When the People Saw Their King

When the People Saw Their King

When the people saw their King
And shouted praises in the streets,
Laying cloaks as offerings
Before the donkey’s humble feet;

The nation’s healing was at hand,
Vain men dared not stem the flow
Of joy their pride could not withstand,
For fear the people might outgrow

Their iron grip upon the minds
Of the faithful, good and true,
And leave their twisted souls behind,
As God poured out blessings new,

And heaven would come down to earth;
All their hopes would be fulfilled.
All would see their own true worth,
Broken lives would be rebuilt.

As He revelled in the cheers
That greeted Him along the way,
Perhaps He shed an inner tear
At what awaited in five days.

The Day is Coming

Another song I might record one day:

The Day is Coming

My friend was mentioned on the news,
Misrepresenting all his views.
As they piled up lie on lie
I shook my head and gave a sigh.

Sometimes it seems like the devil is winning,
But I know in the end that he won’t be grinning

Oh, the day is comin’
So no, I won’t be runnin’.
I’ll stand, not hide or cower,
‘Cause my Lord, He has the power.

The innocent are torn to shreds
Some in the womb, some in their beds
And in the streets as their blood flows
Some celebrate this horror show

They love the darkness, despising the light
But that won’t be me, ‘cause I know what is right

Oh, the day is comin’
So no, I won’t be runnin’.
I’ll stand, not hide or cower,
‘Cause my Lord, He has the power.

In the kingdom that’s to come,
We’ll see the glory of the Son;
With justice that his foes all fear
And mercy for his bride so dear

United in joy that mere words can’t describe
‘Cause He cleared the Way thought His great sacrifice

Oh, that day is comin’
So no, I won’t be runnin’.
I’ll stand, not hide or cower,
‘Cause my Lord, He has the power.

When it Seems…

Another song I might record one day:

When it Seems…

When your nation’s soul is crumbling
As its purpose slowly dies;
A man of principle can’t find
A sight to soothe his eyes.

All around are trace reminders
Of the way things used to be
When honour, fortitude and trust
Were found abundantly.

Now the enemy is laughing
And his power seems secure,
Your allies are collapsing
And it seems you can’t endure:

There’s a hope that will never fail
There’s a power that’s above the sky,
You are part of a wondrous tale
Of love that simply will not die.

When the sickness overwhelms you
And your body’s wracked with pain;
The strength that always got you through
Has been completely drained,

There’s a truth that keeps you going
Through the fury of the storm;
There’s a kindness overflowing
That will all these woes transform

Into scars of pride and glory
In the kingdom that’s to come
As we witness the full story
Of the Father and the Son:

There’s a hope that will never fail
There’s a power that’s above the sky,
You are part of a wondrous tale
Of love that simply will not die.

And Yet…

And Yet…

When faced with a true master,
My words fall flat as stone;
No great deeds they accomplish,
No great sins they atone.

And yet a simple glimpse of truth
Is all a dark place needs
To show the walls are crumbling,
To plant some healthy seeds

That sprout and grow so strong they change
The world in ways profound;
Such as when a shepherd shod
His shoes on holy ground.

So take that little step with me
To truthfulness and light;
Who knows where that tight path will lead,
What otherworldly sight

Will greet us on the noble way
To love beyond our ken,
Where treasured souls we thought were lost
Shall reunite again?

There He who wipes our tears will smile
With arms thrown open wide,
Show us to our special place,
And welcome us with pride.

A Hope That Burns (Finally Recorded)

A Hope That Burns

As I indicated back when I first posted this, I hoped to participate in a local training weekend for musicians and sound engineers in collaboration with Visible Music College in Memphis, Tennessee, that included the professional recording and mixing of songs that we the participants wrote (one each), as well as basic instructions on techniques, tricks and resources for mixing and producing music professionally.

That recording went well (though it very nearly didn’t happen at all*) and in due time I received a mixed and raw multitrack version of the song, so I could practise the mixing techniques I’d been taught. I then had some vocal instruction from the amazing Moira Greyland Peat, who’s strength, grace and generosity of spirit despite a truly harrowing childhood is an inspiration to many, and resung an improved version of the vocals at home, then mixed it together to produce this final version that I hope will be enjoyable and uplifting.

