Tag Archives: New Jersey

Bless You, Keep You

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.

double LP album cover

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).

 

The Turtle Pond Before The Subdivision Came

As a teenager, I relished my hours in the woods near my home in New Jersey.  I followed the meandering paths on my 10-speed.  One day I happened upon a little pond.  Painted turtles sunned themselves contentedly on a floating log.  At my approach they slipped into the murky water and disappeared from view.  I waited long minutes.  But, losing patience, I left before they resurfaced.  New subdivisions came, and the paths and ponds disappeared.  Looking back 40 years has transformed this happy memory into a new poem.

The Turtle Pond Before the Subdivision Came

When you pedal
on a wooded path, all brown
and green shadow, framed houses
out of view, you might discover
a little pond, water brown
as forest earth and gray
as autumn sky, fallen log
stuck at half past two,
a perch for turtles, carapaces
painted red and yellow, for what purpose
I am sure I do not know, but
perhaps from the sheer joy of their aliveness,
sunning unconcerned, but slipping
quickly, when I arrive,
into opaque shallows, hiding,
holding longer than my patience,
safely unseen.

(Image by Scottslm from Pixabay)

Roger Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Rita

Bill and Rita Stenner knew I loved small boat sailing.  I learned to sail small cat boats as a Boy Scout at Camp Liahona on Lake Seneca in up-state New York.  Of all my 35 Boy Scout merit badges, small boat sailing was my favorite.  Bill invited me to sail with him and Rita in his 19-foot sloop several times over several summers.  We put in at Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, and tacked toward the Hudson Bay, with the Twin Towers shooting above the barely-visible land of Manhattan Island.  Rita suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis, and sat crumpled and twisted in a wheelchair.  But floating in the water behind the cruising sloop freed her from her confinement.  She never complained in the chair, but she exulted from within the cool salt water as I steered and called “coming about!”  This poem, “Rita,” I wrote some 30 years later in reverent memory of these good, kind, quiet people.  Thanks Rita and Bill.  (See the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog, Chapter 4: Desert Lighthouse post, for reference to sailing with Bill and Rita.)

RITA

The old man was kind to me,
though I offered nothing but my youthful company,
which I made pleasant, for my gratitude,
on those summer days.

How we sailed!

From Sandy Hook toward Hudson’s kills,
Twin Towers rising like brother beacons
beckoning us to tack their way,
I on the rudder,
Bill on the main sheet and jib.

Oh—how we sailed!

He tethered his wife,
a cheerful lump of rheumatoid flesh,
and tossed her offhandedly overboard,
whence she giggled and squealed
for the cool and the salt, the jostling wake,
for her release from the chair.

Sailing in the salt breeze!

Ponderous thunderheads darkened abruptly,
and we hauled her in
like a troll-caught crab
and fled the flashes, knowing
how tall and conductive was the metal mast
and how helpless we would be
on the water.