Surely there is room …

Van Gogh - The Good Samaritan. After Delacroix 1890

New Zealand songwriter Malcolm Gordon, no stranger to this blog, has been at it again. This time, as he tells it, he has been

churned up by what is happening in Australia with the asylum seekers. Some of the friends we met and made in Adelaide last year have been protesting in MP’s offices and been arrested as a result. It’s a justifiably upsetting situation.

This song is one result of that churning:

In these wide open spaces
This land needs tilling
But there’s rumours of war
There’s whispering of killing
Over mountain and flood and over the plain
This dark cloud reigns.

Put my hand to the plough
There’s no turning home
For this stirring within
Won’t leave me alone
And alone is one thing that you’ll never be
There is no ‘them’, there is only ‘we’.

Surely there is room for one more
Love make a way
How many saviours, unseen and displaced here
Will we leave out in the rain?

The weight of these times
Is measured in tears
The risk of this love
Is death to our fears
Give our voice for the groaning
Of children in chains
Forever there’s hope wherever there’s pain.

Surely there is room for one more
Love make a way
How many saviours, unseen and displaced here
Will we leave out in the rain?

Surely there is room for one more
Love make a way
Picture what we could be
A generous family
Where welcoming arms hold open the door.

In these wide open spaces
The wind blows alone
And the streets are just valleys that wander and roam
There is room for the pilgrim to lay down their load
And build a home.

The Song of St Magnus

‘So Magnus Erlendson, when he came up from the shore that Easter Monday, towards noon, to the stone in the centre of the island, saw against the sun eleven men and a boy and a man with an axe in his hand who was weeping … Then in the light of the new day, 16 April 1117, there was a blinding flash of metal in the sun’. – George Mackay Brown

Magnus‘The Orkney Isles, off the northern coast of Scotland, were ruled by the Viking king of Norway in the 13th century, and Magnus was the rightful heir to the Earldom of the archipelago. He was a bit of an odd one. Once he’d joined the King on a raiding party, but he’d stayed back on the ship and sung psalms. He’d refused to fight. It would be something of a theme in his short life. The King wasn’t sure about a ruler who wouldn’t fight, and so he also recognised the claim to the Earldom by Magnus’ cousin, and the two ruled jointly for some years. It worked pretty well, until some of their followers felt things would be better if their respective Earl had the job to himself. Things started to shape up for war. It seemed inevitable. Inevitable, that is, until Magnus insisted that he and his cousin try and talk their way to a peaceful solution. He suggested that they meet on a deserted island where the only building was an ancient stone chapel. They agreed to meet, each bringing only two ships of men, enough for protection but not enough for serious aggression. Magnus arrived the night before with his two ships. He spent the night in prayer.

In the light of the dawn, however, he saw his cousin’s treachery. Eight ships were entering the harbour. Too many for peace. Too many for truce. Not too many for war.

What would Magnus do? He could run, flee and gather his supporters on the mainland and fight this out. Or he could appeal to the King of Norway to deal with his scoundrel cousin. Instead, he turned quietly and went back into the small stone chapel to pray, as if the chapel were his Garden of Gethsemane. The war party surrounded the chapel and demanded Magnus surrender himself. He did, once the cousin had agreed to leave his men unharmed. The gathered chiefs demanded that the Earl’s duel in order to bring an end to the division that threatened to tear the islands apart. But the cousin wasn’t willing to give up his advantage, and Magnus refused to fight, so the cousin decided to execute Magnus. Magnus tried to talk his cousin out of this course of action so as to save his cousin’s soul. Lest we think that Magnus was acting out of self preservation, however, his alternative suggestion was that he be mercilessly tortured and disfigured, left alive but ruined, so as to protect his cousin from committing murder. But the cousin wanted no rival, however broken. He ordered his finest warrior to kill Magnus. The warrior refused. In fact, none of the cousin’s soldiers would meet his eyes or his demands. Finally, under the threat of death, the cousin’s poor cook, weeping and pleading for Magnus’ forgiveness was chosen for the task. Magnus spoke quietly and calmly to him, telling him the sin was not his, that Magnus held nothing against him, that he should do what he must do, and think no more of it.

