|MR PIPES TOUR in Olney 2012|
From my book
Chapter Twelve: Winter and Christmas!
Popular Praise & Historic Christian Worship
I need you to hold me
Like my daddy never could.
And I need you to show me
How resting in your arms can be so good.
Fatherlike He tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame He knows;
In His arms He gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes;
Praise Him, praise Him,
Praise Him, praise Him,
Widely as His mercy goes.
Henry Francis Lyte
After yesterday’s accident and the late night, Annie felt herself emerging far too early in the morning from the dullness of sleep. She sniffed then scratched at her nose and sniffed again. Something was tickling her nose!
Without opening her eyes she said in a sleepy voice, “Knock it off, please, Drew.” Feathers, probably; he was always collecting feathers.
In response, she heard a sort of snuffling breathing in her face. She opened her eyes wide. Staring back at her were two dark eyes set in a black and white furry face, tiny moist nostrils flared as they took in her scent.
“Monochrome! You’re awake!” she squealed softly, stroking the young skunk under his chin.
Sunlight shone brilliantly off the snow through her window. She hopped up and dressed. Then, scooping Monochrome up in her arms she headed for the kitchen.
“Merry Christmas!” boomed Mr. Pipes cheerfully from the stove. “Oh, and what have we here?”
“Merry Christmas to you, too!” said Annie.
“So he woke up,” said Drew, between mouthfuls of cold cereal and milk.
“Yeah,” said Annie, smiling at her skunk. “You wanted to have Christmas with us didn’t you, you cute little thing, you—Oh, Oocheepoo. And he crawled in bed with me. In fact, I thought you were tickling me, Drew, but it was Monochrome—whispering in my ear. Oh, you’re the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen!” She gave him a gentle squeeze.
“Annie, you’re embarrassing me,” said Drew.
Mr. Pipes smiled.
“Drew is having an appetizer,” he said, pouring boiling water into the teapot, “before Christmas breakfast—bacon, eggs, pancakes with maple syrup, all prepared just as you like them.”
“Then I thought we would strap on our skis and go to the health center and wish Dr. Dudley a Merry Christmas.”
“What about a tree?” asked Drew. “We sort of need a Christmas tree, don’t we?”
“I took the liberty of speaking with the caretaker about just that matter,” said Mr. Pipes. “She has graciously loaned us a potted Norfolk pine from her indoor plant collection. The lovely little thing is in the Garden Room. Perhaps, after our visit to the health center you would help me decorate it?”
Annie and Drew rushed out of the kitchen to inspect the tree.
“It’s lovely and it’s almost as tall as Drew,” said Annie, coming back into the kitchen. For a fleeting moment she felt a wave of sadness; this would be the first Christmas she could remember not decorating the tree with their mother.
“But now for breakfast,” said Mr. Pipes, followed by a loud sizzling as he ladled pancake batter onto the frying pan.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sky such a deep, deep blue,” said Annie, as they skied alongside the newly plowed street on their way to the health center. She adjusted the straps on her knapsack.
Mr. Pipes smiled at the frosted brick houses and trees laden with mounds of snow along the street. With squeals and laughter, rosy-cheeked children, making a snowman in their yard, halted and pitched snowballs at them. Mr. Pipes and Annie and Drew called out season’s greetings to a family skiing past across the street.
“This will be a Christmas to remember,” said Mr. Pipes, his cheeks pink with exertion and the crisp air.
At the next cross street, Drew stopped and read a sign with an arrow pointing left.
“‘Lake Carter, !s mile,’” he read, with excitement. “I wonder if there’s any fish in it.”
“It would be strictly ice fishing, at present,” said Mr. Pipes.
“Fishing for ice?” said Drew.
Mr. Pipes laughed. “No, no, my boy. Fishing through ice. I’m told it’s very good sport, though a bit on the chilly side.”
Annie halted in her tracks. The bulges in her knapsack kept wiggling. “It’s okay, Monochrome,” she cooed over her shoulder. “We’ll be there in a minute; have another cracker.”
