With a Song in my Heart – 40 Days of Sacred Songs
Day 9 – Friday after 1st Sunday of Lent
To Listen: He Who Would Valiant Be
He who would valiant be
‘Gainst all disaster
Let him in constancy
Follow the Master
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.
Who so beset him round
With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound —
His strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might,
Though he with giants fight:
He will make good his right
To be a pilgrim.
Since, Lord, Thou doest defend
Us with Thy Spirit,
We know we at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away!
I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.
From the Scriptures:
‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, 7 we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’
So there I was. A young adult in a new country excited about all the possibilities that lay ahead. Determined to seize the day, I was going to ‘Go Forth with God!’ and be someone who transformed South Africa in God’s Name into a place overflowing with love and racial harmony. Did it happen? Looking back I would need to develop a slightly more forceful way of saying ‘Wishful Thinking’.
Yes, I wanted to become a more committed Christian. Yes, I wanted to be involved in the life of our newly adopted country. Yes, I failed spectacularly.
As with many other times when I have not quite done all that God required I blamed God, or at least God’s Church. In Cape Town I discovered that there were two outwardly similar but inwardly different denominations that claimed the name ‘Anglican’. There was the Church of England in South Africa which had familiar prayers and name but seemed to be thinly spread and mostly attended only by White people. Alongside this was the much larger, more diverse, and more African Church of the Province of Southern Africa which I longed to join but was a little worried that I might be (or so I told myself) displeasing God by going to the wrong church. My answer to this dilemma was to lean heavily on God’s grace and forgiveness and go to neither! So instead of turning the world upside down I gave in to the Sunday Lie-in and spent my weekends chasing, and being chased, by SWANS around Simonstown and worshipping the unHoly Trinity of Braai, Beer, and Lekker Vry.
But then I went on a pilgrimage. I did not know it was one at the time but it turned out to be the beginning of life changing events. I started work in Windhoek in what was then South-West Africa and ended up lodging with one of the churchwardens of St George’s Cathedral – the smallest cathedral in the Anglican Communion. Here there were no arguments about which church to attend. She taught me that CPSA was the South African version of the Church of England, it was where I belonged and if I didn’t get out of bed in time for church then Sunday lunch was a slightly frosty affair!
But more than her I met the wonderful Rev Murray Dell, the then Cathedral Dean. He helped get the English ‘fidgets’ out of my faith. I discovered that it was not essential (especially with temperatures in the 30s) to wear a three-piece suit to Sunday Church. He let me know it was ok to wear shorts, or even swimming trunks, under my alb when serving at the altar. He also introduced me to the riches of African worship.
I’m not sure why but he saw something in me that I could not see in myself and encouraged me to tag along to church services in the rural communities outside Windhoek. A regular trip was the 4-hour visit to be with the Herero community at Okahandja – it took 90 minutes to travel there and back and 2½ hours for the service! It is one of the joys of my life that occasionally Namibians living in the East of England come to worship in one of the churches in our parish.
Murray’s gentle ministry of accompaniment caused him to play the part of Hopeful to my Christian in a Namibian version of Pilgrim’s Progress. Like Jesus he challenged me to ‘row out deeper (Luke 5v1-8)’ and, when I returned to Cape Town to take up a new job I began to become one of God’s Fisherfolk, although I suspect that I was the one who had been caught hook, line, and sinker.
A few years later, as a vocation to ordained ministry became clearer, I wrote to Murray to tell him the news. He sent me a hand-typed poem…
The Touch of the Master’s Hand
‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought it scarcely worth his while to waste much time on the old violin, but held it up with a smile; “What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried, “Who’ll start the bidding for me?” “A dollar, a dollar”; then two!” “Only two? Two dollars, and who’ll make it three? Three dollars, once; three dollars twice; going for three..” But no, from the room, far back, a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow; Then, wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening the loose strings, he played a melody pure and sweet as carolling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low, said; “What am I bid for the old violin?” And he held it up with the bow. A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two? Two thousand! And who’ll make it three? Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice, and going and gone,” said he. The people cheered, but some of them cried, “We do not quite understand what changed its worth.” Swift came the reply: “The touch of a master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred with sin, Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin, A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine; a game – and he travels on. “He is going” once, and “going twice, He’s going and almost gone.” But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought by the touch of the Master’s hand.
(Myra ‘Brooks’ Welch)
That sheet of paper has lived in the pages of one of my Bibles for over 40 years and every time I read it I am inspired to begin afresh the pilgrimage godward and offer myself to be an instrument at the beck and call of the Master’s Touch
God of our pilgrimage,
bring us with joy to the eternal city
founded on the rock,
and give to our earthly cities
the peace that comes from above;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
1) Write a letter to someone who has influenced your faith journey for the better.
2) Find a quiet place to pray and imagine that you are held in the Master’s Touch. In your prayer ask God for guidance about the next step on your pilgrimage toward the Celestial City.
Reprise: Now Thank We All Our God
This hymn was sung at the Royal Hospital School on Founder’s Day. We gathered outside the school entrance and sang with the School Band accompanying us. I have included it here as a reminder to give thanks in everything.
|Nun danket alle Gott
mit Herzen, Mund und Händen,
der große Dinge tut
an uns und allen Enden,
der uns von Mutterleib
und Kindesbeinen an
unzählig viel zu gut
bis hierher hat getan.
|Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
Der ewig reiche Gott
|O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills,
in this world and the next!
Lob, Ehr und Preis sei Gott,
All praise and thanks to God
(Martin Rinkart – Translator: Catherine Winkworth)
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Prayers are adapted from the Psalm Prayers in the Common Worship Psalter. material from which is included here, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2005
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘With a Song in my Heart’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2022
 SWANS: South African Woman’s Naval Service. The equivalent to the WRNS of the Royal Navy.