library and personally went through. Below is a list of the books that made it home with me to read. Books I used in my class are marked with an *. All age recommendations are my own, as field-tested in my class.

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*Can You Hear It? by William Lach

5 stars // ages 2+

Can You Hear It? is structured different than all the other books I have reviewed here. It covers 12 famous classical pieces and shows children (and adults!) what to listen for in each one. The accompanying audio cd has 2-3 minutes clips of each piece (some are short songs, others are excerpts), the book displays a famous work of art that corresponds in theme to the song, and a side panel lists the instruments used in the piece and what role they play. For example, in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: Winter readers are encouraged to listen for the “clumsy skater” played by the violins, violas, and cellos quickly moving all the way down the scale. Even young children are able to grasp this concept and listen eagerly for the sounds. As an adult, I felt the book gave me the tools I needed to be more engaged with classical music. Though you could read the book cover to cover in a single sitting, I prefer to focus on one song a week in my class.

Note to Parent: one of the songs, “Fossils” is accompanied by the morbid illustration “The Rattling Skeletons.” Since the book is constructed in a series of two-page spreads, I simply taped the pages together and my students were none the wiser.

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karia Kuskin

2 stars // ages 2-8

I had thought the title was metaphorical, but it is in fact, not. The book is / literally/ about the members of the Philharmonic orchestra getting dressed.

No garment is spared mention or illustration. If you start reading mid-book it’s a cute read–I love the line “one hundred and five men and women dressed completely in black and white have gone to work turning the black notes on white pages into a symphony”–but otherwise I was not impressed.

MY FRIEND THE PIANO by Catherine Cowan

1 star

I cannot figure out why this would be on a popular children’s book list unless it was an unruly child or perhaps a free-thinking postmodernist compiling the list. No piano teacher or sensible parent would recommend it. The book emphasizes individuality at the expense of skill and any traditional standard for what is “music.” It is a whimsical story but it encourages children to despise instruction, refuse to practice, and stubbornly pound on the keys at random and consider themselves geniuses for doing so. Not to mention the story-line doesn’t make a great deal of sense. The book ends with the piano in the ocean happily swimming with dolphins and the girl coming to visit it and hear the noise she calls music. I appreciate personification and fantasy elements in literature but this is beyond any reason or meaning.

*Fiddle-I-Fee by Will Hillenbrand

4 stars // ages 2-10

I was surprised by how much the kids took to this book. It is a simple story set on a farm that begins with the lines “I had a cat, my cat pleased me, I fed my cat under yonder tree. My cat plays ‘fiddle-I-fee.’ ” Each page mirrors these lines, substituting a different farm animal each time and adding on sounds that each animal plays like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” culminating in the birth of the farming couple’s child who they in turn, feed “under yonder tree” and is entertained by the fiddle-playing cat. The book doesn’t teach any music theory per se, and most of the animals don’t even play real instruments (but rather, improvised farm equipment), but the book has a definite rhythm that children love. If you read the lines right you can give it an iambic pentameter and keep time by tapping your foot as you read. After repeated readings children will begin to hear and imitate the cadence. Even though they don’t understand what meter is, the recitation will train their ears to hear it. This is foundational to early music education.

*Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! By Lloyd Moss

5 stars // ages 2-10

With dancing alliteration and lively illustrations, Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! introduces children of all ages to ten instruments, their look and sound, and teaches children how to count them (“one and two-o, that’s a duo!”). This was another class favorite. Even my repeat students beg to hear the story again and again. With each re-read my students noticed more details in the illustrations (in the background of one page you can see the clarinet player balancing his instrument of his nose and the man playing the French Horn with his head stuck inside the bell!) and with frequent re-readings I used the book as an opportunity to apply the concepts I was teaching them through flash card games (“The Bassoon plays low notes. Which Clef will its notes be on?”).

THE PIANO by William Miller

4 stars // ages 3+

A sweet story set in the Deep South in the early 1900s about a young black girl who loves music and makes a friend with a middle-class white woman who has a piano. The girl doesn’t know how to play and the woman’s hands have grown too stiff to play but together they learn to make music. (Though I love and would recommend the book, I did not read the book in my class because of some racial slurs that I thought best to avoid.)

*Babar: To Duet or Not To Duet by Elaine Waisglass

5 stars // ages 3-10

Babar is a story book about the rewards of diligent practice and an honest assessment of your skills. Babar learns that you cannot become a skilled pianist overnight and that there is no shame in starting small. This is a longer book that some of my youngest students become restless during half-way through, but my mid to older students are always eager to hear again.

