Thursday, June 27, 2013

prayer minstrel series: Godfrey Birtill

I want to start a series on my blog. I will just call it my "prayer minstrel" series, but I have a feeling it will evolve into something more.
For the moment, I am compelled to share musicians and songwriters that have carried me throughout the years within their melodies and words. I love how music is an avenue for healing as it takes us straight into the arms of our Maker. I think it is quite clear in Scripture that the ministry of worship and song have a vital role in the lives of God's children. We all know David as the Psalmist, as well as the one who soothed Saul with his songs. The gift of song has that divine element to it to mend and renew the broken-hearted and burdened, as well deliver to them the very presence of the Lord. At the heart of who I am, I find this is my "mission." It's just a piece of His heart that He gave me. Over the years of investing my time and energy into sharpening my skills in music, I missed His presence. So, I let my dream of music go. When I encountered that surrender, I sensed a new peace in letting Him take up residence in my life. In those first steps of release, I couldn't have imagined where He was going to lead me. I would have been able to comprehend it then. It has been through so much loss, grieve, and incredibly deep heart-break that He has led me.Yet, through each painful sigh, He has been more of a Father to me than ever before. There is something lovely about grief and the way it blesses by humbling us into His arms.
 In my blog series, I want to chronicle the "prayer-minstrel" musicians who impart the sweet healings of the Holy Spirit through their songs. I don't like the term "worship-leader" because it takes away from the calling God places on those of us who create songs of His heart. To me, "prayer-minstrel" seems a better term to describe those who journey over miles to sing over God's people the abundance of His healing, the fullness of His presence, His fatherly kindness and comfort, and who He has made us through His Son. It is in the songs that lead us to the place we all need to go....the place of brokenness and soul-release. The place of tasting the complete loss of all things and embracing all that Christ is for us. Those songs that pierce your heart and bring the tears you have been wanting to release but didn't know how to let them. Those words that shower His favor over you in a dear, tender way.

I'd like to introduce my readers to Godfrey Birtill.

My memory fails me, but I believe I was around 14 or 15 years old when I had the opportunity to go to one of Godfrey Birtill's concerts in Shiprock, NM. I also had the pleasure to attend a worship/songwriting-seminar that he led there as well. It was a very significant moment in my teenage years as I was hungering for more of Christ. Godfrey originates from Lancashire, but now lives in Lincoln and travels leading worship throughout the UK. His early albums are rich recordings saturated in Scripture and calling out Life and Restoration in desert places. Much of his later work, unfortunately, does not hold this same depth and richness. Nevertheless, I still listen to and recommend several of his early albums: Outrageous Grace (Live in Penzance), Fertile Ground (Live in Cardiff), and Hold Me In (live in U.S.A.). His live recordings are raw, but there is something very satisfying in the simplicity of his worship songs.

 Every time I find myself strumming one of his pieces, I have to remember an old tip my vocal teachers taught me, "fire on the brain, ice on the heart." Of course, it rarely works with me. If my voice cracks because I am singing words I have known so well that my heart has wept them at intervals, well...I cannot mentally place ice on my heart to keep it from affecting my tear ducts.

 The words within his song are as fresh water to parched lips. They speak the lovely mission of the Holy Spirit to restore our souls to the joy of salvation in Christ. They are a reminder of the life of Christ indwelling these clay vessels. His music reminds me of many passages from Isaiah and, perhaps, that is why they resonate with me. You can hear the heart of Father through his soft, whispery vocals as they sing words of hope and renewal. There are four songs that really highlight this Biblical theme of restoration and grace in the midst of a land dried up and fruitless. I have listed them below. However, it is unfortunate that YouTube does not have a video for his song, Beautiful River.

 So, to the weary souls who are seeking rest, awaiting a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in their lives to reach the bruised places of their heart, I pray these songs would be a refreshing nectar, uplifting and fulfilling.

Looking for Your presence
It's time to seek Your face
May the windows of heaven
Open up today

Let us flow with Your rhythm
The Spirit and the Word
And pick up your burdens
Walk the land and prayer...

Carrying you...Carrying you...
Into the city streets and homes
Carrying You...Carrying You
We hear the footsteps of the Lord.

Can Your heavy glory
Can Your heavy glory
Can Your heavy on me? 

Outrageous Grace
There’s a lot of pain but a lot more healing
There’s a lot of trouble but a lot more peace
There’s a lot of hate but a lot more loving
There’s a lot of sin but a lot more grace

Oh outrageous grace oh outrageous grace
Love unfurled by heaven’s hand
Oh outrageous grace oh outrageous grace
Through my Jesus I can stand

There’s a lot of fear but a lot more freedom
There’s a lot of darkness but a lot more light
There’s a lot of cloud but a lot more vision
There’s a lot of perishing but a lot more life

There’s an enemy
That seeks to kill what it can’t control
It twists and turns
Making mountains out of molehills
But I will call on my Lord
Who is worthy of praise
I run to Him and I am saved

 Fertile Ground

 Over the dead of the desert
Will come the rivers flow,
Into the cover of darkness
The brightest light will show.
Out of the womb of the morning
Will come your youth like dew,
After the pain and the groaning
Comes celebration news.