A black pointy nose poked out of the knapsack flap and for a brief moment looked around curiously at the snow. Monochrome disappeared into the knapsack and the sound of contented crunching came from inside.
“There now, imagine it,” said Dr. Dudley, his leg shrouded in a fresh plaster cast and suspended in the air by a chain. “My friends have not forgotten me.”
“Merry Christmas!” they said together.
“How are you, my dear fellow,” asked Mr. Pipes.
“Fine, oh, fine, indeed,” said Dr. Dudley. “Barring the fact that it is Christmas and I am trussed up with a broken leg and cannot leave for who knows how long. No, I am fine indeed.”
“We who saw it, thank the Lord you are not hurt more seriously after such a fall,” said Mr. Pipes.
“Yes, well, I bear all patiently,” said Dr. Dudley. “Now, then, how is my patient?”
“Monochrome is wonderful,” said Annie, “like nothing ever happened. Do you want to see him?”
“Rather!” snorted Dr. Dudley. “But you torment me, it is, of course, impossible.” He turned to the wall.
Smiling, Annie sat down on the edge of his bed and opened her knapsack. Out waddled Monochrome onto Dr. Dudley’s lap. He snuffled at the remains of Dr. Dudley’s breakfast pushed aside on a tray.
“I say!” said Dr. Dudley, brightening. “I say, I say!”
He stroked the coarse fur and with grunts and oohs and ahs of admiration at his work, he inspected the little creature.
“He’s fit as a fiddle!”
“And no more stink for this skunk,” said Drew.
“You have done fine surgery on him,” said Mr. Pipes. “I would trust my health in your hands without reservation.”
Just then they heard a quick knock on the door and in bustled a smiling nurse balancing a tray of instruments in her hands.
“Greetings to our English doctor patient,” she called cheerfully, not yet spotting Monochrome. “Now, you behave yourself while I give you a little poke and check your blood—”
She broke off. Her eyes bulged and she threw her hand over her mouth stifling what would have been a blood-curdling scream. The tray crashed to the floor. Monochrome arched his back and unfurled his fuzzy black and white tail. Everyone held his breath.
“Oh, oh, i-i-it’s going to—” stammered the nurse, fanning the air with one hand and gripping her nose with the other.
Annie and Drew looked at Dr. Dudley, the little skunk poised on his lap. For a moment they thought he looked worried. What would happen if Monochrome’s surgery didn’t actually work?
“My dear nurse,” said Dr. Dudley. “There is no odor, for I have surgically removed Monochrome’s odor sac.”
The nurse shook her head and kept her fingers pinched tightly on her nose.
“My dear, there is no foul odor,” insisted Dr. Dudley, taking a deep and noisy breath in an attempt to prove it.
“Ge’ i’ ou’ of my hospi’al!” she insisted, pointing at the door, her nose still plugged.
Mr. Pipes, Annie, Monochrome, and Drew beat a hasty retreat, wishing Dr. Dudley a Merry Christmas.
Back at Mr. Whittier’s house, Annie and Drew made cut-out angels, stars, sheep, and mangers out of colored paper given them by the caretaker. They popped corn—“Like the Indians used to do,” explained Drew—and showed Mr. Pipes how to stitch it with needle and thread into stringers to drape around the little tree. They arranged candles in rows along the mantle and table to be lit that evening. The house filled with the delicious smells of roasting ham, baking sweet potatoes and simmering cranberries.
When they finished decorating the tree, Annie prepared a pot of tea and laid out shortbread Christmas cookies shimmering with frosting and flecked with colored sprinkles. Drew brought in an armload of logs and they sat down for morning tea before the cheery warmth of the fire.
“Merry Christmas to us all!” said Mr. Pipes, then sipping his tea.
“My gift for you,” said Annie sadly, “is at home.”
“So’s mine,” said Drew. “All of our gifts are at home.”
“That we are here together,’ said Mr. Pipes, “is gift enough. But, I just happen to have a little something I’ve brought for each of you, my dears.”