*Gabriella’s Song by Candace Fleming

5 stars // ages 3-10

This was the teacher’s favorite. Gabriella’s Song illustrates through story the connective power music has with our daily lives. The sounds of Venice Gabriella hears on her stroll home from the market becomes a song she softly hums, a song the Baker finds “makes his heart light and his feet feel “like dancing” but the widow Santucci considers a “sad song” that makes her long for “younger, happier days.” The song makes its way from the Baker to the Widow Santucci to Luigi the gondolier who dubs it a magnificent love song. The gondolier brings the music down the channels and through the streets. Housewives, dockworkers, and schoolchildren all began humming and whistling Gabriella’s song, bringing the music beneath the window of the brilliant composer Giuseppe Del Pietro who on this day struggled to write even a simple tune. That was it! That was the song he needed for his upcoming performance! It became Del Pietro’s greatest symphony by far and it all began with a young girl listening to the sounds of her beloved city.

*Meet the Orchestra by Ann Hayes

5 stars // ages 5-10

This was another of my favorites. Each page introduces an instrument played by an animal (often one associated in some way with the instrument) with rich poetry describing not only the sound but the mood and unique power of each instrument. For example, Ann Hayes says of the clarinet that “it tootles up and down the scale, never tripping over a note. Its cool tones melt in your ears just like ice cream melts in your mouth.”

I found that this book did not hold the attention of younger students for more than a couple pages though my older ones enjoyed it. (I adored it.)

The Composer Is Dead by Lemony Snicket

4 stars // ages 6-12

A clever introduction to the instruments in an orchestra and the roles they play. I enjoyed the author’s characteristic wit and word-play though some mothers would (understandably) find it too morbid for their children. For example: “THE COMPOSER IS DEAD. ‘Composer’ is a word which here means ‘a person who sits in a room, muttering and humming and figuring out what notes the orchestra is going to play.’ This is called composing. But last night, the Composer was not muttering. He was not humming. He was not moving, or even breathing. This is called decomposing.”

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*The Story of the Incredible Orchestra by Bruce Koscielniak

4 stars // 10+

I have yet to get through this book in its entirety in my class. It is an informative and interesting book that goes succinctly and systematically through music history but takes awhile to read and does not engage my younger students. I usually read just one or two spreads each class (each spread introduces the instruments of a single time period), and allow my students to point out instruments in the picture that look interesting to them. I then tell them it’s name and whether it played high notes or low notes. Although it did not appeal to my students–whom are all 10 years and younger–it would be a wonderful resource for older children. The text is dry but the illustrations are bright and engaging. A vast array of instruments both well-known and obscure are pictured and described in their historical context, giving children a fitting introduction to the wealth of musical history.


For those interested, I am offering three options for PIANO PRIMER SUMMER CLASSES this year:

3 day class June 9th, 10th, & 11th
3 day class June 16th, 17th, & 18th
3 week class July 15th, 22nd, & 29th

Woodlands TX area. 50 minutes per day. Time slots to be determined. Ages 3-10, $12 per class per student or $30 for three classes paid at first class, please email pianoprimerclass@gmail.com to register or for more information visit my Facebook page.

To Imitate the Strains I Love

THE REDBREAST AND THE SPARROW

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As a Redbreast was singing on a tree by the side of a rural cottage, a Sparrow, perched upon the thatch, took occasion thus to reprimand him: “And dost thou,” said he, “with thy dull autumnal note, presume to emulate the birds of spring? Can thy weak warblings pretend to vie with the sprightly accent of the thrush and the blackbird, with the various melody of the lark or nightingale, whom other birds, far thy superiors, have been long content to admire in silence.” “Judge with candor, at least,” replied the Robin, “nor impute those efforts to ambition solely which may sometimes flow from love of the art. I reverence, indeed, but by no means envy the birds whose fame has stood the test of ages. Their songs have charmed both hill and dale, but their season is past and their throats are silent. I feel not, however, the ambition to surpass or equal them; my efforts are of a much humbler nature; and I may surely hope for pardon, while I endeavor to cheer those forsaken valleys by an attempt to imitate the strains I love.”

Long before I had the desire to write well I had the desire to sing well. I wanted desperately to sing with an enchanting, ethereal, soprano voice that soothed, uplifted, and inspired all who heard. No other activity made my heart swell like singing.

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I received many compliments on my voice as a child. Certain it was a gift, I sang confidently and with gusto whenever asked. But when I grew a little older I came into contact with girls who sang better than me. Girls in my church’s children’s choir. Women on the radio. As I began to understand music theory and vocal control my own inadequacies were revealed to me as I’d never seen them before. Suddenly my “gift” seemed a lot less extraordinary.