This is the time, this is the day,
The past behind,
New life embraced.
No longer desolate,
Let this be fertile ground
Where children of the promise are found,
Where children of the promise are found

I hear the Lord say to my Lord:
'Come sit at my right hand -
Until the enemies crumble
Under your command.
All of Your troops will be willing
Upon the battle day;
See now Your army arising,
In majesty arrayed'.

Beautiful River
You flowered into my wilderness
Your crystal waters gave me rest
I found my peace upon Your shores
For lesser things I thirst no more

You make me want to laugh and cry
You make me want to dance and bow
You make me want to shout and sigh
Overwhelmed by Your beauty

Na na na, Na na na, Na na na
Beautiful river

You turn the bitter waters sweet
Of every sour stream You meet
Polluted mind and stagnant soul
Are purified in Your control

I love the loveliness I see
In river bend and waterfall
I plunge my life into the deep
And from Your depth I live in awe

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

flourishing in a fast-paced world

I am introvert.
I married an introvert.
We are big dreamers.
Most of the time, our ambitions seem unobtainable in a world based on speed, money, and dominating personality-types (i.e. unrealistically positive, go-getter, in-your-face types). For the record, I am not saying that it is bad that there are natural personality types like that. I am merely addressing the fact that there are many of us who are not and who desire to succeed in a world where it seems that it is only those extreme go-getter types that get to obtain their goals (particularly because they have "bigger voice" or a more positive, dominating personality). As someone who is more quiet, introverted, and not a particularly big self-motivator, I find myself discouraged before I even begin laying down a solid foundation, which I believe is perfectly natural when starting a venture larger than you can even comprehend. I only really thrive in relationships and environments that teach me to be patient and support me on my toughest days. I am so humbled by the ways that my husband and I complement each other in this area and affirm and build one another in these very places. I am so thankful for this. In my music, writing, and essential oil home-business pursuits, I have been learning a lot about myself - i.e. what motivates me, how quickly I work or get things accomplished, what distracts me from my goals, etc. But, to keep myself from rambling about my woes (haha), I decided to chronicle the 5 things that I am learning along this path. They do not seem like major steps, but I find that they are the keys to blossoming into our dreams.

1. Make small, obtainable goals for each week [but don't find your fulfillment in merely meeting those goals] Even if you fail to meet every one of your goals, learn the art of patience with yourself. I find that I expect too much from myself and based my own level of worth on how many productive things I complete each week.Unfortunately, although I know this about myself, I still catch myself getting frustrated at myself for not being productive. Basing my fulfillment on meeting goals does not bring enjoyment, nor does it boost self-esteem. It just makes you more and more aware that you fail. A lot. I find that I get more done when I am intentional about enjoying the process of meeting goals. I have to enjoy what I am doing on some level, or else it is all about the check-list. I dare say this is true for most people.

2. Read blogs of others who are also venturing on the same path. I find it deeply inspiring to read blogs by others who are also pursuing big goals. For some reason, it jump-starts my day when I do this. Well, I think it is a natural part of being human. We all thrive on mutual support and serving each other in our words and actions. Although I do not personally "know" some of the bloggers from which I obtain fresh inspiration, I love their transparency and vulnerability through sharing their lives via the internet and chronicling their ups and downs and what they are learning from life. Photos are a plus, too. ;) I have a small list of blogs from couples or singles who are journeying through their own business ideas or health/fitness pursuits. I find them via Pinterest, Blogger, and Facebook.

3. Live. This seems pretty simple, but it is a big step. Sometimes, we get tunnel-vision about a particular pursuit and we forget the joys of merely living life and cultivating relationships along the way. There is beauty in the journey. The destination would be nothing without first living to the fullest (the joys and the sorrows). Spend the afternoon with friends/family and listen to their hearts and their lives. Invest in relationships. Go outside. Visit nature and remember how much sweeter it is than staring at a computer screen or listening to your own thoughts go round and round like a broken record all day long {this step is difficult for me considering that I live in the city with one of the hottest summers! Nature isn't as easily accessible, and, if it were, I would be a puddle of sweat by the time I got there}. Do something that requires physical/mental stimulation that you enjoy at home (or with friends/family). For me, this includes writing, cooking, reading, practicing guitar, and walking.

