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Birds Still Do Sing

snowy winter

It has been a long, hard winter.  Lots of snow, lots of ice, lots of cold, and lots of distressing life-stuff.

The other day I stood outside, trying to get into my locked house.  I didn’t want to be outside, and there was no objective reason why my house key shouldn’t work, but it didn’t.  As I stood on the icy snow, trying to solve the problem, I wondered why.

Why does God want me to be outside right now?  It’s cold and slippery and I don’t want to fall on the ice.  Besides, I have things to do inside, useful and important things.  So why do I have to be outside right now?

And then, as I was pondering, a bird sang.  Then another one, high in a bare tree.  A few notes of pure joy floated on the cold air.

Although it did penetrate my foggy-headed weariness at the time, I only later realized how kind God had been to me.

Just knowing that there are birds and that they still do sing was a gift of hope.

God used a house key that temporarily did not work to make me realize this again:

Birds still do sing.  They praise God…and so can I.

It is my prayer that you will be strengthened through winters and difficult times and reminded that you, too, can still praise God, just like the birds that sing in the cold.

Introducing the New Genevan Psalter

New Genevan Psalter

For over 450 years, churches, families, and individuals throughout the world have used some or other version of the Genevan Psalter to pray and praise using the Psalms.  In fact, this is the only psalter from Reformation times that is still being published in its entirety, and currently its popularity is increasing in various languages throughout the world.  Now, with the New Genevan Psalter, English-speaking Christians have a beautiful and accurate version to use and to teach their children.

Its History

During the upheaval of the Reformation, some congregations developed a fresh approach to church music.  No longer did the worshipers merely listen to a choir singing in Latin.  Rather, the whole congregation sang Psalms to God in their own language. This new and profoundly moving experience was described by a young visitor to Calvin’s Strasbourg congregation:

The psalm or prayer is sung by everyone together, men as well as women, with a beautiful unanimity…. You must understand that each one has a music book in his hand; that is why they cannot lose touch with one another. Never did I think that it could be as pleasing and delightful it is.  For five or six days at first, as I looked upon this little company, exiled from countries everywhere for having upheld the honor of God and his Gospel, I would begin to weep, not at all from sadness, but from joy at hearing them sing so heartily and, as they sang, giving thanks to the Lord that he had led them to a place where his name is honored and glorified. No one could believe the joy which one experiences when one is singing praises and wonders of the Lord in the mother tongue as one sings them here. (as quoted by Emily R. Brink in Psalter Hymnal Handbook)

In Geneva, too, such congregational singing developed and new melodies were composed specifically for the different Psalms.  The children were taught these songs first and they led the entire congregation in singing.  Genevan melodies spread rapidly throughout Europe, finding a solid home in the Netherlands and thence trickling into North America.  However, the English words were never quite right, often retaining some immigrant awkwardness and occasionally adding to or subtracting from the Biblical text.

In the past decade and a half, great pains have been taken to pair beautiful, Biblically-accurate words with the old Genevan melodies.  The New Genevan Psalter is the result.  This songbook contains all 150 Psalms as well as the four canticles included in the first Genevan Psalter: the Ten Commandments and the Songs of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon.

Getting to Know the Music

Despite the fact that the Genevan tunes spread like wildfire throughout Reformation Europe, they are not well-known in today’s English speaking world.  This is partly due to the fact that other melodies were used to sing Psalms in English.  However, since the Genevan tunes were composed to suit the words and emotions of each Psalm, it is worth some effort to get to know them. (See also the extensive resource list below.)

So here are the beginning verses of three of the Psalms from this songbook, with links to the performance of Bach Collegium Japan (singing in Japanese).  I encourage you to listen while reading, or better yet, singing along.

Here is the joyful and majestic praise of Psalm 150:

Psalm 150 New Genevan Psalter

And here is David’s—and our—confession of sin from Psalm 51:

ps 51

Finally, here are the trusting and comforting words of Psalm 121:

ps 121

As you have just experienced, the New Genevan Psalter is indeed a splendid contribution to worship music, both for church and personal use. With a bit of effort that will be amply repaid, all English speaking Christians can now use it to sing and learn the Psalms and teach them to their children.  Christians of all denominations will find that the New Genevan Psalter encourages prayer, praise, and memorization; in fact, in Reformation times even Roman Catholics used the original versions.

