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Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit


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Bruce Cockburn: Restless Virtuoso

 By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

While at the local library with my wife, I ran across Bruce Cockburn’s fascinating new autobiography and spiritual memoirs Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory[1].   A true Canadian icon, Cockburn ironically gets more airtime now on US radios than in Canada.  Until recently, he has been called one of Canada’s best kept secrets.[2]  Over the past five decades, he has released thirty-one albums, selling over seven million copies worldwide, including one million copies in Canada.[3]  The New York Times has called Cockburn a virtuoso on guitar.[4]  His accomplishments include 12 Juno Awards and 21 gold/platinum certifications. As well as being a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame, Cockburn is an Officer of the Order of Canada and recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.[5]  He even has his own postage stamp![6]  It is easy to put famous people up on pedestals, only for them to come crashing down.

Cockburn noted: “What doesn’t kill you makes for songs.”[7]  He is very transparent in his memoirs about the ‘cage of reticence’ that he has been trapped in, saying that it took him decades to open up enough to allow another human beyond the courtyard of his heart.[8] Due to the flat lining of emotional content, he bottled up his feelings and failed to connect.[9]  Cockburn commented: “It was almost impossible for me to communicate from the heart, especially if the subject required deep openness….I remained too trapped inside myself…”[10]  Even positive attention could be off-putting to him.[11]  Being terrified of audiences, he initially pretended that they were not there.[12]  Through his music, Cockburn temporarily came out of hiding: “Music is my diary, my anchor through anguish and joy, a channel for the heart.”  His self-described penchant for withdrawal led to several painful relational breakups: “Relationships of the heart though require exposure of the soul.”[13] Being a travelling musician can be very hard on relationships.  In his memoirs, Cockburn notes:

…a long history of failing to communicate our deepest fears, resentments, and longings was at the core of our unraveling….Neither of us would entertain for a moment the notion of going for counseling…I’d leave on tour. My wife would be left in a stew of resentment and loneliness.[14]

There are endless internet interviews with Cockburn about his spirituality.  Few authors are willing to be interviewed in such detail about their spiritual journeys.  Cockburn’s spiritual reflections are very paradoxical, evocative, and nuanced: “Anyone who has spent any time exploring Bruce Cockburn’s music knows what a complex artist he is. He is as spiritual as he is political, and as much a master musician as a lyrical poet.”[15]  He is a free spirit who cannot be boxed in.  Bruce has a strongly developed social conscience and passion for justice that is expressed through his music, particularly in the 1980s.[16] The more interior 1970s led to a more exterior 1980s, focusing on the love of oppressed neighbours in the Global South. [17]

While raised in the United Church by agnostic parents, his first spiritual encounter occurred while taking communion in St George’s Anglican Church in Ottawa: “it felt like something happened.”[18] He called it a wondrous shiver of contact, of connection.[19]  At his wedding at St George’s, all of a sudden there was someone there “as vivid as I could see them, but I couldn’t see them, this loving presence…So I started taking Jesus very seriously at that point…that image has never left.”[20] Sadly, in moving to Toronto, Cockburn ‘didn’t find another church that had the same spirit attached to it.”[21]

It has been said that Cockburn has a spiritual GPS in him that doesn’t want to shut off: “I’m trying to get people to be aware of how much more there is to life than just what they see.” [22] There are people who love Bruce Cockburn just for his music,” said Mr. Brian Walsh, explaining each has their reasons be it his guitar virtuosity, his lyrics or his political stance. “They don’t always get the spirituality.”[23]  Cockburn’s quest for deeper meaning is a lifelong spiritual journey: “I believe that my relationship with God is central to my life. It is the most important thing in my life.”[24] “Eventually, through a series of personal stuff in the early ’70s, I ended up giving myself to Christ and asking for help, and I figured at that point I better start calling myself a Christian,” said Cockburn. “I think a personal relationship with God is what we’re supposed to be after and what God is after. That experience was a very crucial part of discovering and attempting to develop that relationship,” said Cockburn.[25]  The song All The Diamonds was written on the night of Cockburn’s conversion: “When Jesus came into my life, in 1974, he also came into my music.”[26] Only God, said Cockburn, can fill that hole inside of us.[27]