For the rest of this month it will be available via the CD Baby store for the princely sum of 99 cents, (all other outlets are the same price, but the CD Baby store link above gives the best royalty per sale). Clicking on the image below shows all the outlets where you can stream or download the song.

A Hope That Burns

Melody and Lyrics by Ben Zwycky, accompaniment by Tomas Pavlicek

Vocals Ben Zwycky, keyboard Tomas Pavlicek, guitar Michal Petras

(*I completely lost my voice a week and a half before the weekend, only heard its musical accompaniment for the first time about an hour before we were supposed to demonstrate our songs to show that they were worth recording, while my voice was still shaky, and a scheduling conflict meant that we ended up doing our full recording half an hour after the window for recordings was supposed to close.)

The Scandalous Humility of Christ

I forget the precise context of the conversation, but several years ago I used a simplified form of this analogy to describe Christ’s mission on earth:

A prince falls in love with a common girl from a distant province of his kingdom, but she rejects him thus: “I no more belong in your world than you do in mine; with all your wealth and finery and power, your palaces and servants and armies, you will never understand how poor people live.”

So the prince disguises himself as a serf, telling no-one but a few trusted servants and taking no money or other possessions with him, learns a trade and goes off to live where his face is not well known, supporting himself and working his way across the country. Where he spots an injustice against others, he has his servants secretly report it to the king to be dealt with, but gives them strict instructions to not intervene on his own behalf, no matter what, merely record how people treat him and only deal with such matters after he has decided to reveal himself.

Over three years he meets with both kindness and cruelty, generosity and greed—dishonest merchants, corrupt sheriffs, hospitable paupers and violent bandits. He is insulted, robbed, beaten, wrongfully imprisoned and tortured, yet not once does he invoke his authority to spare himself, not once does he call out for his nearby servants to intervene, he endures it all quietly.

Finally he arrives at the girl’s door, his simple clothing torn and scars visible on his face and hands, and asks her to reconsider, that his offer of life with him at the palace still stands.

Can you imagine what those servants must have felt, watching their beloved prince be so mistreated, suffer so many affronts to his honour, endure such undeserved pain and degradation, yet with strict instructions to not defend him, and all for the sake of some common girl. Scandalous!

Christ’s sacrifice for us is even greater than that, in that he is far further above us than a prince is above a commoner, and He took the punishments for our crimes, enduring even separation from the Father and excruciating death. At any moment during His earthly ministry, he could have called down legions of angels to defend him, yet He did not, only using his divine authority to help others, to heal the sick, free the oppressed, bring hope to the fearful and light to dark places. We are utterly unworthy of His generosity, of His scandalous humility, and each day we should remember and be grateful.

Eternal Perspective

When the universe was filled with light and time itself began
The Lord of All already had in mind his wondrous plan,
Knowing we would fail Him and wreck the world with sin,
He went ahead and made a way to welcome us back in,

Through His painful sacrifice to take what we deserve,
And lead us by example to be humble and to serve,
To live a life that’s worthy of the light he calls us to,
That he will fill with strength enough to always get us through

The trials, tears, and obstacles the world will send our way,
To struggle on with hope that guides us when we fall and stray,
Knowing there are times when we must simply cling and pray
To His faithful promise that will come with break of day.

He knows our past, our future, and with His eternal eyes
Still sees us as worth the effort, to Him we’re still a prize
That He treasures more than all the heartache and the pain
We cause Him with the bitterness, spite and pure disdain

We show Him in our daily lives and petty selfish goals,
Chasing after vanities, forsaking our true roles,
Choosing fleeting pleasures instead of heaven’s treasures;
Despite all this, eternal bliss still calls upon our souls.

So turn your face and aim your heart towards the highest good,
Tread the narrow steps upon which nobler feet have stood;
Turn away from greed, help those around in need,
Then you’ll give the world a taste of heaven’s brotherhood.