From a homeschooling point of view, these songs are also a moving way to experience some of the awe of the Reformation and can be used to that end in both history and music classes.  Although the New Genevan Psalter will be a blessing to all Christian homeschools, it will appeal especially to Charlotte Mason and Classical Education homeschoolers.

May the New Genevan Psalter enhance the praise of our God whether we use it individually, as families, as homeschools, or as churches.

For more information and to purchase, please visit the website.

Annotated Resource List for the New Genevan Psalter

To help you get to know the Genevan melodies and to introduce you to the background of the Genevan Psalter, I have listed some audio, accompanist, and general resources below.

Audio:

The Genevan Psalms from the Bach Collegium Japan, in the public domain, are available online.  This brilliant collection highlights the different emotions of the Psalms well as the sublime beauty of the music.

The comprehensive Dutch site Psalmboek.nl presents all the Psalms in various languages (click on ‘Engels’), with the Genevan melodies (click on the notes at the upper right corner of the box or on the word ‘Psalmen’ to toggle between the music and the list of psalms), and with organ accompaniment at the bottom right (I recommend the M60 Ritmisch option). The English words available here are almost all from the New Genevan Psalter, except for a few changes discussed here.

At the Dinteloord website (also in Dutch) you can find an organ version of each of the melodies of the New Genevan Psalter, including its four canticles.  The canticles are listed under ‘Enige Gezangen’ just below the list of 150 Psalms.  ‘The Ten Commandments’ is ‘De Tien Geboden Des Heren’, and the Songs of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon follow immediately after.

Finally, a wide variety of downloads is available for each of the Psalms at The Genevan Psalter Resource Center.  The Hungarian guitar version, available for some of the Psalms, is a highlight here.

Free Sheet Music for Accompanists:

From J. Slagt, all 150 Psalms (click on ‘Download Psalmen’ on the left sidebar).

From Dennis Teitsma, all 150 Psalms (with a helpful introduction) as well as music for the four canticles.  The Ten Commandments is Hymn 11, The Song of Mary is Hymn 17, The Song of Zechariah is Hymn 18, and the Song of Simeon is Hymn 22.

From Gerrit Veldman, all 150 Psalms (under ‘Zettingen en korte voorspelen’) and much more.

Harmonizations available for purchase are listed on the New Genevan Psalter website,  and more are listed on the Book of Praise website.   Note that the Book of Praise includes all 150 Psalms of the New Genevan Psalter as well as its 4 canticles which form part of the hymn section, as explained in the above paragraph about Dennis Teitsma’s sheet music.

General Links:

For more information about the unique and subtly complex Genevan tunes, do read the Preface to the New Genevan Psalter.  One interesting point is that the music was sung in unison, and following that tradition the New Genevan Psalter shows only the melody line as shown above.  Further resources are also mentioned.

As is probably obvious by now, the New Genevan Psalter is based on a larger work, the Book of Praise:  Anglo Genevan Psalter of the Canadian Reformed Churches.  Denomination-specific materials have been removed so that the New Genevan Psalter is suitable for all English speaking Christians and churches.   The Book of Praise site includes many helpful links.

The excellent Genevan Psalter Resource Center is the most comprehensive online resource about the Genevan Psalter throughout the ages and across the world, although not all of its links work.

This review by Dr. R. Scott Clark links to many other articles about psalmody.

Dr. Emily Brink discusses ‘The Legacy of the Genevan Psalter’ in an accessible and informative paper.

Those interested in how congregational singing was meant to function in Reformed worship services will enjoy Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff’s article about liturgy.

Finally, Wikipedia’s discussion of the Genevan Psalter covers a lot of ground and has some interesting external links including a ten hour YouTube playlist.