 My three favorite Cockburn songs are Lord of the Starfields, All the Diamonds, and Wondering Where the Lions Are.[28]  The autobiography gave a fascinating backdrop to Cockburn’s life and songs, illuminating the rumours of glory.  Bruce is very experimental, experiencing himself into faith and relationship with God.  Then he reflects on it later, sometimes in very confusing and ambiguous ways.

Cockburn has always been a restless spirit: “I craved adventure. I needed to throw myself into something unknown, travel with only vague destinations, expose myself to the elements, sail the seas.”[29]   He says that a lot of his nomadic rootlessness and constant longing for home comes from mistrust when his father destroyed his first poems: “I have a great deal of mistrust. I have a mistrust of authority. I have a mistrust of things I don’t know intimately.  I have a mistrust that takes the form of “OK, God, I am here for you and you are here for me. But I don’t want to go all the way because you might ask something of me that I am not capable of giving or don’t want to give. So I hold myself back from that piece because of that.  I am working on that piece…”[30]  May Bruce Cockburn continue to inspire others to seek for home.

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, Rector

St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver

Anglican Mission in Canada

-an article for the April 2015 Deep Cove Crier

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 1008- 555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC, V7N 2J7, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. TheBattle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to download a complimentary PDF copy of theBattle for the Soul study guide :  Seeking God’s Solution for a Spirit-Filled Canada

You can also download the complimentary Leader’s Guide PDF: Battle for the Soul Leaders Guide

[1] Bruce Cockburn: “It’s supposed to be a spiritual memoir, so whatever that means. I’m not even sure what that really means, but that’s what the publisher asked for.” Bruce Cockburn by Dan MacIntosh on February 22, 2013. http://stereosubversion.com/interviews/bruce-cockburn-2  (accessed March 6th 2015)

[2] Terry Roland, “Bruce Cockburn Brings His Slice of Life”, L.A. Acoustic Music Festival, “Bruce Cockburn may be one of Canada’s best kept secrets.” http://folkworks.org/features/feature-articles/96-may-2009-articles/35983-bruce-cockburn   (Accessed March 6th 2015)

[3] http://www.cashboxcanada.ca/5136/proudly-canadian-bruce-cockburn  (Accessed March 6th 2015)

[4] http://brucecockburn.com  (Accessed March 1st 2015)

[5] http://brucecockburn.com (Accessed March 1st 2015).

[6] “Canadian Music Hall of Famer Bruce Cockburn gets stamped”, May 5, 2011 http://brucecockburn.com/tag/cockburn-stamp ; http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/januaryweb-only/brucecockburn-january24.html  (accessed March 7th 2015).

[7] Bruce Cockburn, Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory (HarperCollins, New York, NY, 2014), p. 419. ; p.137 “Anything that touches me with a sense of meaning is likely to make its way into a song…”

[8] Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p. 103, p. 105 “…trapped forever in a cage of reticence.”

[9] Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p.104 “Forging close ties has been particularly hard for me, given the flat lining of emotional content that was the unstated rule in my childhood home….I learned how to bottle up feelings which would later lead to psychic capitulations and failures to connect, sabotaging deeper relationships with others.”

[10] Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p. 129.

[11] Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p. 19 “I didn’t like attention anyway, except on my own terms. I still don’t. Even positive attention can be oppressive.”

[12] “In the beginning, I was terrified of audiences. The only way that I could deal with it was to pretend that they were not there. “ Brian Walsh Interviewing Bruce Cockburn 4 – “Kicking at the Darkness”  May 20, 2012 at the recent Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing (April 19th 2012) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xv5OveKtPSQ&spfreload=10  (Accessed March 6th 2015)

[13] Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p. 4, p. 84, p. 106.