“What?” asked Drew eagerly.
Annie frowned at her brother.
Mr. Pipes handed each of them a neatly wrapped parcel. Drew said thanks and tore into his.
“Well, go on,” said Mr. Pipes to Annie.
In each of their boxes they found a little leather case with two gold pens, one a fountain pen and the other a ball-point. Mr. Pipes had engraved their names on each pen. Digging further down into the rustling tissue paper, they both found a beautiful leather-bound book. They opened them eagerly.
Drew looked at Mr. Pipes in surprise.
“There’s nothing in mine!” he said.
“Oh, it’s such beautiful leather,” said Annie, running her hand over the calf binding. “But mine’s blank, too.”
“Precisely,” said Mr. Pipes, smiling at them. “They are extra thick and you are to fill them—fill them with poetry and music written in praise of God.”
“Oh, thank you, Mr. Pipes,” they said together.
“Now, dig just a bit further,” said Mr. Pipes.
“Giant chocolate bars!” exclaimed Drew.
“English chocolate,” said Annie.
“Watch yours closely, Annie,” said Mr. Pipes, eyeing Drew, who had already torn into his wrapper.
Annie opened her old sketchbook on the desktop and reread her versification of Psalm 86. She sighed. It was Christmas; she was happy here with Mr. Pipes and her brother—and Monochrome. And she’d just decided not to think about not spending Christmas with their parents, not to think about it at all … no, not at all.
Mr. Pipes studied Annie’s face as he offered her another cookie.
“We need some Christmas cheer,” he said. “Annie, what carol would you have us sing for you?”
“Mr. Watts,” said Annie, brightening a little.
“‘Joy to the World,’ it is,” said Mr. Pipes. They lifted their voices together in praise: “‘… Let earth receive her King!’”
“And, how about Mr. Brooks?” suggested Drew, when they finished: “‘O, little town of Bethlehem.…’”
And on and on they sang.
Then Mr. Pipes read from the Christmas story in Matthew: “… [S]he was found with child by the Holy Spirit.… She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins … and they will call him Immanuel—which means, ‘God with us.’”
“It’s amazing,” said Drew, studying a wisp of smoke curling up into the chimney. “Jesus could be a little baby born to poor parents in a barn—and at the same time be God.”
“Yes, it is amazing,” said Mr. Pipes.
Annie pulled her knees up under her chin.
“Do you think he cried?” she asked.
“Cried?” said Mr. Pipes.
“Jesus, when He was a baby,” said Annie. “Do you think even though He was God that He cried?”
“Ah,” said Mr. Pipes, smiling at her. “You are thinking of the phrase from ‘Away in a Manger,’ are you not?”
“‘No crying he makes,’” said Annie. “I’m not sure that’s true. What do you think, Mr. Pipes?”
“Perhaps an instance of sentimentalism,” replied Mr. Pipes. “Jesus was a real man—‘in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.’ I am most certain that as a baby he cried—not in fits and tantrums, mind you—but in discomfort and the like, he would have cried like any other real baby.”
“It’s sort of a balance then,” said Drew.
“Balance?” said Mr. Pipes.
“Yeah, between our thinking of Him as a real child and as God.”
Mr. Pipes sighed and rubbed his hand across his chin before replying.
“It’s kind of like that when we worship God,” said Annie. “He’s God, the Creator, the King of kings and He’s all powerful, on the one hand. But on the other, he’s more gentle, like a Shepherd. How do we keep all this straight?”
“And doesn’t the Bible call us children of God,” said Drew. “And if Jesus was God’s Son (a son’s a child)—then, hey, that makes Jesus our brother!”
“To be sure, my dears,” began Mr. Pipes, “there is familiarity in man’s address to God in Scripture—‘The Lord is my Shepherd …’ and we call God ‘Abba Father,’ or ‘Daddy.’ But many today prefer the familiar dimension of God’s being and have little taste for His transcendence.”
“What does transcendence mean?” asked Drew.
