by Jennifer Rome
|I love the Lord,
who heard my cry,
and pitied every groan.
Long as I live and troubles rise
I hasten to God's throne.
I love the Lord,
who heard my cry,
and chased my grief away.
Oh let my heart no more despair,
while I have breath to pray.
When the Touring Choir first rehearsed this African American spiritual
for our tour of Scotland and Northern Ireland, I wondered how this tune, singing of faith
in the midst of slavery, would carry over the Atlantic on the voices of our choir.
As we crossed the street to the brick building, our guide pointed down the street and
said, "Some riots happened over there not too long ago." Once inside, the choir
had tea with a Catholic Sister who organized a safe caf for Protestants and
Catholics in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We toured through the back door of the caf
to a sanctuary and through the back door of the sanctuary to a gymnasium, newly painted in
bright blue. In the gym we imagined kids who had never been beyond the blocks of their
Protestant neighborhood playing ball with Catholics for the first time. Someone called out
from the back of the group, "Let's sing in here!" I thought, "Oh come on.
We rehearse and sing a concert every day. Isn't that enough?" And then Martin, our
director, said he would help us with the words and sang a clear starting pitch. "I
love the Lord, who heard my cry and pitied every groan. Long as I live and troubles rise
..." The unaccompanied voices bounced off the walls like basketballs in slow motion
as we released the last note. "You've sanctified this space," the Sister
said-blessed it for Belfast Basketball games for peace.
Before our lunch break, the bus turned off the main highway circling Glasgow. It
stopped in front of a collection of buildings that housed a school and living space for
teenaged boys who had perpetrated or been the victims of crime. The school expected only
one woman with her guitar to lead chapel that day, but instead our twenty-member choir
crowded into the tiny chapel. I wondered if the boys would even care that we were there;
but they listened, some moving around in their seats, others drumming on the backs of the
pews. Eyes widened and attention settled as we sang, "I love the Lord, who heard my
cry and pitied every groan." I imagined cries for attention and admiration, for
healing and direction riding to God on the backs of the notes. As we left the chapel and
shook a few hands, a teacher told us, "Some of these boys have never heard live music
before." The music enlivened one young man especially, who for the next three nights
convinced adults to drive him to our concerts. He hastened his way to God's throne that
week in early June.
Every evening during our stay in St. Andrews, we walked to the top of the hill on North
Street to St. Salvator's Chapel. There we opened the Vespers services for the Institute of
Theology, a gathering of pastors for continuing education. From the seats below, I
imagined cries rising from lips weary of monthly meetings and weekly sermons. As harmonic
tension rose and released, "I love the Lord" chased away the grief of the daily
grind and gave the pastors breath to pray for new energy, new ideas, new life for their
As we traveled through the cities and villages where Presbyterianism took root during
the Reformation, the four phrases of "I Love the Lord" told a new story with
each encounter, singing itself into the lives of its hearers-and its performers. z
Trinity of Wonder
by John Sawyer
All of us have moments in which we can honestly say that we have experienced the living
God. Some come as a sense of overwhelming peace, some as unexplainable joy. Some are so
sudden, so unexpected, that they give us a slight gasp-of grace. During our trip, these
moments quickly became innumerable.
The gasp of grace came in a castle where John Knox and his fellow Protestants were
besieged by an army of Catholics. The castle is just a ruin now, well-kept by the edge of
the sea, with bright green grass and handrails for tourists. I climbed up into an alcove
to pose for a crazy picture and, while climbing down, bumped my head-hard. The pain that
caused me to gasp and cry out was short-lived; after a few minutes, I was ready for more
exploring. But that gasp of pain was a gasp of revelation. The grounds of the castle where
I bumped my head had, at the time of the siege, been red with the blood of those who died
for what they believed. Was my brief pain any comparison to that felt by those who died at
that castle, or those in pain in Northern Ireland, or even in Kosovo, which at the time
was still at war? No. But my bump on the head gave me a perspective that I will not
The unexplainable joy came at Bourocik Parish Church in Barrhead, Scotland. We sang a
concert that night and had been warmly welcomed by the congregation at a reception
afterward. The reception moved into the fellowship hall where a ceilidh, or Scottish
"hoe-down," was planned. When the music began, I watched as church members,
young and old, took partners with little regard to shape or size and began to dance around
the room. I have been known to dance, but never in much of an organized manner, like the
ceilidh dancers were dancing. I invited fellow choir member Pam Sebastian to dance. After
carelessly ramming into a few couples, we both realized that we had no idea of what we
were doing. I was laughing so hard, I almost fell on the floor. The smiles and laughter
among the church members who witnessed this scene were so heartening that I had to try
The overwhelming peace came one evening toward the end of the tour while the choir was
in St. Andrews. As a group of us left the local movie theater, I noticed that the western
sky was bright orange, and I turned down a side street that led to the beach. The sun was
already hidden by the horizon when I arrived, but the sky was still filled with radiant
reds, yellows, oranges, blues, and purples. The movie that I had just seen was lost at the
sight of this sunset. For a moment, all was complete and at peace. The choir had finished
its tour, singing in churches not normally visited by choirs. We brought with us music and
a culture that was much the same, but slightly different from that of these congregations.
Our time with them was enriching and enlivening. Our tour and our lives had been fulfilled
by God through the wonderful people that we met and the music that we sang together.
As I watched the last of the glorious sunset that night, I stood at the edge of the
seawall with my eyes wide and a breathless wonder in my heart.