Fathers That Know the Father

This is another commissioned work, this time in connection with the Art and Craft of Writing Kickstarter, where for $50, the supporter would obtain access to every instructional video we produce (which we are making steady progress on), plus receive a poem by me to honour a special occasion and/or person in your life. This request was actually made outside the kickstarter channel by contacting L. Jagi Lamplighter directly, so I assume that this option is in theory still available today. The poem includes numerous inside jokes, personal memories and details of family history provided by the client, a wife and mother wishing to honour her aging father (and from what she told me about him, he is more than worthy of such a gift), hence some of the curious asides and word choices. I hope that general readers will still find it enjoyable and uplifting.

Fathers That Know the Father

Fathers that know the Father are such a special breed,
Though success in their endeavours is far from guaranteed;
They are not granted super strength, immunity from harm,
Super speed, astounding wealth or overpowering charm;

What they do receive instead is far more precious still,
A spirit touched with grace and a calling to instil
A love of God and truth and life in his children’s souls,
That they may lift their heads to aim for high and worthy goals.

Even in his absence, his influence is strong,
His loved ones know they always have a home where they belong,
Where they are known and cared for, and greeted with a smile,
Hoping that that their current stay can stretch a little while.

Far from our shores, you harnessed mighty atoms in the deep,
Ensuring that ten million children could stay safe asleep.
The sacrifices that you made leave echoes in their wake,
Clearing noble paths for other, younger feet to take.

Discipline unasked for, and even fought outright,
Is now appreciated in a wholly different light.
Prayers and verses planted in a mind when it is young
Grow into fruitful wisdom that flows in its own tongue.

Standing at attention while my tidying was checked
Has led to strong self-discipline and stronger self-respect.
You drilled me to work hard, in all things seek to learn and grow,
Aim for excellence, but never bask in my own glow.

A leader and great teacher in every port you called,
You had so many ways to keep your students all enthralled
As you passed on knowledge that was more than just a hunch,
Such as the laws of thermo forbidding a free lunch.

I wish I’d been less stubborn and took the time to hear
The wonders of the universe that you so loved to share;
When you said your expectations of me were too high it hurt;
When you took it back and were proud of me, I thought my heart would burst.

A sweeping gift you gave me on the 8th year since my birth,
And we took turns adventuring all over Middle Earth.
So many books we’d share with joy, I even got some signed;
You always were so loving, so insightful and so kind.

A fluffball called Salami nuzzled past your stubborn gates,
Moved you in a way your heart could not anticipate;
And so when perched upon your leg in good old Morro Bay,
He became the furry lord of all that he surveyed.

Our stomachs stuffed with tacos, we’d waddle up the hill,
Half-regretting extra bites when we had had our fill,
Back home to talk, to laugh, to revel in our family life;
Moments I still treasure now as a mother and a wife.

Black Mountain’s view enchanted us each time we scaled its slope,
Guests were met with signal flags along the yard arm rope,
Grandparents teaching step-ball back at 512 South Clay,
A family determined to all walk the narrow way.

Your love of God infectious, your love of us so clear,
Each time you wrote us letters it would fill our hearts with cheer.
No one on this earth could ever hope to fill your shoes;
No one we would rather join us on a fun-filled cruise.

Because of you, our families walk and prosper in the light,
Gleaming like Alaskan gems of purest tanzanite.
Whether it is of the Apes or of the Caribbean,
All of us are certain you are worthy of this paean.

You showed us what a father is, what we should aim to be,
Reflected glints of glory that shine eternally,
Helped us in our crises, gave us strength to cope,
And led us to the One who is our everlasting hope.

You taught us to be humble, to never put on airs,
And of course, most importantly, to not forget our prayers.
For this and more we’re grateful, in more ways than you know;
So in this and other ways, we’d like to let it show.

Dominus Dixit

This is the other song I was commissioned to write, and is much more ambitious in its scope, in that it requires at least six parts, so would take a very brave musical group to attempt it. The initial tale was of a last Christmas mass being held in a crumbling church before its scheduled demolition and conducted by an aging traditionalist priest being pushed into retirement by a young ‘progressive’ bishop. Instead of simply retelling it in song, I expanded it into a dramatic Valjean/Javert-style confrontation between the two complete with a narrator, congregation and angelic chorus, plus some basic stage direction. 