4. Prayer & Meditation. For myself, I am not just talking about general prayer and meditation, but prayer and meditation that is Spirit-breathed from the heart of Christ to us. Drawing near to our Father and resting in what He has accomplished for us in and through His Son. Remembering the indwelling Spirit that grants us strength and courage in all seasons. Personally, this is a major step. Sometimes, I feel like my Father is teaching me to pray in new ways, to be more vulnerable in my relationship with Him and not try to fashion my prayer-life off what I have seen, but in what HE wants to reveal to me. Also, learning my identity in Christ and not limiting myself to my own personality limitations.

5. Learn gratitude. I think this fits in with #3 because to be thankful is to live. Count all the little every day blessings of life and love them to the fullest. I keep a gratitude journal in which I write down things that I am thankful for each week. It helps me remember how rich life is! Gratitude isn't something we naturally know how to do. It is something we learn and cultivate and grown in. 

Here are some lovely graphics and words (from Pinterest, yes! muwaha!) that I find reflect my own heart and how I desire to live out this adventure of life.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Of writing and a review on the life of a poet

I have been experiencing a sort of pause in my writing project lately. It is not due to the notorious "writer's block" syndrome, but my own need to walk away from it to acquire some fresh thoughts and re-orientate my mind. I write from a place of passion and emotion and memories. Yes, everything I write comes from my inner world. I have never been able to write otherwise. Objectivity and impersonal forms of composition just refuse to happen for me. I have attempted in the past, but it was always like a boot that never fit. So, naturally, it is a commitment to invest myself in that place of emotions and experience. However, in this way, writing is both exhaustive and rewarding. It is my outlet.

 Lately, I have taken to studying a bit about the life of the bohemian-austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, known for his works of Duino Elegies, Sonnets of Orpheus, and Letters to a Young Poet. The funny thing is that I never came across his poems during my highschool studies. It wasn't until last year that I stumbled across his work online and found it resonating with many strands of my own heart concerning themes of love, loss, suffering, tragedy, and sanctification. Like most poets of his time period (the late 19th century), his life was touched by sorrow, abandonment, and failed relationships. However, the first thing that struck me about his writings is that they are redemptive, unlike most post-Romantic poets of his time. In a period, when philosophical thought was drifting towards Modernism and Existentialism, Rainer-Maria Rilke, although considered an early Modernist writer, appeared to have embraced a more positive philosophical approach to life. There is a humility in his writing that seems to embrace suffering and darkness, not merely for the sake of accepting it, but for its redemptive purposes on transforming and growing a soul. While Rilke believed in the existence of a God, he was by no means a Christian. In fact, he rejected religion, and yet, he, like many of his time, made Art his religion. Nevertheless, Rilke's poetry, letters, and various writings contain beautiful Christian imagery and concepts. His compositions are very much spiritual in nature, depicting the creature (man) seeking fulfillment, healing, and intimacy with something Divine, something that will transform. Sadly, "whenever Rilke writes about God...he is not referring to the deity in the traditional sense, but rather uses the term to refer to the life force, or nature, or an all-embodying, pantheistic consciousness that is only slowly coming to realize its existence." (source) He believed in the creative and transforming power of art, and due to being unable to accurately reflect God in his poetry, he invested himself into transforming life into art. Nevertheless, it appears that skeptisicm, failure, and fear still gnawed at the foundations of his being, in his art, his identity as an artist, and in his life. While I have not read enough of his works to make a full analysis of him and his writing, I can say, from what I have read, that, even in his depravity and darkness, it seems very apparent that his soul "sensed" that Love is the ruler, author, and healer of all. He seemed to embrace (and encouraged it in others as well) the tragedies of life, finding peace not in striving for answers to life, but in resting and acknowledging trials, pain, and sorrow as a means to being transformed, sanctificed, and becoming are true selves. As I have read through some of his poetry and letters (which are, by the way, incredibly romantic, dark, expressive, and contain strong imagery), I cannot help but have a bittersweet awareness that Rilke was very close to grasping the heart of Christ in a world marked by vain toil and raw pain. He was so close to understanding the beauty of a Resurrected Savior. He was so near to touching the Cross dripping with the blood of our Lord. And, yet, from the historical accounts that I have read, he never surrendered to the Creator of the very precious, true, and spiritually-Biblical themes and values that he upheld. His restless soul, being made in the image of God, as we all are, though never receiving the life of Christ, understood our capacity for Love, our need for Love, and appeared to hold to some sort of idealized concept of Love which was very much a reflection of Christ, though he did not acknowledge it as so.      
He wrote, "Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it." 
 I believe Rilke to have been very "in-tune" to the needs of the human soul and the innate desire we have for a place of "soul-rest" from the struggles of identity, shame, sin, sorrow, man-made religion, and man's quest for the meaning of life. In his Letters to a Young Poet, he instructs a young man on life and love in a rich, personal way. It is in those very letters that we get a more intimate look into Rilke's deep understanding of enduring through trials, allowing one's heart to become quieted and humble while awaiting the fruition of life from death, and the significance of human life, even one's own self. These letters are beautiful, having read them myself. Some days, I have read certain excerpts over and over again (particularly from his 8th letter to the young man he is instructing) because of the sweetness found in them. I cannot help but see a reflection of the Divine in his letters. His words are gentle, profound, and rich, not merely in a self-help counseling sort of way, but because there is a peace in them from a man who grasped part of the reality that, "though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Cor. 4:16-18) Oddly enough, in his 2nd letter to the young man, he confesses that, of the two books he always carried with him, the Bible was always by his side. It is quite obvious that the Scriptures deeply shaped him, even though he appears to have never acknowledged and received Christ. I suppose we can only hope that the holy, intimate words of our Lord birthed new Life in him, despite what historical facts say.
 Well, I am compelled to share one of his poems, which is a translation from German, titled, I Am Praying Again, Awesome One.

