It is time to write about what happened in my life this Good Friday. I am realizing more and more that I am Forgetful Jones incarnate, and if I don't write things down, they will be forgotten to oblivion. Unfortunately many of my spiritual highlights happen late at night, and I am too tired to take the time to record my initial thoughts. Sometimes I say to myself or pray, "If it is important enough, or if I am to do something as the result of this experience, I will remember with the same passion in the morning." Sometimes I remember, sometimes it passes. I think I remember enough from the Good Friday service to write a report. It is a story of God's goodness, what Pastor would call "A God sighting".
About a week and a half before Good Friday, Pastor asked me to come up with some slides and accompanying music with an appropriate tone for the evening. It was to be used during a time of reflection. Being the forgetful person that I am, I ended up losing the memory of this task for several days until I reread the email request on the Wednesday prior to the service. At this point I had very little in mind and little time, so I tried to pull something together. Fortunately God was in on it, and He took advantage of my lack of time to prove that He can work in the most unlikely circumstances.
I decided on the spot to create a video composition using Serif Movie Plus. Since I had recently learned how to create particle effects using Blender, I also set out to create a light ray effect for use in the video.
My first task was to collect some images. This is always a struggle for me. I don't like using trite Christian art. I always see the same images every time I search on the internet. For me, once an image has been used once, it is enough. They lose their power and poignancy through repeated use. Not only that, but there is no continuity when random web images are keyed one after another. There is no unifying style or concept. Plus most of these images are copyrighted, and I don't like to exploit or belittle the work of other artists - a concern I understand well, being an artist myself. Ideally I would create several original images, but that would be an enormous undertaking, and I certainly didn't have time for that. Fortunately I came across a beautiful and poignant series of images by Gustave Dore (1832 - 1883). Though the images were created well over 100 years ago and exhibit some of the austerity of neoclassic times, a close investigation of the images reveals what I deem a thoughtful reality and portrayal of emotion. The images are timeless. In four years, Dore created 250 magnificent plates to illustrate the Bible. I happened upon them on the internet and was immediately enraptured. The simple fact that there were enough images from Jesus' life to easily fill the length of a song was good enough for me. This finding ridded me of the dreaded gathering of discordant web images!
Before working with the Dore images, I set out to create the beaming light particle effect. This was the most time consuming step of the video production, but I think it was worthwhile - to give the images that extra little realism and gravity. Next I put the Christ images in order and considered thoughtful pans and zooms (movement) for each. I don't know exactly when it occurred, but I was impressed with the concept of hands almost from the beginning. If I was to give the project an unofficial title, it would be simply "Hands". As the result, I chose to emphasize what Jesus' hands were doing throughout His ministry. I tried to come up with a single word for each of Dore's images to represent Christ's actions on earth: to Teach, Reach, Bless, Heal, Restore, Fulfill, Unite, Submit and Endure. I found out later that this theme must have been inspiration.
Due to my keeping up with the Jones (Forgetful), I ended up staying up very late both Wednesday and Thursday nights in order to prepare for Good Friday. In fact, I think it pretty much came down to the wire, since I had to work Friday morning. If my computer would have crashed through the night while I was doing the final rendering of the video project file, I would have been dead in the water. Fortunately it didn't, and I was ready to go - all except for the fact that I hadn't chosen an accompanying song!
Now, you might think it would make more sense to have a song picked out first and to base the slides on the words of the music, possibly even synchronizing various movements, text and transitions with the lyrics. Perhaps you'd be right, but that's not at all what I did. Here's what my presentation ended up being: many slides evenly spaced apart, with transitions to the next every seven or eight seconds. There was absolutely no consideration to music whatsoever. This is where God came in to do His part ;)
Because of my ridiculously late night (late morning) finish, I didn't have any time to consider music other than to form a list of several possibilities from my personal song library. I tried to think of songs that related to Good Friday, like You Are My King, Above All, etc. Then, all of a sudden, the thought occurred to me to use a CD by our former Associate/College Pastor, Terry McGlasson. I remembered that the CD, Vestiges was full of rich music - all hymns - that had somewhat of a melancholy and contemplative tone (perhaps my favorite style). Unfortunately, however, I couldn't find my copy of his CD, so I was forced to simply keep the thought in mind. I called Pastor's wife and asked her if she could perhaps bring her copy to church for me to look at, and I threw in several of my other CDs containing possible tracks.
I arrived at church later than I had hoped due to traffic and other circumstances - such as burning a DVD and various different formats of video files in the case that my original movie didn't work (necessary precautions on an imperfect computer system) - only to be met by an occupied computer. There was a great deal of typing that needed to be entered for the service that I was not provided in advance, so one of our high school guys was filling in for that duty. Though this was a necessary chore, the crazy thing is that it was not completed until literally five minutes before the service started! So, while I had many things to prepare and a couple videos to cue and test, I pretty much had to wing it and prepare things in spare dead seconds throughout the service. In reality, it was an impending disaster, but God pulled His weight around, and the service worked almost without a hitch - I'm generally a perfectionist, so I noticed little glitches and delays here and there, but probably not anything most people noticed.