Dominus Dixit

Narrator:

The town abounds with Christmas cheer
As we near that time of year;
But at the church upon the hill,
There’s little season

 

al goodwill.

With wrinkles on his hands
An old priest humbly stands
Before a younger bishop
Who has ambitious plans:

Bishop:

“I don’t care about tradition,
This is now the modern age;
We’ll knock down this crumbling mission
And then turn a whole new page,

“We’ll build a towering school of philosophy
To break tradition’s chains and set men free;
No more chants of stale encrusted liturgy,
We will march on forward to modernity.”

Priest:

“No, we will not change a thing,
We’ll be here and we will simply sing
Gloria Patri, et Filio,
et Spiritui Sancto.”

Bishop:

“You’ve got one more week, then I can have you replaced
To give this place a welcome change of pace;
People who’ll follow the trends of fashionable thought
And make all the changes that they ought.”

Priest:

“No, we must not change a word
Of what two thousand years has stood;
Foundations must not be destroyed
Or else, we fall into the void.”

Bishop:

“I’ll give you one more chance to prove me wrong,
To keep up with the times and show you belong
To this age of progress, wonders to behold
With your midnight mass, don’t leave me cold.”

Narrator:

The priest retreats to his small room,
Falls to his knees and in the gloom
All week he cries out fervently
With tears and pain and urgency:

Priest:

“Am I blind to the signs of the times,
Or is this the world that I must fight?
“What can I do? What can I say?
How can I find the narrow way?

“Your saints worked through the centuries
Should we be more than mere trustees
Of what they all have handed down;
Dare we resculpt their holy crown?

“My faith is weak, my body frail,
But in You I cannot fail;
I will stand on what I know
You have approved for us to sow.

“Give me strength and wisdom, too
To know what You would have me do.
Let not my slowing mind obscure
Your loving heart, so true and pure.”

Narrator:

The day arrives, all is prepared,
Though some things could not be repaired;
The wooden crèche is incomplete,
Its heralds missing from their seats.

The bishop notices and scoffs,

Bishop:

“Tradition clings to what is lost.
The angels have abandoned you,
A sign so clear it could get through

“Your hard old head to see your fault:
Look at this decaying vault,
‘Tis only fit to be torn down
And something better for this town

Built in its place to serve their needs,
Not merely chant outdated creeds.”

Priest:

“You’ve made it clear, you’ve had your say
Now let me have my final day.”

Narrator:

A handful of old congregants
Sit in nervous cognizance
Of what hangs over this old hall;
The priest stands from his old oak stall.

The bishop sits with a scornful look
As the priest reads from his gilded book:

Priest:

Dóminus dixit ad me:
Fílius meus es tu;
ego hódie génui te.

Narrator:

Some try to read and sing along
With tired notes that come out wrong.
They falter, stop in shame and groan
Until he is again alone.

Priest:

Quare fremuérunt gentes,
et pópuli meditáti
sunt inánia?

Narrator:

Disheartened he begins to slow
And his surrender starts to show,
Then as he sings the next few words,
Two voices from above are heard:

Angels:

Gloria Patri, et Filio,
et Spiritui Sancto.

{Melody} {Angelic harmony}
Narrator: Angels:
The congregation looks around
To find the source of this sweet sound
Inspired by this heavenly noise
All those present add their voice.
Sicut erat in principio
et nunc et semper
et in saecula
saeculorum. Amen.

{All voices: Melody plus angelic harmonies, an additional (ordinary) harmony joins in on ‘Quare’, ‘Gloria’ and ‘Sicut, to represent the congregation gaining more confidence and strength in their singing.}

Dóminus dixit ad me:
Fílius meus es tu;
ego hódie génui te.
Quare fremuérunt gentes,
et pópuli meditáti
sunt inánia?
Gloria Patri, et Filio,
et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio
et nunc et semper
et in saecula
saeculorum. Amen.