“It means that God is high above us, that we are His creatures and He is the Holy, Almighty God Who made and rules the universe at His will.”
Annie cradled her chin in her hands and frowned.
“We sing what Mother calls ‘ditties’ at church with the Smiths,” said Annie. “She likes us singing those better than the hymns you teach us. I’m not sure why.”
“She calls your hymns, ‘dirges,’” said Drew.
“I like the hymns, but they do take more work to sing—and understand,” said Annie.
“Yeah, they’re way better,” said Drew. “You know, you can’t really sing the praise choruses loud,” he went on, “like you can with ‘Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken,’ or lots of the others. I can sing those loud.”
“Why is that?” asked Mr. Pipes.
“Well, with the choruses you sort of have to squint your eyes closed and sway from side to side,” said Drew, demonstrating. “And it gets kind of mushy—lots of the girls like ’em, but most of the boys just mumble along and feel kind of uncomfortable.”
“But lots of people who sing praise choruses,” said Annie, “really do love Jesus—the songs are all about a close relationship with Jesus—most of them.”
“I don’t entirely doubt that, Annie,” said Mr. Pipes. “But, alas, the praise choruses of the postmodern church often feature a vague sort of relationship—a familiarity based on rather elastic sorts of notions about God—ones that can be stretched and pulled to fit in with popular ideas. Hold a great hymn of Ray Palmer, for example, up next to a praise chorus and you will observe several important differences.”
“Like what?” asked Annie.
“The timeless hymns of the church are full of the reasons for our sung devotion to God. Praise choruses contain less and less doctrine so the praise springs not from clearly stated truths about God, His person and works, but from an ill-defined feeling of love and adoration. And the one doing the singing is much more the focus of consideration in most praise choruses than God, the stated object of the praise.”
“What do you mean?” asked Annie.
“Well, typical first lines of postmodern praise singing illustrate my point best: ‘I bless You,’ ‘I only want to love You,’ and ‘I just want to praise You.’ What we are doing and hoping to get out of this kind of singing seems much more important than the more difficult work of extolling the attributes and works of our Lord in a more Psalm-like manner.”
“But lots of the praise choruses are straight from Scripture,” said Annie, “even from the Psalms. How can there be anything wrong with those?”
“One must look at the bigger picture of what is happening in the church. The Psalms have been sung for thousands of years, but there is an important and disturbing difference between the Psalm singing of historic Christianity and today’s singing of portions of the Psalms.”
“How is it different?” asked Drew.
“Christian musicians today edit out the more complex doctrinal portions of Psalms and merely leave the praising bit in—now with fewer, if any, reasons stated for that praise. The simplest parts of Psalms are sung today—usually sung over and over again creating a warm but often only vague feeling of adoration.”
“So is feeling … bad in worship?” asked Annie.
“By no means,” replied Mr. Pipes. “The Psalms and the hymns of the church are full of deep emotion and heart-felt praise. But that spiritual feeling always follows objective doctrinal truth adorned in the poetry. The church today has an insatiable appetite for the religious feelings hoped for in worship but virtually no appetite for the theological content that must come first and inform the experience of God’s presence in our worship.”
“It’s sort of like you can’t get there from here,” said Drew. “You can’t have real feeling without the reasons for the feelings, right?”
“Precisely,” said Mr. Pipes.
“Mr. Palmer’s hymn, ‘Lord, My Weak Thought in Vain Would Climb,’ is a good example of what is not happening in worship today. Few want to lift weak thoughts to greater heights of understanding leading to true praise; why should they, when it is so much easier to have feelings created by popular mood music and simplistic words. It’s hard work thinking about the high truths of which Scriptural praise is so richly filled.”
“But choruses are okay for kids, aren’t they?” asked Annie.
“Ah, yes; an argument often insisted upon in their defense,” said Mr. Pipes. “But let me ask you: at the Smiths’ church, are these choruses sung only by the young? Or by adults as well?”
“That’s a good point,” said Annie. “They sing hardly any hymns—real hymns. It’s everybody, kids and adults, singing mostly choruses in church.”
