“In the life of a writer there are no extraneous experiences.”
(Everything that happens to a writer
becomes grist for his mill.)
“I believe the future is only the past,
entered through another gate.”
—Arthur Wing Pinero
(I believe this truth applies also to the present!)
As indicated by the title and subtitle of this post, it has to do with the unexpected inspiration that I receive when I spend time in the blood center of a city hospital.
Since I suffer from a blood disorder (among a half-dozen other health problems), I am required to visit the blood center every two weeks for a blood test and injection, and about every four to six weeks for a two-part blood infusion (commonly called a transfusion).
Because of my other health issues, those regular blood infusions usually consist of two units of blood administered in separate sessions over a two-day period.
During each of those procedures I must spend three to four hours sitting in a recliner hooked up to an IV while Mari sits beside me in a straight chair in a cold and rather stark and sterile room. Although the nurses in the blood center are wonderfully warm and attentive, responding instantly and graciously to our every need and desire, there is no way they or anyone else can speed up the procedures.
Not being a fan of daytime television, which is provided for each individual patient, I had to find a different way to pass the time of each session.
At first, I tried reading (as Mari does), but I found it too difficult to concentrate in that situation and environment. Instead, I got the “inspiration” (a significant word!) to dig out the old Walkman portable cassette player and tapes that I used to listen to while exercising on the Nordic Track (what I termed the “Torture Rack”) many years ago. (To view an amusing video of modern-day children being presented an old portable Walkman cassette player, click here.)
(Note: To magnify the photos, click on each one as you view it.)
Little did I realize that “inspiration” was only the beginning of many that I would receive as I began to listen to those relics with the amazing power to recall the past in such vivid detail—and with such surprising power!
“There Is Power in the Blood”—
and in Memory as Well!
“There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r
In the precious blood of the Lamb.”
—“There Is Power in the Blood”
(To view a video of Tennessee Ernie Ford
singing this old hymn, click here.)
Imagine my surprise when I sat in the recliner the next time, hooked up to that life-giving blood IV, and clicked on the cassette tape I had left in the old Walkman decades ago to suddenly hear Tennessee Ernie Ford enthusiastically sing forth, “THERE IS POWER IN THE BLOOD!”
Startling? Of course.
Not only was the experience startling and accurate, it was also encouraging and inspiring.
But it was only the beginning of many ongoing experiences of encouragement and inspiration I received as I listened to tape after tape and song after song from the happy days of our past lives. During the exciting days when Mari and I were still able to make our “semi-annual pilgrimages to the Holy Land” (our twice-a-year auto trips from Tulsa to our beloved homeland in Southeast Arkansas), we listened to those very same cassette tapes that were outdated even then.
But again what was most surprising was the number of memories that were triggered by those old songs, most of which we had not listened to in decades.
In an earlier post, dated August 3, 2011, and titled “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy!” I alluded to that marvelous power to evoke memories of the past by soul-stirring old hymns like the ones Tennessee Ernie and others like Elvis Presley sang on those ancient cassette tapes:
Still there’s somethin’ to be said for sittin’ and danglin’ your bare legs over the edge of an old uneven-legged, homemade slat pew in an unair-conditioned country churchhouse on a scorchin’ August evenin’ listenin’ to a red-faced, shirt-soppin’, brow-moppin’ Baptist preacher while watchin’ a busy dirt-dobber makin’ his rounds and wearin’ out both your wrists fannin’ your feverish, sweat-soaked face and shooin’ off blue-tailed flies.
But there is a consequence, an indelible trace left upon the heart by such experience. To this good day, more than sixty years later, I never hear or sing those old hymns we sang like ‘Amazing Grace,’ or ‘In the Garden,’ or ‘In the Sweet By and By’ without experiencing a strange bittersweet emotion: a sort of odd mixture of joy and pain, of peace and unrest, of a sense of tremendous gain and of unspeakable loss.
I think it has something to do with an old saying about being able to take the boy out of the country.
Musical “Memory-Triggers” as
“Turn back the hands of time;
Roll back the sands of time;
Bring back our dream divine,
Let’s live it over again.”
—Eddie Fisher, “Turn Back the Hands of Time”
(To view a YouTube video of this song, click here.)
“And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it,
and gave unto them, saying,
This is my body which is given for you:
this do in remembrance of me.”
—Jesus to His disciples in Luke 22:19 KJV
But again, it was not just the power of the old Gospel songs to evoke or “trigger” memories of the past that surprised and impressed me, but their power to serve as “time transporters,” their ability to take me back to earlier, happier days so that I could not only recall the past but also revive it and even relive it!
Although this concept may seem to be only science fiction, it is actually scriptural.
I am writing this post during Holy Week, that time in the traditional Church calendar in which Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, visited the Jewish temple, and observed the Passover meal with His disciples before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion.
