Bless You, Keep You
We converged on Atlantic City, from every high school in the state. Not to gamble or surf or sunbathe: we came together to sing. I practiced for weeks for the tryouts, and somehow, with my teacher’s encouragement and training, the judges selected me: to sing in the New Jersey All-State Chorus. Three days in Atlantic City in 1980, rehearsing, perfecting, bringing together pitch and tempo and nuance, four hundred voices moving together as four, like the ocean in its swelling and racing and tumbling and calm. We gathered for dinner in the ballroom, the first night, seated and hungry at round tables with white tablecloths. I was accustomed to prayer in my home over steaming meals, asking the Father in the name of the Son to bless the food for our nourishment and health and strength and wisdom and protection, though I did not expect prayer would be offered that night at the hotel in Atlantic City – would one say Lord Jesus or Adonai or Allah…? Would one say Amen? But then the room eased into spontaneous song, a prayer sung, without accompaniment, only song. Soft and gentle. The Lord bless you and keep you. I did not know this hymn. I had never heard this hymn. Slow and reverent. The Lord lift his countenance upon you. How could I never have heard this melodic sweetness? From the first notes I felt swept away toward some immense imminent mysterious culmination of Beauty and Spirit. Even the syncopated coun-te-nance trickled into a soft pool of silence suspending the line in time, bridging to the next but savoring the sound of now before moving on. Lifting and lofty. And give you peace. And give you peace. A Numbers 6:24 blessing pronounced upon the children of Mosaic Israel. An anno domini 1900 blessing of peace composed by choirmaster-professor-dean Peter C. Lutkin. An offering of peace composed for the first American a cappella choir. And here we were, an a cappella choir of 400 souls singing his benediction. The Lord make his face to shine upon you. And in that moment the face of God and the love of God and the beauty of God felt so exquisitely real. And be gracious. The Lord be gracious unto you. And I knew God was gracious for allowing me to receive this song. And all of this lyrical melodic harmonic beauty presaged a chorus of the glorious folding swelling four-voiced sevenfold A-m-e-n rising to permeate the grand hall and press against constraining ceilings and walls, hovering, hovering, and slowly settling with one long low final A – m – e – n – softly upon the soul, the beautiful wave foregoing its crash and roil to resolve imperceptibly into receiving coastal sands. And as the sound waned, I sat bewildered and weeping, and wondering what miraculous extraordinary thing had just graced the world, and the utter hush that followed.
Enjoy this inspiring two-minute rendition of Peter Lutkin’s benediction The Lord Bless You and Keep You sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Lead photo by my son Caleb James Baker of southern Utah (c).