CELTIC PRAISE old but ever new
by Rhea Riddle
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At a recent Sunday service the most beautiful song was sung to draw my congregation to a time of worship. The mantle of worship dropped on me as if it was a shawl loosened from the fingers of my heavenly Father, covering me with the presence of His mercy and grace, enwrapping me by His spirit with the haunting prayerful refrain of the ageless music. Old stories once told, fact and fiction came to me in a rush and as I praised, I seemed to feel the cool touch of morning mountain air as it swept down the peaks and through the valleys of the eastern side of my state and channeled across this wide land straight into my heart. I think in my spirit I have been transported to another place in another time...
The wind blew around the corner of the cabin bringing a fresh aroma of pine to the small porch where she sits, a little woman with fatigue and restlessness both imprinted on the sharp features of her pre-aged thirty two year old face. Two young children are at play in the dust puddle near the stone step, around which the house was built in times beyond her memory.
The sun that was slow to arrive hung over the tall chestnut oaks that were skillfully clinging by their roots just above the outcropping of sheer rock clinging to the face of her mountainside. A morning breeze had finally cleared the mist from the cut through path that followed the gyrating curves of a steeply falling rushing creek of roiling water.
If her husband were quick with the hook and line, there would be pan-fried trout for the last meal this day. This was a good thing to look forward to; and the thought of that treat started her foot to tapping a slow beat in time with the ancient melody running through her memory, the music and words had been passed down by those who sat on this porch long before her days on this remote mountain top.
The melody began across the sea in a far-away emerald country, a land of pleasant people of Celtic lineage, a musical people. Their lives were expressed in the music that they sang. Red blood baths of famine and war washed across their home places in the bad days. So to the strings of the fiddles and mandolins and the reeds of the flute, the music crossed a mighty ocean carried in the hearts of seeking people.
And in the way that music has, it blew across the new land riding upon the lips and hidden in the soul of the new frontiersmen, coming to rest in the steeps and valleys of the Appalachia, in the high land of Kentucky and there it took its stand. Then was added the poignant tones of the dulcimer as it settled and took on a renewed life, as it soothed and eased the ones for whom faith, freedom and new beginning was held so dear.
Still on the porch she rocks, she picks up a mandolin of old, and she is gone away for a while, to the places only verse and song can take you. A slow swaying is propelled by arm as her chest is rising and falling with the words that echo thought the timber stand, over the sweeping vista of treetops, mingling with the hard drumming of water falling over rocks that seem to be the very bones of the earth.
Listen, listen to her words hear the freedom in her voice as she praises in deep musical antiquity her Lord and God…
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.
This song is thought to be one of the earliest Celtic hymns recorded with the written word. Could you hear the melody, did you feel the emotion of the faithful true ever-new words? A mood for worship is set, with praises for the King we long to see. Praying words, only You, Lord be my focus always, You, who are my best thought, who is my inheritance, and my treasure.
I love and celebrate the new praise songs that move me so, while I value the old ones for they take me back through the centuries to an awareness of those who carried a love for the Savior deep in their hearts. I can relate to the little woman, many women, who serenaded my Lord on their porches so long ago and those that do so today. Somewhere, someone is doing so in this very moment; listen...
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