This review and resource list is linked to 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook as well as  Finishing Strong Trivium Tuesdays, Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Mom to Mom Monday, Monday’s Musings, Missional WeekendR&R Wednesdays, From House to Home, Homemaking Mondays, Make Your Home Sing Mondays, Faith Filled Fridays.

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book and have expressed my own opinions.

Six Lessons About Teaching

euchre game

Last fall we learned euchre, the card game.  After that first evening I loved it so much that I had grandiose plans for family euchre parties and added playing cards to our shopping list.

Why?  Well it’s fun, for one, but that’s not the only reason I loved it so much.

Another reason is because of the way I was taught.  It’s many years since someone has taught me a skill—which is completely different from being taught knowledge—and I had forgotten what it is like to be at the receiving end of such teaching.

Our friend, a very experienced euchre player, turned out to be an excellent teacher.  He answered questions clearly and gave reasons for his answers.  Best of all, he gave feedback that was specific, content-filled, and encouraging.

Like this:

  • “That was a good card to put down because of this and this….”
  • Or, after I made a decision that turned out badly:  “That’s OK.  It’s good to make a decision, any decision; lots of people freeze and don’t dare, but it’s good to be brave.  That means you have a strategy for putting your cards down.  It means you are learning and thinking about the game.”
  • Or, “Doing that will help….”

That evening I learned euchre, but I also had the experience of being taught by a talented teacher.  For me as a homeschool mom, the latter was invaluable.

In fact, at first I wished I could remember some of our friend’s exact words, because they would be so helpful to me as I teach my kids (and, of course, as I play euchre).  The thing is, using my own words when teaching my children will work best, and each learning situation is different.

But there are some general principles he used.  And, of course, I did know them, but I had no idea what it felt like to be on the receiving end of such teaching.  Here are the lessons I learned about teaching that evening:  It really helps if the teacher

  1. Answers questions clearly, and gives reasons for the answers.
  2. Ties the encouragement to specific accomplishments.
  3. Spells out what the accomplishments were and what the learner did to get there.
  4. Respects the learner’s efforts.
  5. Finds something positive in failures and turns them into a learning experience, too.
  6. Has fun.

Now, five months later, everyone in our family can play euchre and we do so often.  It has added a new dimension to sitting together in front of the fireplace and has given us much joy.

We’re also now at a stage where I need to revamp our homeschool, and what I learned about teaching that evening will make all the difference.  Now that I’ve been a student again, I hope to become a better teacher.

Review: Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

better than before

We moms often focus on habits.  We try to develop good habits in our children, we use habits to make our homeschools function more effectively, and we harness the power of habit to help our lives run more smoothly.

Over a century ago, Charlotte Mason wrote a lot about the importance of cultivating habits in our children, and people are still writing about habits these days.  The latest habit book, and one of my favorites, is Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin.

Gretchen believes that the reason we want to develop good habits is so that we will become happier.  After all, most people’s daily lives are hugely affected by their habits:  what we eat, how we interact with others, whether or not we exercise, how we relax, how we work, how we sleep….   In fact, our habits virtually control our lives.

We all do realize this.  So why is it often so hard to begin new habits?  And why do some people manage so much more effortlessly?  And why are some habits so much more difficult to develop than others?

Gretchen analyses these questions for the four different personality tendencies that she has identified.  Apparently people may be

  • Upholders, who tend to meet internal and external expectations,
  • Questioners, who will only meet expectations if they make sense,
  • Obligers, who will meet others’ expectations but not their own, and
  • Rebels, who instinctively rebel at any form of expectation.

To confuse matters further, some people respond in one way to one set of expectations and in a different way to another.

Gretchen also discusses what other personal characteristics to keep in mind when trying to form a habit.  Because, really, the habit itself and what will make it work for us all depend vitally on our individual personalities.   Are we Overbuyers or Underbuyers?  Larks or Owls?  Promotion-Focused or Prevention-Focused?   Each of these differences will make a difference in the way we form habits.

