Serene Sunday – His Eye Is On The Sparrow

Earlier this week, a neighbor and I came upon a little sparrow lying on the ground.  It twitched and twitched and we couldn’t tell if he stunned from the wind or poisoned (which had been known to happen). Neither of us had the heart to put it out of its misery and hoped it was simply stunned. Since Patty was in the hospital with mysterious vomiting, I was concerned with the possibility of poisoning.  I called the vet who told me to call a bird collision coalition and have them collect it.  Sadly they couldn’t help because they had too many calls.  Most likely they dealt more with eagles and falcons and not ordinary little sparrows.  When I returned later it was gone.

That made me think of an old Gospel hymn, His Eye Is On The Sparrow composed in 1905 and inspired by the Scriptures.  It’s an inspiring song that speaks of hope even when one feels like a small ordinary cog in life.  This hymn has been sung by many over the years.  In recent years it was popularized in the film Sister Act 2.  Here is Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount singing His Eye Is On The Sparrow.



Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for Heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion?
A constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches over me;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me (He watches me)
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches (I know he watches)
(I know he watches me)

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me (He watches me)
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me (He watches me)
He watches me (I know he watches me)


Serene Sunday: Swing Low Sweet Chariot

According to Wikipedia,  “Swing Low Sweet Chariot, a old African American spiritual was first written by Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman in the old Indian Territory, sometime before 1862. He purportedly was inspired by the Red River, which reminded him of the Jordan River and of the Prophet Elijah’s being taken to heaven by a chariot (2 Kings 2:11). Many sources allege that the lyrics also referred to the Underground Railroad, the resistance movement that helped slaves escape from the South to the North and Canada.

Alexander Reid, a minister at a Choctaw boarding school, heard Willis singing these two songs and transcribed the words and melodies. He sent the music to the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. The Jubilee Singers popularized the songs during a tour of the United States and Europe.”

The song enjoyed a resurgence during the 1960s Civil Rights struggle and the folk revival. Perhaps the most famous performance was that by Joan Baez during the legendary 1969 Woodstock festival.”

Serene Sunday: Kol Nidre

Because Yom Kippur begins this Friday, I’ve selected Kol Nidre for this installment.  I’ve been a fan of Johnny Mathis since childhood mainly because of his beautiful voice but partly because he enunciates so clearly.  (You will notice time and again I’ve gone back to the old time singers because of their elocution.)  I purchased a CD of his, Good Night, Dear Lord, containing religions songs and Kol Nidre was one of them. This song gives me chills every time I hear it. Servetus can probably give a better explanation, but Kol Nidre is the evening service that begins Yom Kippur and means “all vows.”  Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.  This holiday follows the week after Rosh Hashanah, New Year’s, which heralded in the year 5772 last week.

Happy belated New Year to Servetus and all who practice the faith.  Shalom.

Translation: “All personal vows we are likely to make, all personal oaths and pledges we are likely to take between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur, we publicly renounce. Let them all be relinquished and abandoned, null and void, neither firm nor established. Let our personal vows, pledges and oaths be considered neither vows nor pledges nor oaths.”

Serene Sunday: Change Gonna Come

My older brother bought a lot of 45s (remember those?) for his much prized record player.  One of his favorites was R&B singer/songwriter Sam Cooke’s  Change Gonna Come produced in 1964.  As a four year old, I couldn’t really understand the lyrics but I sensed the world weariness behind the words.  Cooke, usually known for light songs, penned the lyrics following the death of his 18 month of old son.  His entourage being arrested for disturbing the peace after attempting to register at a whites-only hotel in Louisiana also contributed to his mood. Change Gonna Come became one of the ballads for the Civil Rights Movement.  It was released posthumously in 1964 after Cooke’s murder. Initially not a Top 40 chart hit, the song has become a Cooke classic.

Although it was released as a R&B ballad, Change Gonna Come has a decided spiritual essence that speaks of maintaining hope and faith that “change gonna come” in the face of life’s obstacles.  I listen when feeling blue; it lends me strength and faith that things will get better.  This song remains one of my favorites today.



I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die
Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep telling me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But he winds up knocking me
Back down on my knees


There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will


Serene Sunday: Kumbaya

Kumbaya was the first spiritual I learned as a child.  I recall being taught it during a Girl Scout meeting.  Then I heard it frequently during folk revivals, civil rights and Vietnam protests of the 1960s.  Kumbaya is Gullah for “Come by here.” It’s an old African American spiritual from the 1930s.  According to Wiki, “the song was originally associated with human and spiritual unity, closeness and compassion, and it still is in many places around the world.”

There are many versions but I’ve picked my favorite folks singer, Joan Baez because all this song needs is a simple guitar and lovely voices.


