Monday, April 21, 2008

Amazing Grace!

It's a TV citcom. It's a movie on the life and times of William Wilberforce. It's a hymn (words) written by John Newton. AND it's a way to live ... in the grip of God's amazing grace!

A dear friend sent me a UTube video of Whitley Phipps talking about and then singing "Amazing Grace." Wow!

Wintley Phipps explained and demonstrated on a piano keyboard that most "negro spirituals" can be played on the black keys alone. He called the five repetitive black notes the "slave scale." He also called these "spirituals" "west African sorrow chants."

I think the movie "Roots" was my first up-close and personal revelation of what it was like (in small measure, of course) to be a slave in the American colonies (and nation later) from the painful side. In "Roots" it was difficult either to look on or look away from the scenes of slaves crammed into the hold of a ship bound for America. It was difficult to watch what Alex Haley interpreted the life of a slave to be like.

Now, I don't subscribe to all Alex Haley pictured in his interpretation. I don't even know that it is a fair representation. I know for certain that there were strong exceptions to the life of slaves as portrayed in "Roots." But I am also sure that a good case can be made for each incident in the movie to be based on historical fact in some measure.

The pain of slavery birthed these beautiful "spirituals" we know and love. They came from deep in the heart of slaves who longed for home or heaven and only found hope as they lifted their eyes to heaven. The melodies are powerful. The words grab our hearts and stick there. I can just feel the sorrow that bubbles up in both the melodies and the words.

Wintley Phipps said there is a white spiritual, too. It's "Amazing Grace"! The words to "Amazing Grace" were written by John Newton. John Newton was the captain of one of those slave ships that came from west Africa to our shores bringing slaves. One day John Newton found Jesus, and his heart was changed forever! Then he penned the words and matched them with a tune that was going round in his head. The tune is attributed to "unknown."

Wintley Phipps says he wants to meet Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in heaven and that then he wants to ask Jesus to introduce him to that slave named "Unknown." Phipps paints a picture of Captain Newton on the deck and bridge of his slave ship hearing faint melodies coming from the hold. Perhaps the tune Newton matched with his words describing God's amazing grace came from his days as a slaver. Most probably it did!

God restored the heart of this renegade rascal John Newton with His amazing grace. Then Newton described his experience with God's amazing grace:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see!
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed!
Thro' many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me, his Word my hope secures,
He will my Shield and Portion be, as long as life endures.

" 'Twas grace that taught my heart ... " describes the process of restoration in Newton's heart. And it's only grace that brings restoration to any heart!

Isn't it interesting that God's restoring grace can be described and then put to music all on the black keys of the piano? Perhaps there's a subtle message there for me (and you). Sometimes God uses "the black keys" (the hard times, the pain) to bring us to the place of brokenness where God can do His work restoring our hearts. And that's how He brings me (us) to live in the grip of His amazing grace!

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