“It is a striking thing, is it not, that with all the emphasis of Holy Scripture on children that God did not include a junior Psalter in the Bible from which generations of Jewish children might have sung simple tunes.”
“That would seem kind of silly,” said Annie.
“But alas,” said Mr. Pipes, “that is what the church has done today—made a junior Psalter, in which the message is altered to be simplistic and easy. And I fear many sincere Christian adults will offer only this juvenile singing to God all their lives—‘even down to old age.’ That is a great pity.”
“They’re missing out on the best,’ said Drew.
“All the while thinking they’ve got it,” added Mr. Pipes sadly.
“Most Christians actually think,” he went on, “that today’s praise choruses are a great improvement over the sung worship of the church in the past—perhaps they are somewhat better than the more recent past.”
“If they only knew,” said Annie.
“Employing the most up-to-date popular expressions of praise,” said Mr. Pipes, “can tend to give people a sense of spiritual superiority over those who are considered to be not with it—I believe that is the accepted slang for being contemporary and up to fashion.”
“Well, Mr. Pipes,” said Drew, smiling, “you are definitely—not with it !”
“Thank you, my boy,” said Mr. Pipes, touching his fingers to his forehead in salute. “I want for you, my dear ones, to bind yourselves with the church throughout the ages by singing with her what is timeless and enduring, not what is fashionable, predictable and thus, eminently disposable. Generations from now Christians will not find light in ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine,’ I assure you. Nor will composers of great music in future generations borrow praise chorus tunes—or should I say, tune.”
“Most of them are pretty much the same,” admitted Drew, “over and over.”
“But none of this means that you and I have nothing to add to the canon of Christian hymnody, my dears,” said Mr. Pipes.
Annie looked down at her sketchbook and the new lines she had been scribbling. She just couldn’t bring herself to scribble on the clean white pages of her new leather writing book—not yet.
“You must contribute to the church throughout the ages,” he continued, “by adding hymns and melodies of the highest quality, adorning the timeless truths of Holy Scripture and lifting high the cross of our Lord Jesus—Whose birthday it is!”
“And I smell dinner!” said Drew, licking his lips and rubbing his stomach.
Mr. Pipes looked at his watch and strode casually into the parlor to look out the front window.
“What are you looking for?” asked Annie, cradling Monochrome in her arms.
Mr. Pipes smiled at Annie. “It is a lovely day for Christmas, isn’t it, my dear?”
“Yes,” replied Annie, blinking out the frosty windows.
“Shall we set the table and finish our dinner preparations?” he asked, his eyes twinkling merrily.
Annie smiled and followed him into the kitchen. She took down three plates from the cupboard and began setting the table.
“Only three plates?” said Mr. Pipes, his eyebrows aloft.
“I get to set one for Monochrome?” asked Annie eagerly.
“Well, my dear that is not exactly what I had in mind,” said Mr. Pipes, laughing. “It’s his manners; I fear the table would become a shambles.”
“But Dr. Dudley’s at the hospital,” said Annie, looking puzzled. “That leaves only the three of us—at the table.” She reached down and patted Monochrome sniffing along at her heels.
“It does?” said the old man, his eyes sparkling.
“What’s he got up his sleeve?” said Drew.
Just then from the front of the house came the blaring of a horn. Drew and Annie bolted into the parlor.
“It’s a snowplow!” said Drew. “And it’s stopped right in front of the house.”
Annie watched as the passenger door opened. She caught her breath and squealed with delight.
“It’s Mom and Dad!” said Drew. “All the way out here! I can’t believe it!”
Mr. Pipes smiled at their side.
“You knew all along!” said Annie.
“Not all along,” said Mr. Pipes.
Once in the front door, hugs, kisses, and handshakes were exchanged all around. Annie’s mother recovered herself quickly after seeing Monochrome and said, “Skunks are people, too.” Their stepfather shook hands warmly with Mr. Pipes, commented on how primitive the house was, and asked what smelled so good. The children’s parents explained how the train line from Boston deposited them only a few blocks from Mr. Whittier’s house, and how they were able to hitch a ride with the snowplow right to the front door.