[14] Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p. 183.

[15] Bruce Cockburn by Dan MacIntosh on February 22, 2013. http://stereosubversion.com/interviews/bruce-cockburn-2 (Accessed March 6th 2015)

[16] Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p.119 “An honest reading of 1 Corinthians 13 and other beautiful passages in the Bible speaks to a humanity dedicated to serving all creation through active benevolence, through love.”; Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p. 41 “Jesus instructs us to love, to seek the Divine in the everyday, to foment real peace and real freedom, to share bounty among the poor, and to challenge malevolent forces even if it means placing yourself at great risk.”

[17] Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p. 198 “If the seventies were marked by a deep introspection, the eighties were largely characterized by a more exterior orientation….This redirection reflected the teachings of Jesus – reach out to your fellow human, love your brother and sisters and serve them…”; Stephen Bede Scharper,  “Bruce Cockburn: Faithful troubadour of a dangerous time”, Nov 03 2014, “Such a stance has led him to trouble spots around the globe, including Guatemala, Mozambique and Afghanistan, performing and speaking out on crushing Third World debt, native rights, landmines and the environment.” ; “…The amalgam of Cockburn’s activism, Christian belief and musical virtuosity led him to work with many international human rights and eco-groups such as Oxfam, Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth and Doctors without Borders.” http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/11/03/bruce_cockburn_faithful_troubadour_of_a_dangerous_time_scharper.html  (accessed March 5th 2015)

[18] Bruce Cockburn: “I was raised going to Sunday school, with the obligation to wear grey flannels on Sunday mornings, which was horrible.”  The United Church of Canada: It’s one of the least attended churches in existence…” “My parents are agnostics and the only reason we went to Sunday school was that, well, my great aunt would be unhappy and the neighbors would talk. This was the 50s. You don’t buck the system in the 50s. We did what we were supposed to do. And that basically was kind of clear from the beginning that that was what we were doing. Because my parents would go to church from time to time but we didn’t hear any talk of religion in the home at all.” Lori E. Pike , “The Thinking Christian Man and His Music: Bruce Cockburn”, http://www.todayschristianmusic.com/artists/bruce-cockburn/features/the-thinking-christian-man-his-music/  (Accessed March 5th 2015); Brian Walsh Interviewing Bruce Cockburn 4 – “Kicking at the Darkness”  May 20, 2012 at the recent Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing (April 19th 2012) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xv5OveKtPSQ&spfreload=10  (Accessed March 6th 2015)

[19] Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p. 190.

[20] Brian Walsh Interviewing Bruce Cockburn 4  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xv5OveKtPSQ&spfreload=10  (Accessed March 6th 2015)

[21] Brian Walsh Interviewing Bruce Cockburn 4  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xv5OveKtPSQ&spfreload=10  (Accessed March 6th 2015); Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p. 192 “I never found a church that had the same feeling of community, of being filled with spirit, as St George’s. That church, with its healing services and its congregation half made up of ex-cons, was more special than I had realized. Gradually the habit of attending worship services gradually faded away.” Ed: St. George’s since left the Diocese of Ottawa, and is now called St. Peter’s & St Paul’s.

[22] Drew Marshall to Bruce Cockburn: “You have this spiritual GPS in you that doesn’t seem to shut off.” April 14th 2012 on the Drew Marshall Online show. http://drewmarshall.ca/show/120414  (Accessed March 7th 2015);  http://www.todayschristianmusic.com/artists/bruce-cockburn/features/the-thinking-christian-man-his-music/  (Accessed March 5th 2015)

[23] “Music helps reveal Christian imagination”, Mykawartha.com,  Jan 30, 2012  http://www.mykawartha.com/whatson-story/3697209-music-helps-reveal-christian-imagination (accessed March 7th 2015).