I looked around me at all the world’s talent and a tightness crept into my throat. I became cripplingly self-conscious about my voice. I demurred when someone asked me to sing and squeaked an off-key tune if I gave in. Compliments unnerved me because I felt them to be either ignorant of the true talent there is in the world or else to be insincere, the kind of compliments people feel obliged to give when someone has presented some trinket they’ve made. I cycled through emotions of jealousy, discontent, shame, and a “why-bother?” attitude. I had swallowed without knowing, the lie that the gift that is not great is no gift at all.

The reproofs of the Sparrow are not unknown to us. We are spurred on by ourselves and our self-centered culture to gain a step ahead of the rest whenever we can. We are bombarded by comparisons on social media–an unspoken, sometimes even spoken, contest for who is the prettiest, the hottest, the sexiest, the smartest, the wittiest, the most pious, the coolest, the nerdiest, the craziest, the most sold-out for God. And it’s a contest, no matter how hard we try, that we are always losing. It doesn’t matter how much you are these things, there’s always somebody out there who possesses them more.

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Reading “The Hidden Art of Homemaking” by Edith Schaeffer helped open my eyes to the beauty hidden in small gifts, expressed in unassuming ways.

“…be satisfied” she writes, “with the fact that although your art or talent may never be accepted by the world as anything ‘great’, and may never be your career, it can be used to enrich your day by day life: enrich it for you, and for the people with whom you live.” (pg. 48)

“Even as the edelweiss which grows unseen by human eyes beside some distant mountain rock, or the violet under a fern at the edge of the wood, is unappreciated by any human being because it remains unseen, yet still has purpose because the living God sees and appreciates each blade of grass and each flower as well as every sparrow; so the lovingly prepared meal which may not seem to find any response or appreciation from any human being is being shared by Him in a very real way.” (pg. 127)

“…one does not need a degree, nor even a tremendous talent, to enjoy and bring enjoyment to others through gardening.” (pg. 85)

“If you feel you have an unrecognized talent for writing, or if you simply love to write and want to do it, my advice is write. But write without ambitious pride, which makes you feel it is a ‘waste’ to write what will never be published.” (pg. 136)

Pursue excellence, be the very best you can be, but remember our standard is not notoriety, power, or wealth. Our standard is not entrance into the Guinness Book of World Records. We can and should admire those of spectacular gifting but not to covet them. Let efforts of excellence be not for “ambition solely” but “flow from love of the art.”

My daddy didn’t have to be born with the eloquence of Apollos to become a Pastor. He doesn’t have to be the next Martin Luther or Charles Spurgeon to craft sermons every week to feed the sheep entrusted to his care, sermons rooted deep in the springs of the Word, enriched by his study in the stream of historical orthodoxy and by his love and understanding of metaphor and story, weaving a message I am on the edge of my seat every week to hear and drink from that fountain of grace.

My mama didn’t have to have to be uniquely innovative or revolutionary in her methods of education to homeschool me and my five siblings. She didn’t (and doesn’t) have to be the next Charlotte Mason or Susan Wise Bauer to give me and my siblings a rich childhood full of memories of cardboard igloos and log cabins in the dining room, hotel-room forts where we did our school in between a move, spontaneous raccoon dissections, endless read-alouds and field trips, a love of stories, a love of discussion, a love of learning, a love of God.

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I don’t have to be the next Norman Rockwell to illustrate fun taxonomy flash cards to help my siblings and I learn about the marvelous creatures God has made.

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I don’t have to be the next Rachel Ray to give my mom a break from cooking now and then or labor alongside her to prepare a meal that is both flavorful and nutritious, a facilitator of memories and meaningful conversation.

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I don’t have to be the next Carol Klein to cultivate a small butterfly garden to delight my younger siblings and my family’s guests.

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I don’t have to be the next Martha Stewart to upcycle glass bottles and jars into works of art to make a sick friend smile.

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I don’t have to be the next Shakespeare or Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald to write reviews and stoems that are beautiful and useful to my friends and family.

I don’t have to be the next Robin Williams to kindle a love for stories in my younger siblings by reading aloud to them with the couple of voices and accents I have taught myself over the years.

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I don’t have to be the next Shin’ichi Suzuki to teach children the basics of piano and instill in them a love for music.

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I don’t have to be the next Steve McCurry to capture through film the little joys that make up my family’s memories and the life of our church–moments, that if I waited for greater talent to come along wouldn’t be captured at all.

I don’t have to be the next Alison Krauss to sing a lullaby to sooth a crying infant or help teach my younger siblings to sing praises to their Creator or join my voice in harmony with my church congregation.

