singing a prayer

We’re blind but pray for eyes to see
Where we’re bound, Lord, make us free
Stained, we plead for purity

I believe it is to present-day evangelicalism’s impoverishment that reciting from a prayer book or uttering prayers written by other believers (usually in formal, difficult language) is somehow deemed less spiritual compared to saying spontaneous, self-composed prayers. The latter is considered more sincere and potent owing to its being more personal; the former reeks of tradition and is therefore frowned upon by many today for being “scripted”. And yet, it is interesting how the “personal” prayers are oftentimes filled with overused christianese—“cover us with Your precious blood”, “for the nourishment of our bodies”, “expansion of Your kingdom”—thereby robbing the prayers of, ironically, personality and freshness. Modern evangelicals who discover old prayer books, hymns, and recorded prayers are surprised to stumble upon a fresh pathway to the heart of the Almighty.

Personally, when I feel too overwhelmed to shape a prayer with my own words, I have found it refreshing to borrow another Christian’s words and let those rise to the God who hears, whose heart is inclined not to my words but to my very heart.

Of late I have been praying this prayer-in-song by Steve Green, which in turn was inspired by reformer Martin Luther’s first of 95 theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” I first heard this song at a prayer meeting at Davao Chinese Baptist Church.

Here, have a listen. And, yes, pray.

“Penitent, we breathe Your name.” Amen.

bravo, housemate!

One of my housemates is a senior voice major at the UP College of Music. Since Ervin joined us in the apartment a few years ago, I have had to resort to reciting psalms in the shower instead of belting out hymns. Hehe. Ervin is a very gifted singer, but he is more than his powerful and impressive voice; the dude’s a really nice fellow, lighthearted and very humble.

A few weeks ago we all got excited for him as he told about a possible guesting at the Kapuso Network. Turned out he would be singing the finale with Kyla at the launch of GMA’s newest, high-tech studio.

His voice recital had to be re-scheduled to accommodate the guesting. In the midst of juggling preparations for his recital and rehearsals for the TV guesting, Ervin asked me if I would design his recital poster. I was all too glad to help because, well, I am a good housemate—okay, maybe I was also eager to see Zak the MacBook in action with Photoshop. I missed his recital because of my Hong Kong trip, but I heard it went well. Now I wasn’t going to miss his TV debut.

The GMA 7 event, which actually happened last Oct 17, was aired just last night. I poured myself some orange juice (Minute Maid—with real orange pulp!) and waited for the finale. Ervin is in Bacolod for the semestral break, so when his bit finally came on, I just texted him, “Telegenic!” No reply. I’m sure he was flooded with text messages from all his friends (and fans!). Tonight I got a Yahoo message from a mutual friend, with a link to a YouTube upload of Ervin’s number. (Nothing escapes YouTube!) Watching it the second time gave me goosebumps. Here it is. Enjoy!

That’s mah housemate! 😉 I better get his autograph before he becomes more famous 😀 I wonder how it felt to hold Kyla’s hand and have her sing while staring deep into your eyes…

i sing

I had the opportunity to sing with co-workers at a conference this afternoon. I love singing, but I will be first to admit that I’m just an average singer. No false humility there. Truth be told, my range isn’t impressive at all, and I have trouble with harmonizing. But I love singing – did I say that already? – and I consider it a privilege to, once in a while, be given a chance to sing for God’s glory.

We did a medley which was actually a reprise of the opening number during our company’s 50th anniversary last month. Accompanied on guitar by Arnold, Gladys and I sang My Redeemer is Faithful and True (Steven Curtis Chapman) and In Christ Alone (Brian Litrell – yes, of the Backstreet Boys fame). I chose the songs and did the arrangement. The words are so powerful and meaningful to me it takes quite an effort not to choke on them.

Here are my favorite lines:

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blame the iPod

I once told a blogger friend that the silences in between blog posts are more often than not pregnant. While the public blog isn’t updated, maybe the private journal is being filled up page after page. Or maybe the heart and mind are wrestling with too many wild creatures, none of which tame enough to take the form of a blog post or anything written…

Or maybe there’s a new gadget that preoccupies the blogger? 🙂

Okay, that last reason would be mine.