At that Passover meal, also called the Last Supper, Jesus gave the disciples bread and wine, telling them to take it and eat it with this admonition, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19 paraphrased).
In this case, the word “remember” means more than simply to “recall.” It has the opposite meaning of “dismember.” That is, it means not only to “recall to memory” but actually to “put back together again,” not only to “recollect” but also to “reconnect.”
In the more traditional sacramental churches this is the prevailing view of the power of the Communion elements—the bread and wine—the power not just to evoke or trigger a memory of Jesus Christ and His passion, but to actually bring into the present what He did in the past, to bring the past alive and to take part in it here and now.
That is what happened to me as I listened to those old songs from the past, my personal past. They brought that past alive again and put me back into it, back along that “pilgrimage to the Holy Land” where I had listened to those same old songs so long ago.
But that was not the end of the return to the past I experienced. From there I was transported back to events in my younger days, decades earlier, when those old songs served as “the soundtrack of our young lives.”
This “double-layer-memory-trigger” phenomenon will be the subject of my next post.
Importance of Songs to Our Faith Journey
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered you, O Zion.”
—Psalm 137:1 NRSV
As quoted in Forward Day By Day
(To view a YouTube video of this song sung
by popular Irish singer Daniel O’Donnell, click here.)
It was at Trinity Episcopal Church in Tulsa that Mari and I first encountered this sacramental understanding of the power of the Communion (or Eucharist) elements to bring into the present what occurred in the past, to bring the past alive and to relive it in the present.
It is expressed by Mark Bozzuti-Jones in the March 28 entry of Forward Day By Day, the Episcopal daily devotional (italics mine):
Songs have strong associate meanings. When we hear certain songs, they place us in another time or place, they remind us of who we are and from where we’ve come. . . .
The people of Israel wondered how they could ever sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. They soon came to realize that they had to sing these songs, because of how important these songs were to their faith journey.
As Christians, we are called to find meaningful ways to sing the Lord’s songs, in our own land and in foreign ones, sometimes literally but always metaphorically.
This sacramental view of the events of Holy Week and indeed the entire Church calendar gave us a new perspective not only on the Communion (Eucharist) service and the events of Holy Week but indeed of the entire Christian worship experience.
We came to understand the meaning and purpose of the liturgy called The Stations of the Cross as a way not only to observe the events of Holy Week leading up to Easter but actually to participate in them vicariously, to in a sense bring them alive again so that we could take part in them.
As an example of this phenomenon of music taking us back into the past so that we can personally participate in events from it is illustrated by the old African-American spiritual titled “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” (To hear this old spiritual sung by the inimitable Marion Williams, which happens to be Mari’s maiden name, click here.)
Due to my failing health, Palm Sunday was the first time I was able to attend services at our local Methodist church since Christmas. After the congregation had proceeded to the front of the sanctuary bearing palm fronds, the children’s leader had the youngsters come forward. There she led them through a simple “journey” from one end of the curved chancel rail to the other. As she did so, she stopped them at a few places to call their attention to symbolic displays of Holy Week events (such as Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples). At each “station,” she asked them questions to make sure they understood exactly what happened on that day during that week and what each event meant in the life of the Church.
Afterward, the pastor commented on how impressive that simple reenactment of the Stations of the Cross was to him and to the entire congregation as it brought all of us into those events with the children—and with Christ Himself.
That is what the old songs of faith I listen to on the outdated Walkman cassette player and tapes do for me as I lie in that cold hospital room receiving the life-sustaining blood that keeps me going Forward Day By Day.
Those simple relics of the days gone by remind me of the past. But even more importantly. like the traditional events in the Church calendar. they transport me and reconnect me to the events of that past. They revive me (both physically and spiritually) and cause me to relive and participate in the events of the past, such as Holy Week and Easter, but also in my own life’s journey.
All Hail the Power!
“All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown Him Lord of all.
Bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown Him Lord of all.
“O that with yonder sacred throng
we at His feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song,
and crown Him Lord of all.
We’ll join the everlasting song,
and crown Him Lord of all.”
—“All Hail the Power”
(To hear this old hymn sung by Ernie Ford
from the same cassette tape, click on the title.)
Of course, the ultimate end of that Holy Week journey reenacted in the Stations of the Cross is Easter, that glorious day when God resurrected His Son Jesus from death and restored Him to life—new life in all its glory and power.
The same power that I experience in the blood of others to give me new physical life, and in the blood of Jesus to give me new spiritual life, also resides in the name of Jesus to those who put their faith in Him.
On one Easter Sunday morning I was helping to serve meals to the hungry at our church’s feeding program. As one rather disheveled man came though the line he suddenly asked, “What is Easter anyway?”
Stunned, the other servers hesitated as if trying to decide how to respond to that unexpected spiritual question.