So he did, and Magnus was killed. And there was peace, for there was no one left for the cousin to fight. But there was also grief, such grief among the people that Magnus’ body was shortly recovered and buried with honour. A church was built to mark the place and his death, the cross of Magnus became their flag, and the sacrifice of Magnus their pride and their shame.

Could this be what faith looks like, when the beloved ones of God  love peace more than themselves, that even the wicked moments of human cruelty might, in the mysterious grace of God, be made to tell the story of love which covers all and conquers all?’

These (lightly edited) words, and the wonderful song that follows, were penned and recorded recently by my dear friend Malcolm GordonThose, like myself, who consider themselves fans of the work of George Mackay Brown, from whose pen many of us first heard of Magnus, will enjoy this:

The Song of St MagnusThe northern miles
Hold the Orkney Isles
Lands of windswept vale.
And from this place
Comes a tale of grace
Of love amidst betrayal.

Magnus ruled
With his brother too
And peace shone out like dawn.
But rumours spread
That blood would be shed
As battle lines were drawn.

Before we fight
Let’s see if we might
Find ways to live together.
We’ll each bring two boats
See if peace might float
Even in this stormy weather.

For he went to war
But he would not fight
Yet peace he won undying,
For his hands were tied
But his heart on fire
Saint Magnus Earl of Orkney Isles.

Eight ships appeared
And the trick he feared
This truce became betrayal.
Would he run away?
No, he stayed to pray
To find the strength to fail.

‘One chief we’ll have’,
The brother said,
‘And that chief will be me’.
But he could not find
Someone of his kind
To kill this saint to-be.

For he went to war
But he would not fight
Yet peace he won undying,
For his hands were tied
But his heart on fire
Saint Magnus Earl of Orkney Isles.

No soldier would
And the brother stood
Alone with death’s desire.
But he found his one
And the sin was done
For fear of him, a murder.

But Magnus swore
This sin is not yours
Your tears will count for something,
So do this deed
And find God’s peace
I’ll hold against you nothing.

For he went to war
But he would not fight
Yet peace he won undying,
For his hands were tied
But his heart on fire
Saint Magnus Earl of Orkney Isles.

The blow fell sharp
And the saint fell hard
Truce was bought with his blood.
The people wept
But this peace they kept
They kept the peace of Magnus;
Yes, they kept the peace of Magnus.

For he went to war
But he would not fight
Yet peace he won undying,
For his hands were tied
But his heart on fire
Saint Magnus Earl of Orkney Isles.

Martyrdom of St Magnus

[Image: Scotiana.com]

You can access more of Malcolm’s music here and here.

Simeon’s Song

Rembrandt - Simeon With Christ ChildMalcolm Gordon, a dear friend of mine and the engine behind the very exciting One Voice Project, wrote and recorded a new song last night based on Luke 2.25–31. It’s called ‘Simeon’s Song’, and about which he writes:

‘I wrote it for the youth group who are having a worship night tonight and wanted to reflect on this story as a turning point between anticipation and celebration. I’ll probably play it at the midnight Christmas Eve service at St Peters too, hence the night/darkness themes’.

I thought it was worth sharing here too; so, with Malcs’ permission, here ‘tis:

Rembrandt - Simeon's Song Of Praise 1661I’m just an old man
With an ancient conviction
That God is troubled by our pain

I have no wisdom
Just a fool’s expectation
That God will come to our aid

Through prayer and through pain
My hope has not strayed
Keep watch with me
My soul aches for dawn
My heart stretched and worn
Keep watch with me
O my Lord
O my friend

I’m just a lone voice
Frail in the darkness
But the night can only last so long

I’m just a watchmen
Eyes to the distance
Waiting for heaven’s light to show

Through prayer and through pain
My hope has not strayed
Keep watch with me
My soul aches for dawn
My heart stretched and worn
Keep watch with me
O my Lord
O my friend

He’s just a small child
From nowhere special
But something tells me, this is it

My heart’s desire
My world’s salvation
A candle in this darkness has been lit

Through prayer and through pain
My hope has not changed
Keep watch with me
My soul aches for dawn
My heart stretched and worn
Keep watch with me
O my Lord
O my friend

God can I go to sleep now
I’ve stayed awake to the sunrise
With my failing eyes
I see through Love’s disguise
In my arms I hold the world.

