Sunday, July 23, 2017

Canticle of the Turning

For today, I'd like to share one of my favorite hymns. You may not have heard it before. It's actually Catholic (though I didn't know that till I looked it up online just now), but it's in the hymnal at the Mennonite church we attend, and the worship leader leads it very well. (If you're reading this though, Phil, I could barely keep up with that fast version, and I'm pretty fast...)

Dan Zanes (with a mandolin)
Speaking of our worship leader, though, let me digress for a little. It'll be worth it. Our worship leader, Phil Kaufman, is my kid's new hero. It all started one day after church when Phil was jamming with the worship team as he usually does, and I heard the tones of an especially mellow pennywhistle from the group. I play the pennywhistle (well, I know about three Irish folksongs on it), so I pointed it out to the Boy and brought him up to look at it. One of the Boy's favorite videos for several months now has been this series of concert videos by children's performer Dan Zanes, and by quizzing his dad he had already learned the names of every single instrument and was starting in on how many strings each had. He was fascinated by all the instruments--and Phil, a passionate musician, has quite a few. They bonded quickly; the Boy announced: "That's a mandolin! It has eight strings!" and the next week Phil gave him a harmonica. (He sounds real good on it; it's incapable of producing a dissonance!) For weeks, maybe months now the Boy's been picking up every stray saucepan, spoon or shovel and announcing whether it's a guitar, banjo, mandolin or ukulele (not to mention the two Lego guitars his dad made him,) and there's nowhere else he wants to be after church but up front with the music team. I've been scratching my head over it, because Paul and I are not musical beyond the most basic level (though my Mom tried!)--but Mom's certainly got the touch, and my aunt is an incredible musician, so maybe the Boy's got something from the family that I missed.

Something the Boy hasn't seen yet of Phil's--and probably won't be able to appreciate till he's at least a teenager--is his one-man show of the Cotton Patch Gospel musical. There's no video of it that I know of, so you may not be able to take it in either unless you live in the American Midwest, but here's the Facebook page for it in case it comes near you someday--it's extremely worth it. The musical by Harry Chapin was based on the "Cotton Patch" version of the gospels of Matthew and John by Clarence Jordan. Jordan founded the deeply Christian and deeply anti-racist community Koinonia Farm--in Georgia back in 1942, a community of black and white Christians living and farming together, their produce stand soon boycotted by their neighbors. (This is also the community that Habitat for Humanity later came out of.) Jordan, a scholar of New Testament Greek, wrote an adaptation of the Gospels straight from the original into the local, Southern English people spoke around him, and into the context he was living in--setting Jesus' birth in Gainesville, Georgia, and His crucifixion in Atlanta. It's not meant to be read as literal "gospel truth," I guess you could say, but as an eye-opening story that puts the "stumbling block" of Jesus into a political and social context we're more familiar with, offering a fresh sense of just how revolutionary He was and is. The musical is all that--and will also make you laugh and cry.

Well I can't say all that and not let you see anything of it, so here's the trailer I found on Youtube for a different one-man performance of Cotton Patch. This is a song by the governor of Georgia--a.k.a. Herod--about how you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

And check it out! I found a video of Phil Kaufman after all! Just a short song from when he was starting out the project. The one-man show version of the musical is normally a "one-man plus four-person bluegrass band" show, but Phil found a way to make it truly one-man, replacing the bluegrass band with four projections of himself:

The full script of the musical is available here.

And at the end of that long, bluegrassy detour, let's come back to that favorite hymn. The Canticle of the Turning. It's set to the tune of my favorite Irish folksong, Star of the County Down (I was born in the County Down, and besides, the girl in the song has brown hair and bare feet, so how could I resist?) and it's quite an anthem. It's almost scarily revolutionary (if you like "Do You Hear The People Sing?" you'll love this), and it is Mary's song when she was pregnant with Jesus, also known as the Magnificat. There's nothing in it that isn't in that Scripture passage or another (for instance "the day You bring" refers to the "day of the Lord" the minor prophets talk so much about.) Just put into new words, fresh, like the Cotton Patch Gospel. I have sung it in church three times now, and every single time it has given me goosebumps.

Canticle of the Turning

My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that You bring to the one who waits.
You fixed Your sight on the servant's plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?

My heart shall sing of the day You bring.
Let the fires of Your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.
Though I am small, my God, my all,
You work great things in me.
And Your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame,
and those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight,
for the world is about to turn. (Refrain)

From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for Your justice tears
every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
These are tables spread, ev'ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn. (Refrain)

Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God's mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror's crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard
is the promise that holds us bound,
'Til the spear and rod be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around. (Refrain)


  1. The Cotton Patch trailer is brilliantly done and I love that canticle. Thanks.