[24] “Bruce Cockburn” By Dan MacIntosh, February 22, 2013. http://stereosubversion.com/interviews/bruce-cockburn-2  (accessed March 6th 2015)

[25] Allison, Hunwicks, The Catholic Register, April 26th 2012, “Bruce Cockburn and his longing for home” http://www.catholicregister.org/item/14360-bruce-cockburn-and-his-longing-for-home (accessed March 6th 2015); Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p.133 “I wanted a healthy relationship with Kitty. It wasn’t long before I was begging on my knees, consciously asking Jesus to help me, to fortify my mind and salve my soul, to make me the person he wanted me to be. I prayed like a child without reserve. Suddenly it was there, the same presence I had felt during our wedding ceremony, in the room with me, its energy filling the air.  I felt my heart forced open. He was there! … I made a commitment to Jesus. From that moment I saw myself as a follower of Christ.”

[26] Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p. 2; “A boat ride through the Stockholm archipelago – barren islands, sun on waves – the balance tipping toward a commitment to Christ. ” – from “All The Diamonds” songbook, edited by Arthur McGregor, OFC Publications 1986. http://cockburnproject.net/songs&music/atd.html (Accessed March 1st 2015); “The song ‘All the Diamonds in the World’ was the song that sort of marked that turning point.”- “Bruce Cockburn – A Burning Light and All the Rest” by William Ruhlmann, Goldmine magazine, 3 April 1992. Anonymous submission. (Accessed March 1st 2015)

[27] Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p.106.

[28] Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p.151 ”I wrote the song Lord of the Starfields as an attempt at a Psalm. One clear summer night, walking on a gravel road…Deep space overhead, far from urban light spill, blazed with millions of distant nuclear furnaces. All the way to the edge of everything, love resounded.”

[29] http://brucecockburn.com/about  (Accessed March 1st 2015); Bruce Cockburn: Rumours of Glory, p. 45.

[30] The April 14th 2012 Drew Marshall Online show. http://drewmarshall.ca/show/120414http://www.catholicregister.org/item/14360-bruce-cockburn-and-his-longing-for-home  (Accessed March 7th 2015);  Lou Fancher, Correspondent,  “Bruce Cockburn peels back the protective shell in his memoir ‘Rumours of Glory’”, 10/27/2014, “When Cockburn was a teen, his father destroyed a notebook of his first poems — an act he says annihilated his trust of authority.” http://www.mercurynews.com/entertainment/ci_26787017/bruce-cockburn-peels-back-protective-shell-his-memoir (accessed March 7th 2015)

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Jesus Loves me, This I know…

By the Rev. Dr. Ed HirdChristlike

One of the most well-known children’s songs throughout the world is “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  Somehow that song, like “Amazing Grace”, forms part of the spiritual memory banks of most adults.  The vast majority of baby boomers and builders have gone as children either to Sunday School or Catechism.  As a result, most adults, whether or not they currently attend church, have significant core memories connected with those early experiences.

 

As a teenager, I found church boring and avoided it by golfing and skiing on Sunday mornings.  But as a child, I remember enjoying Sunday School and looking forward to going.  I’ve always liked to sing, and one of my favorite hymns as a child was “Jesus loves me, this I know”.  Even though I did not know Jesus personally, something touched me as I sang that song in Sunday School.  Years later, I still feel deeply moved by this simple song.

 

Dr. Karl Barth was one of the most brilliant and complex intellectuals of the twentieth century.  He wrote volume after massive volume on the meaning of life and faith.  A reporter once asked Dr. Barth if he could summarize what he had said in all those volumes.  Dr. Barth thought for a moment and then said: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

chairman_maoWhen Mao Tse Tung attempted to crush the church in China, things seemed very bleak.  In 1972 however, a message leaked out which simply said: “The this I know people are well”.  The Communist authorities did not understand the message.  But Christians all around the world knew instantly that this referred to the world’s most famous children’s hymn.  Miraculously the Chinese Church, instead of being crushed, has boomed under persecution, growing from 1.5 million believers to over 100 million.

