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Etching is a fascinating process to observe. In my undergraduate degree in elementary education my course outline included an industrial arts class that gave us instruction in a variety of media and tools. To be honest, I cannot imagine the purpose for an elementary teacher taking the course but as a student, I followed the requirements. I am not skilled in using tools or creating things of any substance but in the class, I made clay sculptures as best I could that were fired in a kiln after a color and glaze was put on them (nothing very pretty). I learned to use a wood lathe and made a rolling pin with a little help from my fiancé and dad, did a little enameling, and learned about etching and several other things. I think I had to submit 5 projects, each a different medium, to meet the course requirements.
I reflect on that class and think I might enjoy and appreciate it more now (especially if I were not graded) and how each art form produces useful or beautiful things. As I reflect on that it occurs to me that God uses tools that do similar things to shape us and transform our character. Some things require harder tools to remove more of what is not wanted and others require a fine hand to embed things into our hearts, minds, and spirits that identify us as his children.
The Apostle Paul gives us a visual image of what that looks like.
“You show that you are a letter from Christ sent through us. This letter is not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God. It is not written on stone tablets but on human hearts.”2 Corinthians 3:3 (NCV)
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Our thoughts may quickly go to the Exodus story of the Ten Commandments being written by God on stone for Moses to share with the people of Israel after they left Egypt. But what are the things the Spirit uses to imprint on our hearts? I would think there are more things than we might be able to name. Etching comes to my mind since it imprints on a substance an image or impression.
Music must certainly be one thing. Few worship services of any part of God’s people are without music of some kind or another. The music may be songs, choruses, hymns, or lyrical chants. They activate all of our senses, so they become etched into our memories. Music is created by lyrics and a diverse choice of instruments from pipe organs and full orchestra to guitars and drums. Sometimes the human voice alone is the instrument with no other used.
As I drive from one place to another one of my favorite CD’s is one of hymns with no lyrics being used, just piano and orchestra. Some of the hymns are still used in part or full in our current church mixed with more current worship and praise songs but some are ones I have not sung since my childhood. These older hymns still bring to mind many of the words despite some with multiple verses. The words just come into my heart and mind as if I sang them yesterday.
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I can easily have memories of sitting as a family and the voices of those around me and it’s as though I am back there in the now. It also reminds me of how much those same hymns were etched into the memory of my brother. Despite his developmental and mental disabilities, he could recall the words of those hymns if they began to play, and he sang them with gusto even if he could not read the words or musical notes.
What makes the many words found in verse after verse of a hymn so easy to recall decades later? I cannot give a definitive answer but maybe it comes in part from how personal so many appeared to be. Some sounded like prayers such as Be Thou My Vision, Precious Lord, Take My Hand, Just as I Am, or Abide with Me. Others appear as testimony of our relationship with God such as He Keeps Me Singing, Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, or Since Jesus Came into My Heart. The list is long and the histories behind the writers of the hymns reflect the words they penned, their own testimonies, prayers, praises, and hopes through lives that were often marked by hardship, loss, and challenges of all kinds.
Perhaps they resonate with us because they connect to our own losses, prayers, hardships, and challenges and we gain fellowship with those who penned them. They often speak to the reality of walking out faith. They don’t sugar coat what the journey looks like.
“When we stop being ourselves with God, we are no longer in real conversation with God.”Paul Miller
One thing is certain, music has been used to etch many memories on my heart and in my mind. They are as varied as always standing for Handel’s immortal Hallelujah Chorus, going through my 572-page hymnal, or standing with arms raised singing Graves into Gardens. All of them are tools in the hands of the artisan, Creator God, who created the music and lyrics for our pleasure and joy and to bring his relationship to a place that can be written on our hearts.
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