In a moment of inspiration (there’s that word again!) I said simply and kindly, “Easter is the day that God raised Jesus from the dead so that those of us who believe in Him will also be raised from death to life and spend eternity with Him.” (See John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 2:6-7.)
That quickly devised explanation of a very deep and far-reaching spiritual query seemed to satisfy the man as he nodded and moved on down the feeding line. Of course he obviously needed someone to lead him through the scriptures to a fuller understanding of the complete salvation message, but that had to wait until a more appropriate moment.
The point is that there is indeed power in the blood of the Lamb, and in the name of the Lord, and in the very hymns that proclaim both—and more—recalling the events of the past to revive, renew, and restore them, and those who listen to them.
I know, because I am one of them.
“And precious things are [memories] to an exile,
They take him to a place he cannot be.
Especially when it happens he’s an exile,
From friends and times he knew in Old McGehee.”
—My paraphrase of the Irish folksong
“The Isle of Innisfree”
(To view a YouTube video of this song,
with original lyrics,
sung by Celtic Woman, click on the title.)
The above paraphrased quote from the old Irish folk song titled “The Isle of Innisfree” was one I cited in a previous post on June 8, 2011, titled “My Annual Tributes to the Clique.”
The only change I have made in it for this context is to substitute the word “memories” for “dreams.”
I chose it as an introductory quotation for this conclusion because it expresses the basic message of this post: the power of music to “take us to a place we cannot be” and to a time we seemingly cannot revisit.
I say “seemingly” because the fact is that through the “mystical means of music” we can actually “turn back the hands of time, roll back the sands of time” and be transported (if only for “one brief shining moment”) to an earlier place and time.
In this post I have limited that “faith journey” to Jerusalem during Holy Week and Easter, which is my Easter message: that we too, even two thousand years later and thousands of miles away, can actually participate in the events that took place in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and can then carry on that life in our own lives.
In the next post I will return to this same theme of the power of music to recall, resurrect, revive, and relive the past in a more personal, secular sense. It will be based on the “semi-annual pilgrimages to the Holy Land” that Mari and I used to make before we both became too old and infirm to literally take that journey into the past of our youth and young adulthood.
I hope you will come and take that “sentimental journey” with us!
Paintings of Stations of the Cross
After I had published this post I received an email message from Pat Scavo, a fellow classmate of mine and the former owner of the Blue Moon Art Gallery in Hot Springs. In that message Pat inserted a link to a series of paintings of The Stations of the Cross. To view those paintings on display at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Hope, Arkansas, and learn about the artist, Randall M. Good, go to: www.stmarkshope.org and then click on Stations of the Cross. Pat says about Good: “What I admire most about his artwork is how deftly he mixes Renaissance aesthetics with modern elements, yet still pays homage to his predecessors in his contemporary compositions.”
The photo of the Walkman cassette player and the video of children confronted by one were taken from:
The lyrics to the song “There Is Power in the Blood” were taken from a Web site titled “Timeless Truths: Free Online Library” at:
The YouTube video of Tennessee Ernie Ford singing “There Is Power in the Blood” was taken from:
The photo of the Tennessee Ernie Ford tape with the song “There Is Power in the Blood” was taken from:
The link to my earlier post titled “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” was taken from:
The YouTube video of Eddie Fisher singing “Turn Back the Hands of Time” was taken from:
The photo of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper was taken from:
The YouTube video of Daniel O’Donnell singing “By the Rivers of Babylon” was taken from:
The photo of Trinity Episcopal Church was taken from Behold the Glory: The Iconography of Grace. The Web site for Trinity can be accessed at:
The quote from Mark Bozzuti-Jones in the March 28 issue and the photo of the cover of the Forward By Day were taken from: Forward Day By Day: February/March/April issue. Copyright 2015. Used by permission. www.forwardmovement.org
The YouTube video of Marion Williams singing “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” was taken from:
The photo of the First United Methodist Church in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, was taken from an earlier church Web site. The current, updated Web site for FUMC in Sapulpa can be accessed at:
The lyrics of “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” were taken from a Wikipedia entry on that subject at:
The YouTube video of Tennessee Ernie Ford singing “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” was taken from:
The painting of the Resurrected Jesus by Raphael 1499-1502 was taken from:
“Rafael – ressureicaocristo01” by Raphael – http://www.masp.art.br. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rafael_-_ressureicaocristo01.jpg#/media/File:Rafael_-_ressureicaocristo01.jpg
The paraphrased quote from “The Isle of Innisfree” was taken from a citation in my earlier post titled “My Annual Tributes to the Clique” at:
The original lyrics of “The Isle of Innisfree” can be accessed at:
The YouTube video of “The Isle of Innisfree” sung by Celtic Woman was taken from:
To learn more about this traditional Irish folk song used in the movie The Quiet Man, go to: