Sunday, December 29, 2013

Family Styled Graduation Ceremonies & Celebrations

Ode to the next question:  What is the purpose of a graduation ceremony and celebration?

Perhaps it is time to admit that often, through the years, I've come to feel again, again, and yet again, that the focus of everything in our lives needs to shift more and more towards God and those things which are important to Him.

In the midst of tradition, it is often easier to ask those who have gone on before us, rather than our Father in heaven, for a view of what it is that He wants in our lives.  

For whatever all reasons, through the years, even after my own high school and college graduations - - - - - I have longed for the family of God to draw together to specifically *celebrate* the love and provision of God, yes to *celebrate* God's grace in getting us to a certain point - - - - - and I have also longed to make a clear and strong expression of greater support from the spiritual family for the one who is commencing, or beginning, to seek to fulfill a new calling on their lives.  I have longed for the body of Christ to more *expressively* and *tangibly* support each other - rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weak with those who weep.  In the case of one who is 'commencing', I particularly long for the body to commit to support the 'commencer' in his efforts to face the spiritual challenges that naturally lie ahead after each and every 'commencement' in our lives.

That being my natural yearnings - - - I have specifically asked God about what He might most want us to focus on in any celebrations revolving around 'commencement'...... those times when the path-walker is called upon by God and/or circumstances to walk in a new way.....

Having never had opportunity to share these types of ponderings, they have only been the fodder of quiet musings in my heart before the Lord..... 

Here today, those musings finally see the light of day......, for others to explore - - - perhaps it is time for some of us to realize that, as path-walkers, it is time to walk in a new way.....

So here, for you, for any who might like to come along for the journey, here is at least some of what the Holy One has been putting on my heart about 'commencement' and other celebrations and ceremonies, or even more quiet moments, in which one has arrived at a point from which one is ready to launch off towards new and broader callings on one's life - when the path-walker is to walk in a new way - - - more and more in the ways of The Holy One.


How do we best support those who stand on that launch pad?  How do we, in a godly way, acknowledge the hard work of those who helped support those who reached that point? How do we best focus on the spirit of God's purpose?  How do we best come together as a community and all grow together in Him from such a celebration?

When the thought of a graduation ceremony finally seemed to be looming in the future in our lives, some essense of a different timbre of 'graduation' began to settle into the distant recesses of my heart and mind.  

Finally, recently, a friend asked the ladies in our church for help in the actual planning of a graduation celebration for her family - just a celebration to mark that incredible era of launching off, of the path-walker being called into a new walk - - - and to appreciate the hard work of all those who had achieved so much already......

I really wasn't quick to write down these musings just because she asked for help in planning a graduation celebration.  I would typically offer assistance in the kitchen or whatever.  However, this time around, I couldn't.....  

(Some who might actually read this blog are aware that my health has been hit and miss through the years, but that I've enjoyed several years of greater strength than normal.  Pacing myself is still always a must, but pacing myself had finally become something that I was able to do while committing to regular activities such as teaching music and/or helping in the kitchen at church.  However, I finally pushed my pace too far of late, and have had to slow down quite a bit again (please pray for me?). So, this time around I can't do what I'd typically do: offer to help clean up the kitchen again.  It's a place where I can serve those who are distracted with other more important things in their lives for an afternoon or evening.  It's a little way of supporting them, and that means a lot to me.  This time, that option isn't something I can count on; but I still wanted to be of help.)

So I got to thinking about other ways I might be able to help support this family's efforts to celebrate the past, present, and future work of God in their lives.

I was a little slow in starting.......  I initially only offered help in the form of 'who, what, when, where, why' questions for starters......  Later I offered to help make decorations at home and send them up to the church.

After all, who am I to help with planning a graduation celebration of any kind?  At this point, we have not experienced the blessing of observing such an event for any of our children.  This year, our current senior was glad to hear that he had the opportunity to join friends at their co-op's graduation ceremony.  Since fellowship and being together with others is a good thing, his father encouraged that choice.  So again, no graduation plans here...... 

What could I offer?  I did not know, so, .......... I prayed........

.........and, after a bit of this and that happened, I thought, that.... well, ....... you see ....... whether or not this particular family who asked for help might be interested in hearing about the inclinations of my heart, the ones about graduation anyway ......... perhaps some other families might be interested in hearing something about some of my heartcry.............

....:  a heartcry for all of us to learn more and more what it means to be a family in the kingdom of God - to grow together as a community through all of our worship, work, and living that we ought to be doing together......., yes, including our worship, work, and living that we ought to be doing together to mark these very auspicious moments in our lives.......


But back to the practical questions:  What is the purpose of the event?  Is there a message to convey in some way?  Who is to present it, and how?  Who all should be challenged and moved by the message of the hour?  

Perhaps much more importantly:  What sort of memories can be made to mark the importance of both starting challenges well and continuing to path-walk in faith?  What can encourage the path-walker in his efforts to trust the path-maker?  What little tokens of those memories can encourage the path-walker to hold strong to that faith over time?  What sort of worship can bring the hearts of God's people to unite in path-walking together?  What might any and/or all of that look like?

---From children possibly making God's eyes at a little activity basket near a 'God Bless' banner (repleat with a little sign that explains that yes, God has no need of so many eyes for Himself, but we are to seek having 'our Father's eyes' little God's eyes.... - thus the children, and maybe even the adults, can make little God's eyes which the honored guests can take home as a reminder of the heart cry of the day:  that we are all seeking to support them in their faith walk as they seek to see both themselves and others through God's gracious, loving eyes.......)  (perhaps little ribbons with verses related to how God sees us and about His Grace to the unsaved and/or struggling could be attached to the God's eyes as well.......)

---To party pics of friends and families (either with the guests of honor and/or without them) with guests possibly holding up little posters of quotes from verses, hymns, and/or notable quotes - quotes which they select from a 'quotes basket' - - - quotes which represent some essence of their prayer and hopes which true believers will hold to dearly for loved one(s) and fellow believers who are commencing into a new aspect of their path-walking experience....  All of which could be gathered together, along with some more general, in a little photo album (maybe only an e-book, maybe more.....)........

---To music in the background.......

---To a worship time.......

----To....... what else?

What all can be done to unite hearts and establish faith more solidly in the hearts and lives of God's people?  What little festive splashes of color can bring the joy of His love into the air - a sense of God's lifting up the heads of his people:  particularly those who are commencing on this special day......

What all ought to be done?  


Though some families do have the means to bring in inspirational speakers for their children's graduation celebrations, not all families do......., so what is one to do when one does not have such provision?

That being one of the questions on my mind, back when the thought of graduations finally seemed to be coming near the horizon, I thought of those elements of coming together before God which brought the hearts of the people together in various ways.

There are occasions when the time that God's people spend together "as God's people" can seem cold and gray.  But there are other times when prayer, worship, music, the reading of scripture, and yes, even the teaching of scripture, all take on an active presence which knits hearts and minds and hopes and dreams together towards God's purposes.......  

What, I asked, of those things, might a family be able to bring before the Lord, asking Him to bless, all in order to provide a truly uplifting and building event for all those celebrating 'commencement' together?

As a musician, of course, my heart leaned in the direction of involving music to such ends early on.  Other aspects of worship and celebration are not less important, but as a musician, in this post, that is where I will begin to bear my heart to any who might wish to hear.........


The psalms have left their mark on my heart in many ways, both with and without the active involvement of the Spirit through melody........ So it is no surprise that my first thoughts were of the psalms.  Psalters were and are precious to me, and so, it made much sense to begin *my personal* exporations of possibilities there....... But more on those mullings, perhaps, later......  as those types of mullings are so deep and rich.......:  Which psalm, which melody........, what instrumentation and voicing............?  And why? - - - For example, when I have sung some of the more processional type praise songs before the Lord, thinking of commencement celebrations, I have truly wept..........., and my heart sang with many who have gone before......, some of whom may not have had such richness in music surrounding them and uplifting them during such celebrations, but who held such worship in their heart as they processed...... some others of whom may instead have been watching prayerfully over loved ones as they began to commence and process in new path-walking experiences before their very eyes ........

However, when a friend asked for help with a celebration......, those things were not first and foremost on my mind......, rather, quickly establishing an accessible musical pallete to support prayer and worship were so much more immediately on my heart.

Oh for the people of the One True God to come together and worship Him with one voice......., and as they do, seek for His guidance, and ,,,,,,,,,, as they do ......., receive His power and love and joy together, and grow in it together.......

What might that look like .........?  What might the Spirit reveal if we only ask Him ........?

