Archive for the 'Motivational' Category

“Follow My Path”

Monday, August 24th, 2009

I “got away from it all” this past weekend at one of the growing number of religious retreats organized and led by the lay members of congregations. For Protestants, “The Walk To Emmaus” is a popular program of this type, while Catholics may attend similar sessions called ACTS (for Adoration, Community, Theology, and Service). What these and other such spiritual getaways have in common are a peer-run opportunity for reflection and renewal. (Lev Shalom, which is Hebrew for “heart peace,” has a related goal, but is led by rabbis).

Over a period of 60+ hours, veterans of previous weekends who were otherwise ordinary husbands and fathers like me (the ladies go to separate gatherings) shared their insights and testimonies with us new guys – who are known as “retreatants” or “pilgrims,” depending on the program. All of the stories touched me, but none more than the farmer who told of the joy he found as a small boy, riding on the tractor with his dad. Ultimately the day came when his father made the first few circuits of a field, then moved to one side and invited his son to sit behind the wheel. The son asked “What should I do?” And the patient father pointed at the rows already sown and replied, “Just follow my path.”

Those four words had an immediate and tangible impact on the crowd, dads and Believers (or at least Seekers), all. Ironically, in the discussion that followed, I got the impression that our presenter may not have realized their profundity. To him, he was just quoting what his own dad had said.

But the truth is, our children, students, and those who work for us do follow our paths, learning by our example. The challenge for us is to be sure that the lessons we teach are good, and are the ones we intended. And for that, we have examples of our own to guide us. The Torah, Bible, Koran, and Tao each offer lessons in following our Father’s path. (in fact – one common translation of “Tao” is: “path.”)

Weekend retreats “out of town” aren’t required for re-dedication. But – sometimes – the best way to find the right path is to get off the beaten one. I am so glad that I did.

How A Melody “For Just One Night” Has Lasted 190 Years

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

190 years ago today, Father Josef Mohr had a musical/mouse problem. Rodents had chewed through the leather bellows of the pump organ at his tiny Church of St. Nicholas in the village of Oberndorff, high up in the Austrian Alps. The hymns of his Christmas Eve midnight mass would have to be sung a capella. The organ was going to be silent.

Unfortunately for Father Joe, he had chosen this particular Christmas Eve to write a poem which he hoped to have the church organist, Franz Gruber, accompany. When Franz told him about the busted bellows, the good father was so disappointed that Gruber made a very unusual suggestion for that day and age. It seems his wife had recently given him a guitar, and he could now – sometimes – play 4 chords (which, when you think about it, is more than Elvis needed for two decades.)

At Fr. Joe’s urging, Franz agreed to compose a simple little melody that would would suffice for this one Christmas Eve. Next year, when the organ was working again, he promised to create something lasting, grand, and glorious.

And so it was – on December 24th, 1818 – the congregation of the Church of St. Nicholas first heard Gruber’s temporary tune. It must have made a wonderful impression – the congregation has continued the tradition of singing the hymn to guitar accompaniment every Christmas Eve since.)

Over the next 25 years, the song spread, but not the story of its creation. Ultimately, it was published in sheet music form throughout Europe. But every version listed its composers as “Anonymous,” “Traditional,” or “Unknown.”

Then, in 1843, a music salesman stopped in at the tiny church in Oberndorff. Even after all those years, Franz Gruber was still the organist and choir master. As Franz thumbed through a folio of the salesman’s songs, he was astonished to see his melody prominently displayed. Only then did he learn that his simple little tune had become famous. And only then could we know that this beloved Christmas musical treasure was written at a moment when desperation and inspiration collided head-on.

And an organist with no organ to play (and only 4 chords on his guitar) lovingly crafted a melody “for one night” that we still sing every Christmas season: “Silent Night.”