 You hear me again, as words
 from the depths of me
 rush toward you in the wind.

 I've been scattered in pieces,
 torn by conflict,
 mocked by laughter
 washed down in drink.

In alleyways i sweep myself up
 out of garbage and broken glass,
 with my half-mouth I stammer you,
 who are eternal in your symmetry. 
 I lift to you my half-hands
 in wordless beseeching, that I may find again
 the eyes with which I once beheld you.

 I am a house gutted by fire
 where only the guilty sometimes sleep
 before the punishment that devours them
 hounds them out into the open.

 I am a city by the sea
 Sinking into a toxic tide
 I am a stranger to myself, as though someone unknown 
 had poisoned my mother as she carried me.

 It's here in all the pieces of my shame
 that I now found myself again.
 I yearn to belong to something, to be contained
 In an all-embracing mind that sees me
 as a single thing.
 I yearn to be held
 in the great hands of your heart - 
 oh let them take me now.
 Into them I place these fragments, my life
 and you, God, spend them however you want.

I could analyze different sections of this poem in reference to Scripture, but since my bed-time draws near, I shall have to let it go. But, one of the reasons I love this poem so much is that it has a very "prodigal-son" point of view. And when you have spent much time with a real-life prodigal son, I can honestly say, a great affection for them forms in your heart in a way you never knew to love before. It is a love that loved them even in their arrogance, to their pig-slop, to their stumbling and desperate begging for a second chance.

 Well, all this to say, I find myself inspired by Rilke and his writings. His letters have been a sort of guide for me in the personal narrative I am now working on. In fact, one of the passages from his letters will be in the foreward of my little book. His words help me to put my own sorrows and experiences into creative text.

 Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life. - R. M. Rilke

 Looking up from my book, from the close countable lines
 into the finished-full night outside
 how in starry measure my packed feelings scatter
 as though a bouquet of wildflowers
 were being untied...
 R.M. Rilke

Friday, June 14, 2013


I am birthed, disfigured,
Into filth, toxic to all
Yet, fashioned to hold
Carved to pour fourth 
Praise, exaltation, worship
From every pore,
Sound, both guttural and vocal
Faculty, of mind and emotion
And ligamental motion.
Every cell, in its design
Stitched to burst 
In Praise
Before You

Yours truly, 2011

Yadah is Hebrew for praise, to give thanks, to confess.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

the words of a fellow pilgrim

When your ethnicity is heaven, then all adversity offers the gift of intimacy, driving you into the home of His heart. {A.V.}

Do you ever know that feeling when you meet a kindred spirit, whether it be through their writing or their presence? Often times, I feel this way about missionaries of old, but in late 2011 I stumbled across a book by Ann Voskamp that significantly impacted me. It helped me to breathe through the storms that hung over my life. And, her writing restored to me the life of REST we have in Christ alone, not a formulaic, rigid, expectations-based, complicated web of religion that I so often make of my life in Christ. It's not just another set of beliefs, an overly-glorified option to make me feel hopeful about my life, something I chose because it "fits" me or because I was "raised Christian." 
No, this...this is Life.
He who pursued me. 
He who set me free. 
He who so loves. 
He who is my All in all, meeting every need of this rugged vessel that is always impossibly unsatisfied until - He overflows, Christ in me.

The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. {Job 33:4}

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.{John 6:63}

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. {2 Corinthians 3:4-6}

All my brokenness is a whisper that I don’t belong, and every time I don’t feel like I belong, the Scarred and Rejected God whispers, “Come here, my beloved.”

And the longer I live, the more I feel like an exile. This is a gift. The exiled make His extravagant love their home.

When heaven is really your motherland, then prayer is really your mother tongue, and you can’t help but yearn to speak in the language of your Father now.