Note: Malcolm has made the link to the song downloadable so if folk want to use it (or one of the other songs available here) for a church service, or for personal reflection, it’s there to be had. Share the love!

Malcolm Gordon – ‘One Voice’ – A Review

one-voice-1‘People remember what they sing. Ultimately, they believe what they sing’. So believes Malcolm Gordon – a Presbyterian minister who writes songs, good songs, even songs ‘decently and in order’. In 2001, he toured with Y-One, and between 2002-2006 with the band Somebody’s Cousin, with whom he recorded two albums – ‘Brighter Day’ (2004) and ‘Here We Are (2006). Since then, this Kiwi has written and directed his first musical, and released his debut solo album, As I Am.

2008 witnessed the release of his latest album – One Voice – and the One Voice Project dedicated to ‘exploring contemporary expressions of Christian worship’ and to ‘rally song writers and lyricists to produce a resource of contextual and contemporary worship music every couple of years’. He writes that ‘the guiding principal throughout this has been to create music that is “Theologically authentic and culturally credible”. Too often music that is sung in churches tends to excel in one of those areas at the expense of the other’.

 

One Voice betrays the witness of a gifted artist with a theologically-astute nose, of one who believes that what we sing matters and whose heart joins those for whom ‘aching for the dawn’ defines the way of true being. The prayerful songs on this beautifully-produced album take up themes of hope, justice-making, and of identity – that ‘our stories might find their meaning’, rhyme and reason in God. Gordon recognises that however one chooses to express eschatological hope, the ultimate theological foundation remains a basic conviction concerning the faithfulness of the God whose relationship with this world is secured in one who – though one with God – did not consider equality with God something to be exploited, but who made himself nothing. Believers bear witness to this ground of hope every time we break bread and drink wine together – an act, of prolepsis as well as of obedience, undertaken by the Church in hope for a time when every tongue might taste the goodness of the Lord, when friends and enemies, victim and perpetrators, sit at the same table and find their healing in its host who has borne the pain, shame, isolation and fear of all. It is to this that the Church’s songs, including Gordon’s, bear witness. I recall words from one of Halden Doerge‘s sermons on ‘Holy Saturday‘:

In the face of hopelessness and death we [the church] are called to be conduits of hope that dare to speak and listen on the day of silence. We are to dare to continue to give of ourselves, even to the point of death even when all hope seems to have vanished. When foundations dissolve, when brothers betray and God seems silent, we are called to buy fields of hope, to stand between our betrayer and his noose and to break bread together in senseless hope that we serve a God who abounds in surprises that follow the day of silence. We are bound to remember Holy Saturday and to live in it in senseless, glorious hope. Let us be a church that lives in Holy Saturday, longing to see the surprises of the self-giving God who transforms fields of blood into fields of hope. We are called this day to continue in the form of the self-giving that is the very life of God. On this day, this cold and silent yet gloriously beautiful day, let us remember the brokenness and the senselessness that we face as followers of Christ. And then let us gather up our courage in the Spirit and continue to give ourselves away without ceasing. In the deathly quiet of Holy Saturday, let us interrupt it with songs of hope, bread broken and lives poured out.

malcolm-gordonThe invitation to such interruption is taken up by Gordon in his powerful song ‘Break the Bread’ (sample):

Let’s break the bread,
with the broken hearted.
Break the bread,
in broken homes and in broken lives.
Spill the wine, for all the tears they’ll cry
Spill the wine, wherever innocents die.

Let’s break the bread,
with the ragged stranger.
Break the bread,
with the friendless child.
Spill the wine, with those who spill our blood
Spill the wine, Lord, as we remember you.

I’m praying I’ll live to see the day
When the Table is open
I’m praying a time will come around
When Your hope isn’t wasted.

Let’s break the bread,
with the unclean before the Unseen.
Break the bread,
inside these cold prison walls.
Spill the wine; let it run rich and red across this land
Spill the wine, Lord, as we remember you.

I’m praying I’ll live to see the day
When peace is more than a ceasefire.

Let’s break the bread …

‘People remember what they sing. Ultimately, they believe what they sing’.