Guest Blogger – Patti Owens

'There’s One Thing I Know . . .’

It is 4.30am and I’m lying in the dark, in an unfamiliar bed, feeling rather miserable. It’s not just the discomfort caused by the varied symptoms of post-surgical radiation therapy, though I’m beginning to wonder how I’ll live with these ongoing symptoms. Will I continue to be able to ‘do it anyway’ – my life-long policy when faced with things that could stop me or inhibit my plans – or maybe this time, will it really prove too much for me? Does God want me to get licensed as a Reader in October and move into that ministry? Or perhaps God is saying ‘Time to give up – you’ve done your best, I know. No shame on you but let it go.’

This is also the morning of my seventieth birthday. Who would have thought I’d be spending it in a city far from home, undergoing cancer treatment, in the middle of a Covid-19 pandemic with all the restrictions that we have/have not got used to. Well, that’s the reality, I think. So get over this misery moment and cheer yourself up before your hubby starts to stir in the bed beside you. Get ready to enjoy your birthday, and give thanks you are still around to celebrate your ‘three score years and ten’.

So I find my phone and put in my headphones, searching my music library for the right music. Maybe my lovely Bach, my favourite composer – who shares my birthday, though he was born in 1685, not 1951. No, I know, I’ll play my CD of the Penguin Café Orchestra. That always cheers me up. I love the joy these musicians express in their playing together. So I click on the first track, feeling calmer and anticipating the opening strains of the cello section. But – what’s this? This isn’t the PCO. It’s a work by Gavin Bryars that I haven’t listened to in years.

Jesus’ blood never failed me yet,
Never failed me yet,
Jesus’s blood never failed me yet.
There’s one thing I know,
For he loves me so . . .

Click the Picture NOW for the music- while you read!

How did this happen? I don’t even have that CD in my music library! What a mystery!

* * *

Gavin Bryars composed this work in a novel way, at the time. He began with a recording he had made when he happened to hear an old homeless man singing under the arches near the river in south London. The man was singing words from this hymn he’d remembered, maybe from childhood, who knows. He may have been drunk, but his voice is so touching, singing this hymn of comfort with such feeling. Bryars added orchestration that gradually joins in with the voice, reaches a crescendo, and then fades away, leaving just the solitary sound of the old man singing, until that too fades away. The sound continues to haunt you long after the music stops.

As I listened to this work, on my seventieth birthday, I heard the message very personally. ‘Jesus’ blood never failed me yet.’ I thought of all the times when Jesus has brought me back from dangers and traumas and other illnesses. It is true: he has ‘never failed me yet’. I thought of the blood of the communion cup and could almost taste the sip, as in my imagination I knelt at the rail. ‘There’s one thing I know, for he loves me so.’ Indeed he does. Now I knew I was going to enjoy my strange birthday – and I did. Later that day, as I walked with my husband along a local seafront, as we ate our fish and chips in the salty air, the voice of that unknown wanderer, without a home to go to, remained the soundtrack of my day.

Patti Owens (Reader in training)

Penguin Cafe Orchestra

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