Earning the Faith

The Gramophone Choir of Ghana performs “And the Glory of the Lord” from G. F. Handel’s Messiah. (YouTube)

 

I must have been 12 or 13 when someone, perhaps my Sunday school or perhaps my public school, took a class of us children to see G.F. Handel’s Messiah. It was during the Christmas season and I had to dress up for it. I knew nothing about this music. Except for one part, I had never heard it before. I do not remember a great deal about the performance. I know parts of it bored me. I suppose my classmates and I were to appreciate a lot of it. Moreover, our ears were not accustomed to this type of music. The “Hallelujah” chorus did not excite me, for it was the one part I had heard before, too often, even over the PA systems of department stores at Christmas.

What moved me deeply was “And the Glory of the Lord.” First, I recognized the words as being from Isaiah, Chapter 40, which I had read before and which was quoted a great deal, at least in my church. The story of Israel made the Bible worth reading, at least parts of it when I was a boy. I thought it was one of the best parts of the Bible and read it over and over again. I even read a bit of it at my elementary school assembly which always started with the Pledge of Allegiance and a student reading a biblical passage, before the latter was ended by the Supreme Court. I was so stunned the first time I heard “And the Glory of the Lord” that I thought I would faint. My heart pounded like a runaway train. It was for me at that young age the most beautiful thing I ever heard in my life. And I heard it that day and thought, “If I could be a Christian as beautiful as that music; if I could, as a Christian, help make the world as beautiful as that music, that would be something!” When I heard it when I was older I thought of a character in a famous novel who said, “What a thing it is to be a Christian!” It was no easy thing, that music said, to face the majesty of God, to face that truth.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Those are the last lines of Isaiah 40 and I read that in my elementary school when, one day, it was my turn to read from the Bible. It was during the civil rights years and MLK, the freedom rides, the sit-ins, James Meredith, and everyone knew the passage. Lots of Black people said that passage. Those words were like bread and honey to me as a boy, like sustenance from God. This was the FAITH! Boy, earn your soul and be worthy of the faith like those civil rights marchers, the sit-inners, the freedom riders! Dear God, make me as brave as they are, I would pray. Make me worthy of my people, of the stalwarts of my Israel! Only a child could be so ardent, could hope so hard not to fail the grandeur and agony of his nation’s great moment.

Here is a Ghanaian choir rendering “And the Glory of the Lord.” I chose this because the people in it looked just like the children I attended elementary school and Sunday school with, except now they are grown up.

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