“Annie, you’d better put on two more plates,” said Mr. Pipes. “Dinner is served right this way.” He led them to the table. Annie took a lit candle from the mantle and soon the table glowed with warm shimmering light as she lit a row of white candles. Drew added a log to the fire in the dining room.
When the last chair legs had scraped into position around the feast, a moment of uncomfortable silence hung over the cozy room. Annie and Drew looked at each other. Who would lead in prayer? They never prayed before meals at home.
“It is Christmas,” said Mr. Pipes, nodding for emphasis with each word. “The celebration of the birth of Christ the Lord. Let us pray.”
Baked ham and roasted potatoes drowning in melted butter, creamy sweet potatoes spiced with cinnamon, stuffing, and savory gravy soon found its way onto plates and into stomachs as they feasted together. When they could eat no more and dishes were cleared away, Annie made a pot of tea and served plates of shortbread and chocolate for anyone who had room.
“Pass the chocolate, please,” said Drew, for the third time. “Hey, Dad, there’s a lake nearby.”
“Yeah,” said Drew eagerly. “And how about if we men go ice fishing tomorrow morning—early?”
This was discussed for several minutes with Mr. Pipes explaining how it was done. The caretaker had offered Drew hooks, line, and a hole cutter, as well as advice on the best spot to fish on Lake Carter. It was settled.
“You know, I’m really sorry,” said Annie and Drew’s mother, “that we couldn’t bring along any of the gifts.”
“Would have taken a cargo plane,” mumbled the children’s stepfather.
“That’s okay,” said Annie. “I just wish I had my gifts to give Mr. Pipes and all of you.”
“Ah, yes, everyone loves gifts,” said Mr. Pipes, leaning forward and looking intently at Annie and Drew’s parents. “Have you ever wondered, Mr. Willis, why we offer gifts to one another at Christmas?”
Annie and Drew’s stepfather blinked several times and set his teacup on the table. “Frankly, I’ve never given it much thought,” he said. Then laughing, he added, “I always assumed it was a conspiracy started by children and encouraged by toy stores.”
“There is that,” agreed Mr. Pipes, laughing along with him. “But, of course you know Christmas is the celebration of the historic birth of Jesus Christ, Whom Holy Scripture describes as the ‘indescribable gift.’”
Annie bit her lip and looked at Drew.
“So you are suggesting,” said Mr. Willis, looking sideways at his wife, “that gifts given at Christmas are some sort of symbol of this Jesus?”
“Oh, that can’t be the reason,” said Mrs. Willis with a toss of her head.
“It doesn’t seem very logical that God would give human beings a gift,” agreed Mr. Willis. “Besides, I thought most religions were about humans giving gifts to God. You know, to pay for imagined sins, and all that.”
“Precisely, my dear sir,” said Mr. Pipes. “You could not be more correct about the uniqueness of Christianity. Like no other religion, the Bible declares men righteous—”
“Men and womyn,” interrupted Mrs. Willis, frowning at the old man. “Or, persons; could we be more inclusive, here?”
“Oh, to be sure, madam,” said Mr. Pipes, “The Scripture declares anyone who believes, righteous on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness. For Christ’s sake, He washes repentant sinners’ sins away and gives them—one and all—the gift of eternal life. Every other religion declares that you are capable of goodness and that God accepts you based on gifts of good works given to Him. Whereas, the Christian Gospel tells us the truth about ourselves: no one is capable of true goodness.”
“Hold on a minute,” said Mr. Willis. “Are you suggesting that I, who profess no religion, cannot be good without believing in your Christianity?
“So, you admit that there is a difference between goodness and badness?” said Mr. Pipes, his eyebrows rising with his enthusiasm.
“Of course I do,” said Mr. Willis. “Who doesn’t?”
“Ah, but on what basis do you decide what is good and what is bad?” replied Mr. Pipes.
