Popular Song Wisdom

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Andy Mead, the rector who brought me to Saint Thomas in New York City, often emphasized the importance of simple truths for Christian living. One was: Keep your “Thank you”s and “I’m sorry”s up to date. He’d tell us to remember to count our blessings.

It’s an old song, isn’t it? “Count your blessings, name them one by one; count your blessings, see what God has done.” I used to discount simple wisdom like this, even as I discounted country music. I preferred classical music, even as I preferred the sort of insight that you had to work hard for. Why take the time to do such a simple and obvious thing as count blessings?

Because: when we do take the time to count the blessings in our life, we discover there are more of them than we knew. You start by thanking God that you are alive, that there is a new day at hand, that you can see the sun and hear the birds; then you think of other sunrises, other birdsongs heard; you may think of friends, of other places. You think of parents, and people who have loved you, people who taught you. And on and on it goes.

Of course, there are also the sad memories: the places you cannot revisit, the illnesses and injustices of life, the missed opportunities, the sins done, the good things left undone. But those sad memories themselves are wrapped around in blessings. A place you cannot revisit is, still, a place that once you visited. And even in sin and loss, if you count your blessings, you’ll find God was lurking in the shadows all along. 

Forgive me this personal reference, but I think a number of my readers may see themselves in this. I asked for healing prayers after my wife’s death. And the person with me was moved in her prayer to give God thanks that I had had the gift of marriage.

Count your blessings, and your blessings will multiply before your eyes!

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In Starbucks recently, I heard “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” a song that is relatively new and certainly popular. (You know it’s popular if even yours truly has heard of it.) There’s nothing explicitly Christian in the song—which goes for a number of other Christmas songs—just the singer asking her beloved to be at her side. And yet . . .

If it is true that the Song of Songs is a key to the interpretation of the whole Bible story, then it tells us that at the heart of things is God’s desire for his bride, Israel, and her desire for him. As we come to Christmas, we long for God to come to us. But the converse is also true: God longs to come to us.

I rather like thinking that all God wants for Christmas is us.

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Out & About. I’m visiting St. James in Texarkana on Wednesday, December 7, to homilize at their 5:30 p.m. Eucharist. Then at 6:15 p.m., around the corner from the church at Pecan Point, I will speak at “pub theology” on “What is freedom really? Or, how God causes my free actions.”

My Sunday class on the Song of Songs continues through Advent at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney, Dallas. The class is in Memorial Chapel at 10:20 a.m. Newcomers are welcome every week. The previous classes have been audio recorded: https://incarnation.org/class-recordings/

1 Comments

David Mallette on December 8, 2016 11:36am

Like you, I favor classical music, though I love everything from the Hurrian Hymn to Barbershop Quartet and most everything in between when it is well-formed and well preformed. Being raised by country people in the Southern Baptist tradition I learned all those hymns, including "Count your many blessings," often sung around my grandmother's reed organ. I still remember...and sing them to myself.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."