 

The author of this amazing little children’s song was Anna Bartlett Warner, sister to the famous 19th century writer, Susan B. Warner.  Susan’s first novel The Wide Wide World was an instant success, second only to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the most popular 19th century novel written in North America.  Anna published her own novel Dollars and Cenannabartettwarnerts under the pseudonym “Amy Lothrop”.  Anna and Susan collaborated together on fifteen fiction and children’s books.  Neither sister ever married, so they shared a house on Constitution Island right across from the famous West Point Military Academy.

 

The two sisters took a great interest in the Military Academy in which their uncle Thomas Warner was a chaplain and professor.  As a result, they opened their home to the cadets and held Sunday School classes.  Anna outlived her sickly sister by thirty years, and continued to run a very large Sunday School throughout her life.  It was her invariable custom to write for her students a fresh hymn once a month. “Jesus Loves Me” was one of those monthly West Point hymns.  Anna also gave the song to her sister Susan to use in the novel Say and Seal. In Susan’s book, a Sunday School teacher sings ‘Jesus Loves Me’ to a sick pupil.

Great words without a great tune don’t get very far in the musical world.  Fortunately William Batchelder Bradbury stumbled across the “Jesus Loves Me” words, and wrote the now unforgettable tune.  Thirteen years earlier, Bradbury had written the tune for the “Just as I am” hymn, which everyone nowadays associates with Billy Graham Crusades.  In 1862, Bradbury found the “Jesus loves me” words in a best-selling 19th-williambradburycentury book, in which the words were spoken as a comforting poem to a dying child, John Fox.  Along with his tune, Bradbury added his own chorus “Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus Loves me…”   Within months, this song raced across the hearts of children throughout North America, and eventually all the continents of the world.

 

Even after almost 150 years, “Jesus Loves Me” is still the No. 1 spiritual song in the hearts of children around the world.  Why is this?  I believe that it is because all of us deep down need to know that God loves us.  When I tell unchurched people that Jesus loves them, many of them genuinely thank me.  One lady said: “Great…we can use lots of love”.  A man said: “Thanks…I’m going to need Him some day.”  Whatever situation we are in, all of us need to know that the Lord really loves and cares for each of us.

I loved my Grandpa deeply, even though sometimes he was distant and abrasive.  Grandpa claimed to be an atheist, who had no time for religion.  One day I discovered to my surprise that Grandpa used to be active in a church choir, until his first wife died giving birth to her second child.  Left with two children under age two, he turned bitter and dropped out of church.

 

When Grandpa was in his late 80’s, I was speaking with him about that painful time in his life.  Initially he said that he didn’t want to talk about it, but then he started talking.  First he said that God sure works in mysterious ways.  Then my atheist Grandpa began to sing “Jesus loves me, this I know” to my three year-old son.  My son began to dance in front of Grandpa, and an amazing catharsis happened for my Grandfather.  Shortly after, my ‘atheist’ grandfather began listening to hymns again.  The next time I visited him, Grandpa spontaneously sang: “Up from the grave He arose!”  Within two years, I took my Grandpa’s funeral, confident that Grandpa had rediscovered that Jesus loved him too.

 

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, Rector

BSW, MDiv, DMin

St. Simon’s Church  North Vancouver

Anglican Mission in Canada

-award-winning author of  Battle for the Soul of Canada

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 1008- 555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC, V7N 2J7, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to download a complimentary PDF copy of the Battle for the Soul study guide :  Seeking God’s Solution for a Spirit-Filled Canada

You can also download the complimentary Leader’s Guide PDF: Battle for the Soul Leaders Guide


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Embracing Handel’s Messiah

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hirdhandel picture

Beethoven once said: “Handel was the greatest composer that ever lived.  I would uncover my head, and kneel before his tomb.”  King George III called Handel “the Shakespeare of Music.”  George Bernard Shaw commented that “Handel is not a mere composer in England: he is an institution.  What is more, he is a sacred institution.”