I don’t have to be the best the world has known and neither do you. We just have to find a way to use the measure of gifting God has given each of us. Stop trying to determine how great your gift is and instead, use it greatly. Even a small gift is still a gift, a gift to give as well as receive. Will you join me in saying with the Robin of Aesop’s Fable, “I feel not…the ambition to surpass or equal [the great singers]; my efforts are of a much humbler nature…I endeavor to cheer…forsaken valleys by an attempt to imitate the strains I love.”

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Miss the previous posts? Catch up here:

An Introduction to Aesop’s Fables

The Man and the Lion – Revisionism and Reductionism

The Snail and the Statue – The Injudicious Eye

Wisdom, Virtue, and Reputation – The Guardians of Reputation

Reviewer’s Digest //Non-Fiction

A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

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Read October 28th

 (Afterward by Chad Walsh read on the 29th)

4 Stars

I was pleased with myself for finishing the entire book in one sitting–but then again, I couldn’t very well go to bed in the middle anyway. It frightened me to see the questions, the doubts, the despairs of a well-grounded theologian when faced with grief–more frightening still, to see myself in the background of his introspective mirror. But in the end, it encouraged me to see the man of despair climb to be once again the man of hope.

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Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2015, dear readers. 2014 has been filled with many good books for me and I expect 2015 to be filled with many more!

I have 11 mini-reviews of books from the latter half of 2014 that I have not yet published. Previously, I have published reviews individually, no matter the length, but this time I am going to group them together by genre and do a series of “Reviewer’s Digest” posts because–you gotta admit, that title sounds pretty clever and it’d be a shame not to use it.

Yesterday I shared my blog’s annual stats so today I’m going to share with you my personal “stats” for the year in reading and music. Kudos to Goodreads, Spotify, and Pocket for keeping track for me. Maybe this year I’ll find a way to keep track of movies and TV shows I watch too.

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Two Weeping Kings

Awhile back, I was introduced to the talents of Eric Whitacre and his evocative song “When David Heard”, by my composer-friend, Zachary Horner (if you get the chance, be sure to check out his Sound Cloud account for samples of his own amazing work), and continue to be fascinated by the song’s depth and intensity conjured up by–most astounding!–the singing of just a single verse from 2nd Samuel.

“When David heard that Absalom was slain he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, my son, my son, O Absalom my son, would God I had died for thee!” (2nd Sam. 18:23 KJV)

The song is brimming with emotion. It was nearly too much for me to bear the first time I heard it. When the voices got loud my eyes started to fill and I had the wild impulse to rip my earbuds out, cover my ears and run. I could picture it all–the gut-wrenching grief like voices screaming in my ears, chasing me down, hunting me like a wild animal then, as the voices quieted I could feel the loneliness creeping in like a quiet mist. I could see the memory of the long march back home, the uncertain glances from the soldiers as they watched their brave warrior-king retreat within himself, his eyes glazing over, unresponsive to those around him, uncaring of where he went next, his thoughts consumed by the one who was not with them, the son whom he loved and was dead. It was like a darkness had fallen over the whole company.

Later, it felt like a dream. It was easy for me to imagine King David waking up, panting, sweat glistening on his brow and sitting up in bed only for the silence to tear his soul more than his dream. I could feel the coldness, the unresponsiveness of the palace stone walls. I could feel the cry for answers, the despair, the emptiness.

In the final minute of the piece, it was as if the shepherd-king was standing on one of his many balconies, looking out over the business of the city, listening to the voices bubbling up from the market square and remembering all that once was. Time has passed and the gut-wrenching grief has passed, leaving behind only a dull ache.

He can never forget.
He can’t simply move on.
He can’t explain why.
It just is.

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Songs of Asaph: Mountains on the Ocean Floor (Andrew Peterson)

#12. MOUNTAINS ON THE OCEAN FLOOR
Andrew Peterson

Oftentimes our own sins or the sins of others seem too deep and all signs of change invisible to our mortal eyes, but for those of us in Christ we cling in faith to the promise “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” even when we can’t see Him working. And for those outside of Christ we are given hope too for “the Spirit moves where it wills”. We often our unable to see the working of the Holy Spirit, it’s like “mountains on the ocean floor”–one day we’ll see the fruit but for now, “only God can see it grow”.

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Songs of Asaph: The Cornerstone (Andrew Peterson)

THE CORNERSTONE
Andrew Peterson

Full or irony and paradox, “The Cornerstone” speaks of the complexity of God’s love, of God Himself who is both love and wrath, holy and merciful. “Love is never simple” Andrew Peterson sings, “it draws ’em in and drives ’em out”. “A beautiful, unmovable force…the Cornerstone.” “All the maps were drawn, but the maps were wrong, the stars spin around another Son.”

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