Friday night last week, during a moment of weakness and techie vulnerability, I got myself an iPod Classic 80GB. Never mind that I might have impoverished myself with this pleasure purchase. It’s December, and I simply summoned Christmas morning to come earlier for this oversized kid. Pure geek bliss washed over me when I opened the box (Apple’s packaging is truly spell-binding!). Then, running my thumb around the click wheel, I’m sure my heart skipped a beat. It’s amazing how Apple products are so intuitive there’s hardly any need to read the manual to get started.

After updating to iTunes 7.5, I was nibbling impatiently on a fingernail, eyes transfixed at the progress bar as songs were loaded onto the iPod… What? Just 8GB worth of songs? Pathetic collection size! I need more songs!

The next few nights were spent figuring out how to convert and load videos onto the iPod. I scoured the net and tried out some cool applications: Videodora, Floola, and DVD Video Converter. (Anyone recommend other cool iPod apps? Do share!)

Then I plunged into the world of podcasts. I subscribed to podcasts by Ravi Zacharias, John Piper, National Geographic (nice tiny productions!), and Scientific American. I’ve never been more excited about commuting to and from work! (Well, not since I first got an iPod shuffle two years ago.)

Okay, I’ll stop gushing. By far though, this has been the happiest blogging silence. So if I don’t post in the next couple of days or weeks, you’ll now I’m happily silent with my new baby.

missing hymns

All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

I grew up in a church that sang hymns. Accompanied by an old piano with some dead keys (an even older church organ was reserved for special occasions), I sang along with elder people who didn’t look at the hymn book for the words or the notes—they knew them by heart.

It’s sad that many worshipers today find hymns boring. They deem the language too deep and old, the melody too strange and slow. They prefer the repetitive words and pop-sounding beat of contemporary choruses. I like some of these modern songs too, but not in the same way that I love hymns. There is so much literary beauty and depth of insight in hymns that have time and time again brought me to tears. Oh what joys are missed by those who have shrugged off the classics!

These days I find myself longing to be transported back to the church pew of my childhood, the dog-eared maroon hymn book in my hands, my voice joining in harmony with a hundred others.

I wish they would sing more hymns at church this Sunday. I won’t mind if they don’t jazz it up with a modern tempo or lavish instrumentalization. A capella would be fine too. Just give me good ol’ hymn-singing.

It’s the kind of music my heart longs for these days.

way back into sanity

I’ve been hiding all my hopes and dreams away/ Just in case I ever need ’em again someday/ I’ve been setting aside time/ To clear a little space in the corners of my mind/ All I wanna do is find my way back into love/ I can’t make it through without a way back into love/ O-oh-oh!

[Repeat forever.]

I’ve been… trying to ignore it for the past hour! But one of my neighbors – down in the first floor from the sound of it – seems determined to permanently imprint Way Back Into Love into the psyche of all residents in this four-storey apartment building! This saccharine tune from the movie Music and Lyrics has been playing in loop mode for the past hour or so. Imagine that!

Don’t get me wrong, I like the song. I think it’s cute and hearfelt. I even have the lyrics memorized (go ahead, laugh). The first few times neighbor played it this afternoon I happily sang along. Somewhere between the hundredth and thousandth repeat, I was humming…

On the millionth time it played, I started to feel the urge to break something. Anything.

But because I am a firm believer that violence is never the answer, I resort to blogging for release. Having to listen to a song, no matter how beautiful or cool, played 2.5 billion times is nothing short of torture. I’ve never loved a song so obsessively as to turn it into a hypnotic mantra by my repetitive playing and/or singing, and in so doing irk someone bad enough that he must blog to avoid resorting to violence… (Let me catch my breath.)

Fine. Maybe I do need to find my “way back into love.” But, hey, don’t rub it in this way!

