Today this blog features the fourth and final instalment of Roger Newton’s series on “Celtic Music as a Path to Reconciliation.” In the previous three posts, Newton, a 71-year-old, semi-retired, music-loving Lutheran pastor, wrote about how music – and in particular Celtic music –could be a means of promoting reconciliation between Christians of different traditions.
A native of Vermont, Newton now lives in Philadelphia. He worked as a civilian personnel specialist for the US Navy in Groton, Connecticut for 15 years before entering the seminary. His final post becomes more personal as he describes the impact of some of this music on his own spiritual journey, including sung Celtic prayers. He also writes of the witness of the classic “Amazing Grace,” written by former slave trader John Newton – one of his own ancestors.
Roger Newton on Celtic Music as a Path to Reconciliation – Part 4
Jesus proclaimed that the life-loving God of the psalmists and prophets is His Father and Our Father. The apostles proclaimed the same. The Biblical singers, poets and evangelists, like the poets and singers I have discussed, proclaim God’s heavenly life to me as they enliven and invigorate my own personal faith.
I am a recovering alcoholic, sober for almost ten years as I write this. I owe my sobriety to my wife and children, of course, but most especially to God’s amazing grace working through Jesus and through my family. That is why “Amazing Grace,” written so long ago by my distant relative, another converted drunk named John Newton, who once captained a slaving ship, is my favorite hymn. Two recordings of this song move me to tears: Michelle Amato’s gentle, lilting interpretation and the overwhelmingly powerful rendition by the members of Celtic Woman on their Songs From the Heart album.
At the beginning I wrote that I love Bach and Haydn. Johann Sebastian Bach, the Baroque master who composed magnificent faith-filled Masses, Passions, cantatas and oratorios, was also a deeply faithful Christian believer and theologian. Even his most secular music, such as the Brandenburg Concertos, the sonatas and partitas for solo violin and the suites of dance movements for solo cello, gave glory to God. Bach would have rejoiced in his Christian soul if he had been able to hear the magnificent counterpoint and the heavenly melodic lines played by fiddler Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas on their delightful recording appropriately titled Fire and Grace.
Franz Joseph Haydn created moving and powerful Christian masterpieces:, the majestic Die Schöpfung, the intensely emotional Seven Last Words of Christ and less profound but still glorious Masses. He was the classical period’s foremost composer of theme-and-variations movements in his symphonies and chamber works. As far as I have been able to tell, Haydn was always a devout Christian, although he allowed Mozart to persuade him to join the Masonic order for social fellowship reasons. Haydn would have enjoyed hearing his musical reflection in Fraser’s and Haas’ “The Duchess,” a piece full of the same “fire and grace” which I hear in all of Haydn’s own music.
Someday, when I am wiser (thank you, Chloë Agnew, for those words), I shall explore whether Bach and Haydn themselves may have possessed a bit of musical and spiritual, if not actually ethnic, Celtic heritage. But until then I have three prayers, one for myself and two for all of us. The first prayer is a song I never fully appreciated until I heard Hayley Westenra sing it: “Abide with Me.”
The second prayer is called simply “The Prayer” and is sung by Chloë: “As we go our way, Lead us to a place, Guide us with your grace To a place where we’ll be safe.” It sounds like a prayer to Jesus as His disciple John the Galilean remembered Him (John 14).
I recently played Chloë’s recording of “The Prayer” as a sermon illustration at the liturgy in which I baptized a beautiful baby girl also named Chloë. Little Chloë’s family and several members of the congregation told me they appreciated the appropriateness and the prayerfulness of the song.
My third prayer is the “Celtic Prayer” written by oboist David Agnew for his children, including Chloë, the prayer sung so beautifully by Méav:
“Now is the hour at the end of the day that we must take the time to pray. And certain song our hearts do say: Our children had a better life today. Our song and dance will bring us peace today.”
This third prayer has a life-celebrating dance in the middle, played by David and his colleagues. Of course, I’m probably too old to dance, but then again, . . .
Other Posts in the Series
(Image sourced on flickr, by Tau Zero)