In asking through the years, one particular list of hymns which grew slowly in the front of one of my hymnals came to mind........, it is a list of hymns which are, in their utter essence, each a precious prayer lifted up directly to God from in the heart of song......... some are not necessarily an outright prayer, but can be a prayer of confession....... (Such as Children of the Heavenly Father).  Other hymns, songs, and spiritual songs are of great value, but these hymns and songs of prayer have become ever so precious to me........ even in my ponderings about the types of moments in life which are the subject of the musings of the hour.......

So, when a friend asked for help in planning a celebration of graduation, these songs certainly presented themselves......, and a more formalized list of how one might be led to use those types of songs and hymns is finally put together........, and it is offered here in hopes that it encourages someone........ if in no other ways, perhaps at least in the quiet prayers that they have for the commencement of a loved one....., or of themselves.....

........... as we all seek to respond to the calling of The Holy One, each time He calls upon us as path-walkers, to walk more fully, more equipped, with more strength of faith and purpose......., with more joy in His presence......... 




Possible Solo Selections prior to Corporate Worship:

PROCESSING BEFORE THE LORD OF LIGHT & LOVE:  (perhaps all those leaders and/or family members who profess should hold a lantern of some sort - perhaps just canning jars - accepting His provision of light........ - - - )


COMMISSIONING:  (perhaps the one who speaks and/or sings about the commissioning places his 'candle' his 'light' on a 'podium stand' - while the voice of prayer comes predominantly from him/her)

ACCEPTING THE COMMISSION:  (perhaps the one who is commencing and whose heartcry is given voice through any song or songs in this section is the one whose 'light' is put on the 'podium stand'........)

Song options include things like:

More Love to Thee  (from the happy-sappy singers., *blush* - it is pretty)  or (basic, filled piano accompaniment mp3) OR - this upbeat guitar demo isn't what one thinks of - but then, when one is on one's knees, confession our need to love Him more, but are becoming pumped about His lifting our head and moving us on down our path-walking experience...., perhaps an upbeat version of this hymn would be appropriate?:  

Lyrics:  Elizabeth P. Prentiss; Music:  William H. Doane & Eugene Thomas

While Elizabeth Pretiss wrote this confession of devotion to her Father in heaven in a time of crisis, at which time she wrote:

I thought that prattling boys and girls
Would fill this empty room;
That my rich heart would gather flowers
From childhood’s opening bloom.
One child and two green graves are mine,
This is God’s gift to me;
A bleeding, fainting, broken heart—
This is my gift to Thee.

...she also wrote this hymn while meditating on God's faithfulness to Jacob.  In the same way, it is important for us to profess this same confession of devotion each time we, as path-walkers, are called to walk anew, walk more in faith, or even simply stand up after stumbling and need to renew our heart's devotion to His calling........

More love to Thee, O Christ,
More love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make
On bended knee;
This is my earnest plea:
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee,
More love to Thee!
Once earthly joy I craved,
Sought peace and rest;
Now Thee alone I seek,
Give what is best;
This all my prayer shall be:
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee,
More love to Thee!
Then shall my latest breath
Whisper Thy praise;
This be the parting cry
My heart shall raise;
This still its prayer shall be:
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee,
More love to Thee!



Song Options Include:

Children of the Heavenly Father  (don't be thrown off by the unusual instrumentation in the introduction here:  wait for the intro to pass - this is extremely beautiful........ - the correponding video would be beautiful to present during a commencement celebration, IMHO..... )

Lyrics:  Karolina W. Sandall-Berg, Music Trygarre Kan Ingen Vara (adapted Swedish melody) 

(When Karolina Sandall-Berg wrote this hymn, father had recently lost his life after falling overboard.  Because of that, in some communities, this is often an expression of grief.  However, for Karolina, it was certainly an embracing of life.  Thus we see that a brief acquaintance with her history brings such a sense of urgency to our fellowship as a family together and with our heavenly Father. - - - in my own quiet time, I often sing this with a sense of coming together with the congregation in a circle on bended knees, holding hands - confessing our need of Father and family - singing slowly and quietly before the Lord)

Children of the heav’nly Father

Safely in His bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given.

God His own doth tend and nourish;
In His holy courts they flourish;
From all evil things He spares them;
In His mighty arms He bears them.

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever;
Unto them His grace He showeth,
And their sorrows all He knoweth.

Though He giveth or He taketh,
God His children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy.

Lo, their very hairs He numbers,
And no daily care encumbers
Them that share His ev’ry blessing
And His help in woes distressing.

Praise the Lord in joyful numbers:
Your Protector never slumbers.
At the will of your Defender
Ev’ry foeman must surrender. 


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