Interestingly enough, I was so stressed and caught up in the moment, that I pretty much skimmed the track titles of Terry's CD that Pastor's wife brought and chose one of them on a whim - without actually listening to the words. One word of one track was enough to help me make my decision... "Precious Lord, Take My Hand". By the way, I can't even begin to adequately recommend Terry McGlasson's CD, Vestiges. He didn't ask for PR, nor did he know of his song's involvement until I emailed him after the fact. We had a couple good back-and-forths about it, and he was pleased that his song was used in such a way. But if you want to be richly blessed, get ahold of his CD... I can make the connection for you, if you are interested in purchasing one. His voice and song choice are so rich and the arrangements so beautiful, I am certain you will enjoy it.
If that little song "coincidence" (I don't believe in luck - never have) wasn't enough, it was only the beginning. The cool thing about all that follows is that none of the lucky happenings were planned by me, so I can only assume God was at work. I prefer it that way. When attempting have a meaningful, tangible relationship with an invisible God, such things are virtually necessary every once in a while so I don't get depressed and think, "God, show yourself!", "Please, I miss you!", "I can't handle this distance", etc.
During my last-second panic mode, I took a glance at the track time on the CD and noticed that the song was approximately 20 seconds longer than my movie. This also influenced my choosing that song because most of the other songs I brought along were considerably longer, and I'd have to just cut them off. So I thought, "I'll just divide the 20 extra seconds by 2 and start my video 10 seconds into the song. That way there won't be a huge empty, non-visual gap at the beginning or end". So that's exactly what I did. I asked our sound tech to play the song, I randomly guessed about 10 seconds and started the video. To my surprise and absolute awe and astonishment, words in the music not only fit in with my video, but several times, exact words correlated with precision timing to scene changes. It was as if I had chosen the song first and synched the video with the music! I was amazed and speechless.
Pastor instructed me beforehand to play the video twice over, so I had the music started and chose a random second to start my video, and sure enough - the same synchronization! Freak-Wow Awesome, to say the least! Hey, and guess what, here's a little technical detail that I can't leave out... When I got home and determined to affix (embed) Terry's track to the video file - convinced it was meant for "something" - I had yet another surprise. It is good practice to leave a gap of time at the beginning of any video or animation project. The reason being, not all video programs allow you to select tons of sequenced clips across multiple layers and drag them out to a further time along the timeline. In other words, once you start a video production, it's not always easy to add content to the beginning (like blank black space or other clips) unless you leave an open space to work with. So I did. Just for curiosity sake, I thought, "I wonder...". And yes, that space I left at the beginning was exactly the same time I randomly cued our sound guy to put at the beginning of the video. So I put Terry's song at the very beginning of the video project, and all the timing worked out to magnificence. Don't even try to write that off as coincidence! You won't have me fooled!
I want to cite for my readers some of the examples of unplanned synchronization I noticed, without exaggeration or contriving weak or nonexistent matches:
- The opening harmonica notes match the entrance and focus of the first words, "He came".
- As Jesus is healing, restoring and reaching the rejected, sick and lame, the song goes, "I am tired, I am weak, I am worn", as if the downtrodden are a direct illustration.
- This and the following two were the kickers for me: the song says, "When the darkness appears" at the exact moment when the screen goes to black, morbid light surrounds, and the word "sin" fades in. WOW!
- The next slide cues and fits the next words, "The night draws near". The scene shows Jesus in his last moments on the cross. The sky is almost dark - almost night!
- The next slide coincides with the next phrase, "and the day is past". Here, once again, the day is gone from the landscape, and Jesus life has ebbed away.
- "and gone" - fades to Jesus dead body taken from the cross. Jesus Himself is gone. The light that came into this world has faded.
- Second to last slide shows Jesus body being carried away, and the camera zooms up on his hand while the song sings, "take my hand", and the very next fade goes to an image of nail-pierced hands, once again alive and with an offering gesture, as if we could grab them right then and now!
- Finally the song calls, "Lead me home" At this moment, Jesus' hands zoom in, and a fuzzy light appears, as if the hands are leading us, offering us the way to our real home, in God's presence.
I'm sorry, but if that's not something to get excited about, I don't know what is!? Most of the time I struggle to come up with anything overly meaningful, and I just sit in contemplation for a long time. Other times stuff just flows, and I don't even come up with an outline. It just bursts, non-stop, faster than I can create or record. And God uses these times to work amazing things. I have inklings of the thought, "Hmmm... feels like something is happening", but don't really see why I feel that way until it all comes together. Such was the case with "Hands", a short Good Friday presentation for reflection and sharing with all. I am pleased to offer, with the artists' permission, an unrevised web version of the video here for the purpose of spreading the blessing I have received this Easter season. If you are equally blessed, or have your own story to share, please leave your comments. I'd love to hear your own "God sightings", even if you think it is too quaint or insignificant to share. God sometimes speaks in a whisper instead of a storm, you know. I think we need to train our senses to be in tune with His work around us. If you know someone who needs some encouragement or glimmer of hope, and think this video might be a blessing to them, pass it along. Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed. Now THAT means something for us today! Hope. God bless.