In North America and England, at the very least, Handel’s Messiah has become the most popular and performed and recorded and listened to choral work.  Many people stereotype Handel’s Messiah as Christmas music, but in earlier years, Messiah performances were more likely to occur at Easter.  For Handel, the Messiah was an Easter event that told not merely of birth but also of death and resurrection.

 

George Frideric Handel was born in Halle, Germany within a month of Johanne Sebastian Bach (1685).  Handel’s father was a barber-surgeon who hated music and wanted his son to become a successful lawyer.  His aunt Anna gave Handel a spinet harpsichord that they hid in Handel’s attic, wrapping each string with thin strips of cloth, so that Handel could play undetected.

 

handel picture 2When George was eight or nine, the Duke of Weissenfels heard him play the postlude to a church service and he summoned the boy’s father and told him he ought to encourage such talent.  His only teacher was Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, a most learned and imaginative musician and teacher, who instilled in his young pupil a lifelong intellectual curiosity.  At age 11, Handel entered a musical contest at the Berlin court of the Elector with the famous composer Buononcini, and won.

 

When Handel moved to England in 1712, it was a beehive of musical activity with Italian opera ruling the day.  Within the next 30 year period in England, Handel wrote about 40 operas and 26 oratorios.  Handel did not play to easy audiences.  If opera attenders felt bored in Handel’s day, they would often start loud conversations, and walk around freely.  It was also a custom for them to play cards, and eat snacks right during the opera.

 

As Smith/Carlson put it, Handel “…was an inviting target for critics and for satire.  He was a foreigner, and an individual no one could help noticing.  He had large hands, large feet, a large appetite, and he wore a huge white wig with curls rippling over his shoulders.  He spoke English rather loudly in a colourful blending of Italian, German, and French.  He was temperamental, he loved freedom, and he hated restrictions which placed limits on his art…”

 

 Charles Burney, who later sang and played under him, told how Handel once raged at him when he made a mistake, “a circumstance very terrific to a young musician.”  But when Handel found that his mistake was caused by a copying error, he apologized generously (“I pec your parton – I am a very odd tog”, he said in Germanic English).

 

Handel also struggled with his weight, a problem about which critics mercilessly teased him.  His London years were up and down, and unbelievably down at times.  As Romain Rolland has tried to explain it: “He was surrounded by a crowd of bulldogs with terrible fangs, by unmusical men of letters who were likewise able to bite, by jealous colleagues, arrogant virtuosos, cannibalistic theatrical companies, fashionable cliques, feminine plots, and nationalistic leagues…Twice he was bankrupt, and once he was stricken by apoplexy amid the ruin of his company.  But he always found his feet again; he never gave in.”

 

Jesus on Cross picture The situation was so bleak in 1741 that just before he wrote the Messiah, he had seriously considered going back to Germany.  But instead of giving up, he turned more strongly to God.  Handel composed the Messiah in 24 days without once leaving his house.  During this time, his servant brought him food, and when he returned, the meal was often left uneaten.  While writing the “Hallelujah Chorus”, his servant discovered him with tears in his eyes.  He exclaimed, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself!!”  As Newman Flower observes, “Considering the immensity of the work, and the short time involved in putting it to paper, it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of musical composition.”

 

At a Messiah performance in 1759, honouring his seventy-fourth birthday, Handel responded to enthusiastic applause with these words: “Not from me – but from Heaven- comes all.”  In his last years he worshipped twice every day at St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, near his home.

