It’s good to get away from routines, especially when we’re older. Too easy to get stuck in our ways. Granted, I’d take my own pillow with me wherever I went, if I could fit it into my carry-on. But I’m talking about more than a favorite touch from home. While there’s comfort in the predictable, there’s risk in becoming too sedentary in body and mind. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so taken with the notion that God sometimes goes by the name of Surprise.
Last Sunday three widows experienced one of God’s surprises. It was Sunday afternoon and we could’ve stayed in our hotel room for a nap or read a book outside on the patio. We’d arrived early and the first gathering of the reunion of retired presidents and spouses from the Christian College Consortium wouldn’t be until evening. But Lorna Sawatsky, Helene Winter and I chose to drive to St. Margaret’s Episcopal church in Palm Desert, California for a 4:00 organ concert. For those of you still reading, Frederick Swann was performing one of his final recitals to celebrate his 85th year. Eighty-five years and so fit as to almost leap onto the platform.
This large church, filled early and ran out of programs about fifteen minutes before the first note was played. There are a lot of retired folks out here, which may explain the packed house and a congregation comprised mostly of folks with white, gray, sparse or no hair.
At the conclusion of the magnificent concert, the audience rose as one to applaud and plead for an encore. After Mr. Swann signaled us to be seated, he took the microphone and told a story. “A number of years ago at the conclusion of one of my concerts, a young child’s conversation with her mother was overheard by another concert attendee and reported back to me. After folks stood and cheered, I returned to my seat at the organ, upon which the child chided her mother, “Now, see what you’ve done, Mother, he’s going to play again!”
As the laughter subsided, Mr. Swann continued, “Thank you but I’m not going to perform another piece. Truly, I’d rather play in a church service than put on a concert. So I’d like to conclude by having you reach for a hymnal, then I will accompany while you sing one of the great hymns, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation!
The organ soared, compelling us to sing our hearts out to the One who gave us life and music. God surprised us with a sense of His presence, reminding us through lyrics penned decades ago, that we’re not alone. We belong to the One who cares, sustains, shelters, defends and prospers us.
The next morning, when we gathered with our friends for session I of the day, it was my turn to share a devotional thought. At the end of the talk, after telling about the concert, we ended by singing together almost all of the verses of this wonderful hymn. Some verses follow with the hope that they’ll encourage you, as they did us this past Sunday.
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation! O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and Salvation! All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near; Praise Him in glad adoration.
Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth, Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth! Hast thou not seen how they desires ever hath been granted in what He ordaineth?
Praise to the Lord, Who hath fearfully, wondrously made thee; Health hath vouchsafed and, when heedlessly falling hath stayed thee. What need or grief ever hath failed of relief? Wings of His mercy did shade thee.
Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper they work and defend thee; Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee. Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, if with His love He befriend thee.
Like spring cleaning for the soul.
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