Serene Sunday: London Edition

Sadly enough I had no time to tour any churches on the London Trip.  I wondered what hymn mostly exemplifies the UK to me but very few came to mind that were particularly British.  However, with some free  associating, David Tennant > Doctor Who> Series 3 > Gridlock (see, British!), I finally settled on a famous one, Abide with Me.

According to Wikipedia, Abide with Me was written by Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte.  It is most often sung to William Henry Monk’s tune “Eventide.”  Lyte wrote the poem in 1847 and set it to music while he lay dying from tuberculosis; he survived only a further three weeks after its completion.  The hymn is a prayer for God to remain present with the speaker throughout life, through trials, and through death.


1. Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

3. I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.


Servetus on her blog suggested this hymn was fitting to commemorate 9/11 today.  I agree.



Serene Sunday: Groovin’ on A Sunday Afternoon

I’ve been lying around on a hot Sunday afternoon, sipping a frozen strawberry margarita and being remiss in publishing today’s post.  I mulled over what uplifting and terribly appropriate spiritual spoke to me over some delicious flan.  That’s when I made the mistake of looking at my blog stats.

There’s an app for that on my iPhone which inexplicably quit then started working again.  It lists posts, comments, referrals and search words.  Curious about what people googled to find me, I took a look.  “Judiang,” check.   Various permutations of “confessions of a watcher,” no surprise.  “Thorin beard,” okay.  “Thorin beard Klingon,” yes, I did say that.  “Richard Armitage beard,” I’m noticing a theme here.   “How large is Richard Armitage penis,”  Oh. OH!

I sat baffled that somebody expected to find the answer, as if he or persons unknown measured and put the information out there.  Then I was stunned this inquiring somebody hit MY blog!  Let’s be clear: I have never and will never blog such a topic to be remembered for all posterity on the internet.  I have standards.  That’s what the chat room is for.  (Seriously, if you haven’t participated in our sessions, you’ve been missing out.)  That’s all I’m sayin’.

Distracted by this discovery, I strained the brain all day trying to make the herculean leap from RA’s little Richie to today’s Serene Sunday.   One idea was wildly inappropriate so I decided to be good and stay with, you know, those standards I mentioned.  So, *ahem,* moving right along.   “Serene” can be applied to other songs besides spirituals, something that is also calm, peace, unruffled.  The following song is perfect for a lazy afternoon.  It’s smooth, pleasant and catchy.   I’m sure RA has been taking it easy today and hope you did as well.

Here is Groovin’ on a Sunday Afternoon by the Rascals



For those of you craving that dollop of RA, here’s a recent photo to contemplate as you listen.


Richard Armitage at the NYC Captain America premiere 2011; courtesy


Serene Sunday: Precious Lord

In memory of those lost in the senseless carnage in Norway, one particular hymn came to mind for today’s selection.  Thomas Andrew Dorsey wrote it in 1932 after the death of his wife and son in childbirth.  He purportedly said ” the words healed his spirit. I learned that when we are in deepest grief, when we are furthest from God, this was when He is closest and we are most open to His restoring power.”

This beautiful  hymn has been translated into 32 languages and is widely sung at funerals and memorials.  It was performed at the funerals of my parents and grandmother.  It moves me to tears every time because of the associations. However I want to share it with you and anybody else who might gain comfort from it on this somber occasion.  I’ve chosen gospel great Mahalia Jackson’s version that is definitive as far as I’m concerned.

Here is Precious Lord, Take My Hand.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near
When my light is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When the darkness appears and the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home



Here is a longer and clearer rendition:




Serene Sunday: We Shall Overcome

The following song represented the civil rights movement for me and played a big part of my childhood.  It is inspirational but unfortunately has sad connotations for me since I heard it mostly at funerals, such as for Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.   Their assassinations in 1968 awakened me at the age of 8 to the concept of evil and what can happen to good people.   It’s been 43 years since April 4th, and to the day, for MLK and RFK, respectively.  We’ve come so far, yet hardly at all considering today’s political climate.

The following rendition is by Joan Baez at the Woodstock festival in 1969.  To this day I can’t listen without choking up.  Here is We Shall Overcome.



Serene Sunday: Amazing Grace

Good Morning!

Ideally I should be nursing a hangover from painting the town red last night. I also should be secretly smiling about an interesting dream featuring a certain actor. Most likely neither of these have occurred and I’m being rushed to the local wi-fi hotspot for critical internet therapy. Since you’re probably in a more serene frame of mind, Dear Reader, I offer today’s spiritual song.

Amazing Grace has been recorded by scores of artists since was composed in 1779. It’s a simple but powerful song that’s easy to sing a capella or with an entire choir and orchestra. I’ve preferred many versions over the years but recently fell over this rendition by 7 year old Rhema Marvanne. Her voice lends a sweetness to the song. I’m sure she will go far.