Arrggh! It’s still playing.

UPDATE | Monday 9.41AM

Just about to shut down comp (it’s running Ubuntu now!) and leave for a meeting in Ortigas (i’m running late!). Guess what neighbor is playing again… Ibang level na ‘to!

pandora’s (music) box

Not too long ago, a few friends were gushing about the internet radio site created by the Music Genome Project called Pandora. I’ve visited the site once or twice before, but never really got around to exploring because of the erratic internet connection.

Wanting to fill my hot Saturday afternoon with soothing music (and after the radio features of Yahoo! Messenger and iTunes have refused to cooperate with me), I paid a return visit.

And I’m glad I did. The site’s design is clean, sans bells and whistles (in stark contrast to other internet music sites that have album covers all over their home page). The idea behind Pandora is simple. Acting as your “personal DJ,” Pandora plays the kind of music that you like. Cool! But how does it know what you like? Well, the site prompts you to enter a song title or an artist’s name. It then uses this bit of info to create a “station” for you that plays similar and related songs from its vast database of music.

I was in the mood for good mellow melodies, so I typed in “Josh Groban.” Naturally, one of his songs was the first on the playlist, followed by others that Pandora thinks is “genetically” similar to Groban’s songs (including “You Raise Me Up” in almost all its incarnations).

Much to my delight, I stumbled upon newfound artists that caught my fancy, like David Phelps, Russell Watson, and Adam Watkiss. My music library hasn’t had an infusion of new tunes in quite a while. So I took down the names of the interesting artists and made a mental note to hunt for their music.

Of course, Pandora’s musical ESP is not fool proof. I’ve had to click on the “Next” button a few times to skip a song that I didn’t feel like listening to (Sorry, Barbra Streisand – perhaps another day?). I expected an abrupt end to an unwanted song after I clicked “Next”, but Pandora accepted my rejection with class by fading out the song and smoothly fading into the next. Ah, I feel the love 🙂

There’s a “Guide Us” button on the Pandora player. I’m assuming this is for getting feedback from users as to why, in their opinion, a particular song does not belong to the “station” the Pandora system has created. I haven’t clicked it though.

Pandora has other cool features that I haven’t tried out yet. I’m hoping to spend more time exploring the site. Meantime, it’s good enough for me that it’s playing just the kind of music I want on this Saturday afternoon that has found me reading and writing.

Give it a try. You just might find some delightful treasures in this Pandora’s (music) box.

interior decorating

Welcome to this heart of mine
I’ve buried under prideful vines
Grown to hide the mess I’ve made
Inside of me, come decorate, Lord

Open up the creaking door
And walk upon the dusty floor
Scrape away the guilty stains
Until no sin or shame remain

Spread Your love upon the walls
And occupy the empty halls
Until the man I am has faded
No more doors are barricaded

When I was attending a training conference in Colorado Springs in March 2005, there was this CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) artist who performed one morning during the host publisher’s devotion time. I’ve never heard of Shaun Groves in the Philippines. Michael W. Smith, yes. Steven Curtis Chapman, I’m a huge fan of. Steven Green, I sang his songs effortlessly (until puberty hit). But Shaun Groves, no bells ringing.

Nothing was showbiz or fancy about Groves that one might expect of music celebrities (yes, even “Christian” ones). In his street clothes and out-of-bed hair, he could easily pass up for a university dude. He talked about his music and his life; how his songs were born out of his study of Scriptures and grappling with faith issues. His music and his stories made sense to me, even gripping me with their honesty and rawness. Took a video of him performing, using my PDA (I’ll have to scour my archives for it).

Here’s a vid of Shaun performing “Welcome Home,” one of his earlier hits. I’ve been playing the song over and over lately, making the words my own prayer. (When the melody gets a little tricky and the notes soar beyond my range, I just recite the words 🙂 ) May God speak to you through this song.

Take me, make me all You want me to be
That’s all I’m asking, all I’m asking

Check out Shaun Groves’s blog.