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"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil,
to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11 (NKJV)

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go

Have you seen the Disney/Pixar movie Rattatouille? There is a scene where Remy is trying to explain to his brother how he sees colors and fireworks when he savors delicious food...and how the joy, pleasure and experience are enhanced by the complexity of combining certain flavors together.
Remy seeing colors
Remy teaching Emille
Yes, I admit I am a foodie, or "food snob" as some have called me. My favorite pizza is called Figaro and is a coal brick oven roasted pie with no sauce but a delectable combination of prosciutto, fresh figs, shaved aged Parmesan cheese, gorgonzola and topped with fresh arugula. It's a meal I am just not able to experience without closing my eyes to savor every single one of the unique flavors that come together in such beautiful harmony that even after a few slices each bite is as good as the first.
This is exactly how I feel when I hear certain praise and worship songs. There are certain songs that I am just not able to fully appreciate without closing my eyes and reveling in every note that blends together with the others in a beautiful tapestry of expression towards our Lord Jesus Christ. By far, the song which inevitably triggers this effect is the Gaither Vocal Band's rendition of the classic hymn "Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go." I can't even listen while I drive because I have to stop to close my eyes and savor every note in the tantalizing arrangement of harmonies. Today I decided to do some research online about the lyrics and history of this hymn. Here is what I learned...lyrics AND history:

O Love, that wilt not let me go
by George Matheson
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

History of Hymn
“O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” written on the evening of Matheson’s sister’s marriage. His whole family had gone to the wedding and left him alone. He writes of something which happened to him that caused immense mental anguish. There is a story of how years before, he had been engaged until his fiancé learned that he was going blind and there was nothing the doctors could do. She told him that she could not go through life with a blind man. He went blind while studying for the ministry, and his sister had been the one who had taken care of him all these years, but now she is gone. He had been a brilliant student, some say that if he hadn’t gone blind he could have been the leader of the church of Scotland in his day. He had written a learned work on German theology and then wrote “The Growth of The Spirit of Christianity.” Louis Benson says this was a brilliant book but with some major mistakes in it. When some critics pointed out the mistakes and charged him with being an inaccurate student he was heartbroken. One of his friends wrote, “When he saw that for the purposes of scholarship his blindness was a fatal hindrance, he withdrew from the field – not without pangs, but finally.” So he turned to the pastoral ministry, and the Lord richly blessed him, finally bringing him to a church where he regularly preached to over 1500 people each week. But he was only able to do this because of the care of his sister and now she was married and gone. Who will care for him, a blind man? Not only that, but his sister’s marriage brought fresh reminder of his own heartbreak, over his fiancé’s refusal to “go through life with a blind man.” It is in the midst of this circumstance and intense sadness that the Lord gives him this hymn – written, he says, in 5 minutes! Looking back over his life, he once wrote that his was “an obstructed life, a circumscribed life… but a life of quenchless hopefulness, a life which has beaten persistently against the cage of circumstance, and which even at the time of abandoned work has said not “Good night” but “Good morning.” How could he maintain quenchless hopefulness in the midst of such circumstances and trials? His hymn gives us a clue. “I trace the rainbow in the rain, and feel the promise is not vain” The rainbow image is not for him “If the Lord gives you lemons make lemonade” but a picture of the Lord’s commitment! It is a picture of the battle bow that appears when the skies are darkening and threaten to open up and flood the world again in judgment. But then we see that the battle bow is turned not towards us – but toward the Lord Himself!

Matheson said about this hymn:
My hymn was com­posed in the manse of In­ne­lan [Ar­gyle­shire, Scot­land] on the ev­en­ing of the 6th of June, 1882, when I was 40 years of age. I was alone in the manse at that time. It was the night of my sister’s mar­ri­age, and the rest of the fam­i­ly were stay­ing over­night in Glas­gow. Some­thing hap­pened to me, which was known only to my­self, and which caused me the most se­vere men­tal suf­fer­ing. The hymn was the fruit of that suf­fer­ing. It was the quick­est bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the im­press­ion of hav­ing it dic­tat­ed to me by some in­ward voice ra­ther than of work­ing it out my­self. I am quite sure that the whole work was com­plet­ed in five min­utes, and equal­ly sure that it ne­ver re­ceived at my hands any re­touch­ing or cor­rect­ion. I have no na­tur­al gift of rhy­thm. All the other vers­es I have ever writ­ten are man­u­fact­ured ar­ti­cles; this came like a day­spring from on high.
WOW!!!! That is an AMAZING testimony of true peace in the midst of one's struggles. Today I leave you with a link to a fabulous interview with one of my favorite Christian artists, David Phelps, who just happened to begin his career with the Gaither Vocal Band and arranged their accapella version of this song. Towards the end of the interview he talks about the joy he felt creating this arrangement, taking every note as a different color with a paintbrush combining them into beautiful harmonies...WOW! Right after the interview you can hear them sing the song live...double WOW!!! Take a few minutes, turn up the sound and enjoy the beautiful masterpiece in honor of our Lord and Savior:
Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go- Performed by The Gaither Vocal Band, Arranged by David Phelps
Like Remy, taking time to "savor" and truly experience every aspect of the art of food, we as Christians need to take the time to seek out, "savor" and truly experience our time with God.  This is what truly bring us to the place where we can experience the absolute joy and peace that only He can give us, like in the case of the author of this hymn.  Too often we are like Emille, gobbling down garbage that we think will feed our souls and bring us peace when it's just not what we need... or worse, to just "dabble" in our time with God and only get to see a mere glimmer of the beauty in the experience.  Our lives are crazy, our lives are stressed... and the only way we can make it through is to seek His face, intimate time with our Lord, in order to get the peace we need and recharge our batteries to take on another day.  I pray this brief anecdote will help you reflect in the time you share with God.
Have a  blessed day!

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