Now, what is a book about habits if it does not discuss the temptation to break them?  For me the most fascinating part of Better Than Before is its exhaustive discussion, from a practical, secular point of view, of temptation.  We all face temptations of various sorts, innocuous ones like snatching a cookie before bed as well as serious ones that involve breaking God’s commandments.  Gretchen deals almost exclusively with the former, although she does also mention setting up safeguards to avoid having an affair.  Nevertheless, page after page of this book is filled with thought-provoking ideas for anyone who wishes to face temptation consciously and effectively.

Some say that the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it, but Gretchen points out that abstaining completely gets rid of it much more effectively, and without negative consequences.  In fact, based on research, she suggests that ‘cravings are more provoked by possibility than by denial.’  And she points out the obvious truth that it is much easier to extinguish a first desire than to satisfy all those that follow it.

I recognized myself over and over in her extensive catalogue of the different ways that we respond to temptation.  Gretchen has a clear eye for the ways we deceive ourselves and even helps us laugh at our own foolishness, an effective safeguard to indulging in that particular sort of foolishness again.

Of course, it’s one thing to be tempted to eat a cream puff or watch an extra hour of TV; it’s a totally different thing to be tempted to do something sinful.  As a secular writer, Gretchen does not mention that we need to ask God to deliver us from the evil One whose temptations to sin are so subtle and relentless.  In fact, Jesus pointed out that we cannot fight him on our own.  From that point of view, perhaps Gretchen’s thorough discussion may help us find the promised ‘way out’ of temptation in our everyday lives.

Here are a few of Gretchen’s practical suggestions:

  • Change your surroundings to make impulsive sin less convenient.
  • Eliminate triggers that tempt you.
  • Plan what to do in case you are tempted in a certain situation.
  • Recognize which loopholes you are using to justify your actions to yourself.
  • Use distractions to take your mind off the temptation.
  • And, I would add, pray.

Another result of Gretchen’s study is that she has begun to understand exactly how different people are.  She is now both less judgemental than before as well as less certain that what works for her will work for someone else.

I, too, have a new insight into people, especially as a result of Gretchen’s Four Tendencies.  For example, the fact that some people always want to do the opposite of what is expected is not due to purposeful maliciousness, but is an ingrained part of their personality as Rebels.  I’m not saying they should not, in many cases, fight against these tendencies, but I’m pointing out that when they do not rebel, they have made a conscious and probably difficult choice that some of the rest of us do not understand.  The fact that some people, Obligers, base their actions on what they think others expect does not mean they are being spineless; they just need to be reminded that God has expectations for them as well, and that his expectations are the most important ones.

As those who have read her other books know, Better than Before would not be a Gretchen Rubin book if it weren’t full of pithy sayings:

  • Progress, not perfection.
  • It is easier to change our surroundings than ourselves.
  • The habit of habit is more important than the habit itself.
  • Habit is deciding once and then never deciding again.
  • Make it easy to do right and hard to go wrong.
  • Out of sight, out of mind.
  • The punishment for a bad habit is the bad habit itself.

Wise habits reduce the amount of self-control we need on a day-to-day basis, reduce the number of decisions we need to make each day, and are our surest way, according to Gretchen, to ‘Everyday Life in Utopia.’  They will make our children’s, and our own, lives easier, and our homes more pleasant.

However, in the long run true happiness—true blessedness—comes from loving the Lord and living for him.  Yes, as Psalm 1 shows, this is related to wise habits, but life is much more complicated than Gretchen would suggest.  Life is, in fact, downright messy, and things often do not make cause-and-effect sense, as discussed in this speech about the book of Psalms (it’s the first link).

When it really comes down to it, we can only truly become ‘Better than Before’ through the Holy Spirit.  We can only truly become happier through our Savior Jesus.  And, in my case at least, He has been using Gretchen’s book.

Here’s another practical and effective suggestion to ward off temptation to sin from Courageous Living by Michael Catt:

1.When in doubt, don’t.

2. Be where you are supposed to be,

when you are supposed to be there,

doing what you are supposed to be doing. (p 85)

As Catt says, those two rules pretty much cover every life situation.

Other excellent books about habit include (links are to my reviews):

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

21 Days to a More Disciplined Life by Crystal Paine

I have also reviewed Gretchen Rubin’s other books, Happier at Home and The Happiness Project.