 

The Messiah was first performed in Dublin in 1742, and immediately won huge popular success.  In order to have room enough for the people,  a request was sent afar and wide, asking, “The favour of the Ladies not to come with hoops this day to the Music Hall in Fishamble Street.  The Gentlemen are desired to come without their swords.”  This is how the Dublin Newspaper reported the event: “…The best Judges allowed it to be the most finished work of Musick.  Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring crowded Audience.  The Sublime, the Grand, and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestic, and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear…”  Handel could have made a financial killing from the Messiah, but instead he designated that all the proceeds would go to charities.

 

In contrast to the Irish, the English did not initially like the Messiah.  This oratorio, after all, had no story.  The soloists had too little to do, and the chorus too much.  It was different, and the audience wasn’t ready for it.  Jennens who wrote the script didn’t like it either.  He commented: “Handel’s Messiah has disappointed me, being set in great haste, though he said he would be a year about it, and make it the best of all his Compositions.  I shall put no more Sacred Works into his hands, thus to be abused.”

 

Twenty-five years later, Handel’s Messiah was so popular with the English that they almost rioted, while waiting to hear it at Westminster Abbey.  People screamed, as they feared being trampled.  Others fainted.  Some threatened to break down the church doors.

 

Handel’s use of biblical words in a theatre was revolutionary, and those who opposed Handel went to great extremes to keep his oratorios from being successful.  For example, certain self-righteous women gave large teas or sponsored other theatrical performances on the days when Handel’s concerts were to take place in order to rob him of an audience.  As well, his enemies hired boys to tear down the advertisements about Handel’s Messiah.  One opponent wrote to a newspaper asking “if the Playhouse is a fit Temple…or a Company of Players fit Ministers of God’s Word.”  This person saw the Messiah as “prostituting sacred things to the perverse humour of a Set of obstinate people.”

 

In contrast, the famous preacher John Wesley liked Handel’s Messiah.  He wrote: “In many parts, especially several of the choruses, it exceeded my expectation.”  One clergy William Hanbury in 1759 said that you could hardly find an eye without tears in the whole audience.

 

The King was so deeply stirred with the exultant music, that when the first Hallelujah rang through the hall, he rose to his feet and remained standing until the last note of the chorus echoed through the house.  From this began the custom of standing for the Hallelujah chorus.  When a nobleman praised Handel as to how entertaining the Messiah was, Handel replied, “My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wished to make them better.”

 

What is it about the Messiah that makes it so popular?  Many scholars point to the spaciousness in Handel’s music, the dramatic silences, and the stirring contrast.  Sadie commented that the music of Handel’s, is a blend of different styles: English church music (especially the choruses), the German Passion-music tradition, the Italian melodic style.  In fact, three of the choruses are arranged from Italian love-duets which Handel had written thirty years before.  Handel’s genius was in bringing new and dramatic twists to the familiar and mundane.

 

In 1759 the almost blind Handel conducted a series of 10 concerts.  After performing the Messiah, he told some friends that he had one desire –to die on Good Friday.  “I want to die on Good Friday,” he said, “in the hope of rejoining the good God, my sweet Lord and Saviour, on the day of His resurrection.”

 

On Good Friday, he bid good-bye to his friends and dies the very next day on Holy Saturday, April 14th, 1759.  Handel was fittingly buried in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey.  A close friend of Handel’s, James Smyth, said: “Handel died as he lived –as a good Christian, with a true sense of his duty to God and man, and in perfect charity with all the world…”

 

My prayer is that the words and music of Handel’s Messiah may help us experience the intimacy of Handel’s relationship with His Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, Rector

BSW, MDiv, DMin

St. Simon’s Church, North Vancouver

Anglican Mission in Canada

-author of the award-winning book Battle for the Soul of Canada

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 1008- 555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC, V7N 2J7, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to download a complimentary PDF copy of the Battle for the Soul study guide :  Seeking God’s Solution for a Spirit-Filled Canada

You can also download the complimentary Leader’s Guide PDF: Battle for the Soul Leaders Guide