{Above repeats with additional bass voice(s)}

Narrator:

When the chorus is complete and each eye sheds joyful tears
And hearts are moved by beauty like they haven’t been in years,
Many search in vain for whence those voices came
That lit their souls on fire with a bright eternal flame.

The balconies were empty, the vestries were unmanned,
There’s nothing in the doorways that could make a sound so grand.
The bishop, shaken to his core, desperate to find out more,
Rushes up some spiral stairs to find beside some broken chairs

Up in the loft are standing two carved wooden figurines;
The angels from the crèche had not abandoned them it seems.
Contrition overwhelms him and he falls onto his knees,
Confessing sins and attitudes and making humble pleas,

Then carries the two angels down to put them in their place
To herald the Lord’s coming with self-sacrificial grace.
The old priest welcomes him back and together they will stand
To proclaim the Christmas message to this precious, blessed land.

When the Light Came Down

A few years ago, I was approached to convert two different stories of Christmas miracles into singable lyrics to be put to music as part of a Christmas album. I composed and sent off the lyrics, but heard no more about efforts to produce the music and record them since then. I’ll share those lyrics with you now, and perhaps one Christmas in the near future their uplifting harmonies will bring joy and hope to an audience.

It is so long ago that I can’t remember the melody I had in mind for this first one, which concerns a secret meeting of Christians in the darkest depths of Soviet Russia. I will share the other one next week, if I can work out a way to format text into two columns in a blog post.

When the Light Came Down

In a land of cruel repression
And an atmosphere of dread,
The threat of disappearance
Hangs over every head.

The Cheka took the clergy
Who failed to hide themselves;
The gulag’s thirst is never quenched
For bloodshed in its cells.

In a barn out in the country
The faithful dare to meet
To celebrate the Nativity,
That great day in history

When the Light came down
To redeem the earth;
The Word made flesh
Through a pauper’s birth.

The pastor sees a boy he knew
And baptized long ago,
Now grown into a strong young man
Trudging through the snow.

The pastor’s smile is tempered
By a dark but nagging thought;
“Where has he been all of these years,
What battles has he fought?

“Is he lost, in need of saving,
Or an agent of the state,
Here to observe, inform on us
And seal our awful fates?”

But the Light came down,
Leaving heavenly bliss,
To be sacrificed
For such a wretch as this.

His mind made up, the pastor calls
For quiet, then he reads
The words of the old liturgy
That address their deepest needs:

For peace on earth, goodwill to men
And glory upon high
To God who is owed all our praise,
And all things beautifies.

When the pleas move on to ask
For blessings on the nation,
A look upon the young man’s face
Betrays his consternation.

For the Light came down
And showed the world its sin;
Men preferred the dark
To being changed within.

All there commend their lives to Christ
With confident conviction
Alone the young man holds his tongue,
Won’t mouth the benediction.

Sins are confessed, repented of,
Forgiveness is proclaimed.
God’s Mercy is extolled and
Calls to holiness are made.

The Eucharist draws nearer,
God’s purity declared;
His Holy Spirit invited into
All those thus prepared.

Then a Light shone down,
Into that dusty place;
An instinctive fear
Flooded every face.

Could that light be the Cheka,
Arriving to arrest
The faithful for their brazenness,
And thought crimes unconfessed?

No, it’s something more profound,
This old barn is now holy ground,
Each heart is filled with joy and peace,
Each guilty conscience finds release.

The young man stumbles forward,
Pleading for his soul,
The great light struck him blind and he
Now longs to be whole.

For the Light came down
To heal our ills;
Not for fortune, fame,
Or a thousand hills.

“I was here at the state’s behest
To report on faith expressed
In anything but the Soviet
And failure to quail at their threats.

“Forgive me, for I have betrayed
All for which you worked and prayed;
I believed their vicious lies
About you and all they despise.”

The old men gather round and pray
For the scales to fall away
From the eyes of his heart and head
To revive what once was dead.

For the Light came down,
Offering new birth,
To flee the snares of sin
And live a life of worth.