This is yet another book in the in the 2015 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook

For more encouragement, visit Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Mom to Mom Monday, Monday’s Musings, Missional WeekendR&R Wednesdays, From House to Home, Homemaking Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Make Your Home Sing Mondays, Faith Filled Fridays.

Disclosure: I received this ebook from the Blogging for Books review program and have expressed my own honest opinions.

Pi Day—An Opportunity for Praise

Pi Day, Tea Time with Annie Kate

God has built many surprises into the universe for us to discover and enjoy. One of them is the number pi which begins with 3.141592… and continues on for at least 13 trillion digits, perhaps forever.

What is so special about this number?  Simply this:  it shows up throughout nature in the most surprising places, even though it is based on the measurement of circles and spheres.

You probably know that when we take the distance around a circle (its circumference) and divide it by the distance across it (its diameter), the answer is always pi or 3.141529….

Thus, in a sense, pi describes or even defines the very nature of circles and spheres.

But it keeps on popping up in other descriptions of the world, too. A scientist or mathematician can be working away on some or other problem and, unexpectedly, pi shows up again!   Whenever there is wave motion, or periodically repeated motion, or a curve, we now expect pi to appear, but there are still surprises, such as Boll’s 1991 discovery of pi in fractals.  Throughout the ages pi has been found in:

  • Geometry and trigonometry
  • Pendulums and other objects that repeat their motion periodically
  • The uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics
  • General relativity
  • Electromagnetism
  • Statistics
  • Fractals
  • And many other topics in mathematics

Why should this be so?  Only God knows.  The number pi, as well as other intriguing numbers and the correspondences between mathematics and the physical world, astound and mystify many scholars.  As atheist Eugene Wigner, Nobel Prize winner in physics, wrote in The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,

“It is difficult to avoid the impression that a miracle confronts us here, quite comparable in its striking nature to the miracle that the human mind can string a thousand arguments together without getting itself into contradictions, or to the two miracles of the existence of laws of nature and of the human mind’s capacity to divine them…. The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.”   

Yes, Wigner is right.  This is a miracle, and many of us do not realize it.

In fact, although the number pi was probably not widely used at the time of Job (~1500 BC) and its power is still being discovered in our time, it, like the mysteries of Orion and the dawn and the enormous leviathan, is an example of the Creator’s overpowering greatness (Job 38-41).  For those who learn about pi, its mysteries can join these other answers to Job’s anguished pleas.

For those of us who believe in a God who designed and created both the world and us, nature overflows with clear signs of his might.  We see, in an amazing variety of ways–including pi–God’s eternal power and divine nature (Rom 1:20).

So Pi Day is an opportunity for us to celebrate the majesty of the Creator who has given us both the world and the ability to begin to unravel its mysteries.  It is also a reminder to accept, like Job did at the end, the incomprehensible questions of life, relying on the fact that the One in charge obviously does know what he is doing.

How will our family celebrate The Pi Day of the Century this Saturday, 3-14-15?  I’m sure Miss 17 will wear her pi shirt.  We might make and eat pies.  But most importantly, we will thank God for all the wonder and order and mystery and meaning he has built into this beautiful world of ours, and for the opportunity to discover it.

May God bless you this Pi Day as you focus on this fascinating aspect of his creation.

An aside:  Years ago, during our mealtime Bible reading, I realized with great excitement that in the descriptions of Solomon’s temple, pi was not used.  Both the circumference and the diameter of the bronze pool (the sea) were listed (1 Kings 7:23), although if pi were used only one of these would need to be given.  Now, this may be because one of the numbers measured the inside of the rim and the other the outside, but it may also just be because pi was not in common use, although by this time (~1000 BC) it had been known for at least 800 years.

For more about homeschooling, see Finishing Strong, and Trivium Tuesdays.  For other encouragement, visit Raising Homemakers, Titus 2 Tuesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Mom to Mom Monday, Monday’s Musings, Missional WeekendR&R Wednesdays, From House to Home, Homemaking Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Make Your Home Sing Mondays, Faith Filled Fridays.

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