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Mack Williams: My Ebeneezer

Mack Williams

I recently sang at a church, whose budget is such that it must move Wintertime services to its small chapel to lessen the power bill.

Their sanctuary has an arched ceiling with arched beams, like “internal” flying buttresses. On Palm Sunday, the congregation regularly returns to the sanctuary (a more appropriate, much larger place in which to mentally picture a Christ-bearing donkey with palm-waving crowd).

My analogical mind makes me now think of the Apollo 13 astronauts’ move into their Lunar Module to have enough air to make it back to Earth (thinking of “physical heavenly” rather than “spiritual Heavenly” things, but I’m sure the latter got more than just “a wing and a prayer”).

Their sanctuary organ’s pipes remain silent in Winter, when the little chapel’s “digital pipes” could possibly be playing Bach’s “Air for the G String,” (without the “air”).

In the smaller chapel, the congregation seems larger, much more than the requisite “two or three gathered together” for the Holy Spirit’s presence (but I think He likes being alone sometimes, His own personal “quiet time” a thing of inspiration too).

That Sunday, I sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Having been written in 1757, it has some of that special, rousing sound as William Billing’s “Chester,” the first unofficial National Anthem of the United States.

I especially like the “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” lyric: “Here I raise my Ebeneezer;” namely, just the word “Ebeneezer” always fascinating me! Of course, I know it’s not Charles Dickens’ “Ebeneezer.” However, I always did love Alistair Sim’s portrayal of Ebeneezer Scrooge in the 1951 film version of “A Christmas Carol.” I’m now the “2019 version” of the “original 1951 version” of me, having being born that same year (my hips being “remakes”).

I told a fellow tenor at choir practice about finding a set of lyrics to that hymn on the internet with “Ebeneezer” deleted; and he said: “It’s just not the same without ‘Ebeneezer!’” Perhaps, in the current “dumbing-down” mania, that site changed it. But I always say there’s no need for “wit-dimming,” especially nowadays, when understanding is just a “google” away. It takes much less time than thumbing through Britannica or Webster (Lord knows, I wish there was Google when William F. Buckley was on TV years ago).

Back to “Ebeneezer,” it is defined as a rock, raised (hence “Raise my Ebeneezer”) to honor a victory in battle or how far faith had brought the Israelites. In the hymn, I think it’s meant to honor our gain through positive perseverance in faith. While growing up, I somehow got it in my mind that an Ebeneezer was a walking stick, but that’s a “shillelagh” ( Ireland).

Sitting back down after my solo, I noticed a small, smooth rock on the pew beside me. This church’s choir director is a great proponent of the “Kindness Rocks” project, organizing classes where one can be taught to paint encouraging words upon a rock, afterwards leaving it in a public place to give someone a bit of encouragement along the way (even Paleolithic man knew: “You can do a lot with a rock!”).

While growing up, the only “rock painting” I ever saw was of random southeastern Rowan granite boulders inscribed with “GQHS,” later “ERHS.” That area being the only county site of such outcrops, other Rowan high schools would, must needs, have had their boulders hauled in for “lettering.”

So, I slipped the little rock, as yet unpainted, into my pocket. I’ll have to compose my own positive, self-inspiring phrase; but I won’t paint it, so I can imagine there an ever-changing “hopeful phrase of the day.”

The rock has a thumb-sized impression, so it can also be a “worry stone.” Since my late mother (Lorraine Williams) taught me to be positive, and to worry (both taken to heart by me) my palm-sized, “pocket Ebeneezer” can serve a double purpose.

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