Here is a beautiful version by Nana Mouskouri:

Here is a slow gospel version by Mahalia Jackson who was known to connect with the emotion of a song:

Serene Sunday

The tech troubles with formatting are still unresolved but I can manually include a reply box for each post.  So, no more procrastinating.   It’s warm, it’s Spring (I think), it’s Sunday and a good time to get things rolling again.

In keeping with posting spiritual songs on Sunday, I choose one by one of my favorite gospel singers, Mahalia Jackson.  A friend told me I have an “old soul” but I really enjoy old time music.  Ms. Jackson had an amazing dynamo voice. I loved to listen to her as a child.  While her diction was mushy at times, it didn’t matter because the power of her voice was enough.

While I’ll head down to the lakeside, enjoy things Down by the Riverside.

Serene Sunday: Hallelujah

This is one of those songs that seemed like it should impress but somehow missed for me in the past.  It’s deceptively difficult to sing and some artists have mistaken shrillness for emotion and vocal lift.  Power singing distracts from the poetry of the lyrics.

Finally, I heard this rendition performed by k.d. lang.  The instrumentals are simple with the surging, almost marching temp of the piano. The primary focus is the singer who can make or break this song.   k.d. lang is not only a gifted vocalist, but she immerses herself in the music and she showcases both here.  This performance was live at the 2010 Olympics and best I’ve heard by anybody to date.

Here is Hallelujah, written by Leonard Cohen. Lyrics are here.

Serene Sunday: John 19:41

When I was 12 years old, I went to my first musical, Jesus Christ Superstar.  My parents were non-practicing Catholics and blandly irreligious by the time I was born.  I had a general grasp of the New Testament but don’t recall any particular expectations of the outing except that it was a new and exciting experience.  My  parents later said they wondered how the crucifixion would be depicted without it being a total downer.  I quickly realized watching a live performance eclipsed listening to any recording.  It was invigorating and captivating and I found myself completed immersed.  Had I a shred of singing, dancing or instrumental talent, I might have toyed with the idea of going into the theater.

I loved the songs including the theme showstopper.  However the last instrumental at the end of the show did it for me, John 19:41.  Although it had swelling strings and flutes, there was a certain simplicity that was both beautiful and uplifting.  Afterwards, my parents bought for me the cast album which I still have.

There have been many versions of this instrumental over the years, but I think the original 1970 version is the best.  I found some YouTube videos with either distracting graphics or poor sound and had to settle for an excerpt from the 1973 film.  (I’m not a fan of the film.  For me, it failed somehow to translate the energy of the musical.)   So, turn up the volume, close your eyes, and just absorb the music.

Serene Sunday: Ave Maria

I don’t believe in God.

Let me rephrase that: I don’t believe in the omnipotent arbitrary supreme being advocated by Western religion.  But I’m not atheist.  I can’t empirically prove there isn’t a God any more than I can prove there is one. I think there is a life force that exists in nature which we aren’t required to praise or appease, it just is.   I call myself agnostic because people are comfortable with the label and it’s least likely to provoke a negative reaction.  To put a fine point on it, I’m a secular humanist.  However I find people have trouble grasping the notion that morality doesn’t have to flow from religion.

It has been argued that religion is man’s defense mechanism in response to awareness of his own mortality.  This is a valid point. Yet I reject the stridency of militant atheists who declaim that believers are fools and religion is the opiate of the masses.  It is religious institutions and contrived rules devised by man, which distort the message and is the source of great harm, that I distrust.  That being said, there is a place for religion in the world.  People like to believe there is a point to their lives, that all that striving isn’t for nothing, that somebody cares and watching over them. Belief can be a source of comfort because it suggests a sense of order to this chaotic world.   Most of the great religions advocate love and compassion for fellow creatures, and if people can’t find that within themselves but need belief in a higher being to motivate them, then it’s still all good.  I support people believing what they want as long as they don’t feel entitled to force their beliefs on others.

This view took years of deep soul searching.  Oddly, the first Christmas after I stopped calling myself a Christian I was in a quandary: did this mean I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my beloved carols anymore?  How could I play my 24 versions of O Holy Night without feeling a hypocrite?   The word I received from a minister turned atheist was this: do you really need to believe the words to appreciate the song?  So I listened again.  I realized the musical arrangement was still haunting.  The voices were still beautiful.  The simplicity of the lyrics were still lovely even though I didn’t subscribe to the meaning. I hummed secular songs whose words meant nothing to me. It dawned that  I didn’t have to get mystic to find the carol beautiful or any other spiritual piece.  Religious music can not only be devotional, but also powerfully soothing and serene.

So on Sundays, I would like share some of my favorite religious songs as well as any others I come across.  Here is a prime example of how a song can still be compelling, even though the singer has a different religious background: Barbara Streisand singing Ave Maria, Bach/Gounod version.