Mr. Willis opened his mouth to speak, but for a moment no sound came out.
“Well, I feel that whatever is good for me—is good,” said Mrs. Willis. “But I’d never impose my ideas of goodness on someone else—and you shouldn’t either.”
“Hey, that doesn’t make—” began Drew.
Annie drove her elbow hard into his rib cage and gave him a look that said, “Not another word; we’ve tried our way; let Mr. Pipes speak.”
Mr. Willis looked at his wife and frowned. He met Mr. Pipes’s eager gaze for a moment and looked away, blinking uncomfortably as the inconsistency of her words—and his own beliefs—began to sink in.
“I-I think we just sort of know what’s good,” he stammered with a shrug.
“Scripture calls that ‘the law of God written on the heart,’” replied Mr. Pipes, reaching for his Bible. “But we, none of us, likes submitting to God’s law. In fact, Scripture teaches, what every sinner who honestly examines his heart knows, that we are enemies of God and His law. We are sinners, through and through, desperately in need of Christ, the gift of God and the only Savior of sinners.”
For the next hour, while Annie and Drew listened, Mr. Pipes answered questions and reasoned with the children’s parents from his Bible. Drew, who had seen Mr. Pipes urge the truth on unbelievers before, twisted a clenched fist into his palm in excitement as he looked at Mr. Pipes’s animated eyes and flushed cheeks. He loves this, Drew thought, watching the old man lick his finger eagerly and turn the familiar pages of his Bible, readying another reply.
Annie eventually stopped biting her lip as she watched the hint of change come over her parents. They’re actually listening, she realized; and she sent silent petitions up to her heavenly Father: “Salvation is from You, O Lord,” she prayed. “Give them humble hearts and open their blind eyes.”
Mr. Pipes paused and studied the children’s parents. They looked sufficiently disturbed with what must be the beginnings of a realization of the sore inadequacies of their self-made ideas. He had no intention, however, of entirely humbling them at this point. No, that would never do. After final urgings and a whispered prayer, he turned to the children.
“Annie,” he said, smiling, “Your parents look as if another pot of tea might be in order. I shall help you. And Drew, I believe the fire in the Garden Room could use a fresh armload of wood and a bit of a poke. Mr. and Mrs. Willis, do make yourselves comfortable in the Garden Room. We shall have a fresh pot of tea in a jiffy.”
A few minutes later, before a spitting and snapping fire in the cozy sitting room, Mr. Pipes and the Willis family sat in rocking chairs, sipping tea and talking about Christmas.
“Well, I still wish I had the gifts I made for you, Mr. Pipes, and for everyone,” said Annie, at last.
“Perhaps you do,” said Mr. Pipes.
“What?” said Annie.
“Why don’t you read us the poem you’ve been working on whilst snowbound,” said Mr. Pipes. “No gift would make me happier, and I’m sure your parents would love to hear it.”
Annie looked wide-eyed at Mr. Pipes. What would her parents think? They might even listen.
His chair creaking merrily as he rocked, Mr. Pipes steepled his fingers and nodded encouragingly at her.
She opened her sketchbook, tilted it toward a candle to see better, and cleared her throat. After one last look around the room, and after gently pushing Monochrome’s curious nose out of the way, she read:
Great God, compassionate and kind,
The God who hears my plea,
You are my Help whose name I fear;
My Strength forever be.
In you, O Lord, I put my trust;
Salvation is from you.
From dawn to dusk I call your name;
Your mercy’s ever new.
All my desire I give to you;
Pure joy from you does flow.
For those who call with humble heart,
Your grace and love will know.
In all your works how great you are!
I praise you Lord my God.
Teach me with undivided heart
To walk where you have trod.
“You wrote that, Annie?” said her father.
“Did you learn how in school?” asked her mother. “No, that couldn’t be it. Did Mr. Pipes teach you how to do it?”
Color rose in Annie’s cheeks. “It’s still a little stiff. But Mr. Pipes is teaching me—he along with all his old friends.”