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LET BEAUTY AWAKE | A son celebrates his father

“Make peace with your powerlessness,” my dad said, realizing my struggles. “You’ll find peace and beauty in your own death if you do…”

107a9449It was a tender and tearful moment for me when I phoned my Dad this morning to tell him that his son would be preaching today as a guest speaker in the 2016 Lester Randal Toronto Festival of Preaching. You should know that my father is a truly great preacher, as was his father before him. And I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the craft, and the miracle of carefully chosen and spoken words to stir the soul’s ardor and to move folks to follow their better instincts.

What prompted the call was a sudden flash of memory—while shaving no less—of writing my first sermon when I was eight years old. I recall spending the better part of an afternoon writing it, and being very proud that my words filled a whole page, and that I had found appropriate Bible verses to weight my pious exhortation written to encourage the faithful to live more Christianly. I remember the shining look in my dad’s eyes as he read it before showing it to my mother who properly cooed over my earnest efforts. Later that night, I asked Dad if he wanted me to be a preacher like him someday. He responded that he mostly hoped I would become who I was created and called to be.

And so, this morning I called my Father. We laughed at the unlikelihood of a career singer/songwriter being invited to preach at a festival to honour such a rich tradition. But I knew he was pleased. And he ended the call with his familiar and full-hearted “Bless you!” which, I promise, never gets old.

dad1My Dad is dying. He has later stage multiple myeloma, and as a result he doesn’t preach anymore. He now experiences most of life from the hospital bed that has displaced the furniture in his living room. But he is neither lonely nor alone. On Monday nights, his AA group faithfully gathers around his bed. On Wednesday nights, another group of men gathers there to pray and study the Bible, as they have done for some years now. During the day, when he’s too tired to visit my mom, there is a steady stream of folks to check in on him, who share the details of their own lives hoping for that nugget of insight or wisdom that Dad seems to have endlessly in store.

A couple of weeks ago, I stood at the end of Dad’s bed and watched his breath shudder from pain as he slept. It’s hard to hide the tears so as not to be the needy one in the situation. “Make peace with your powerlessness,” Dad said, realizing my struggles. “You’ll find peace and beauty in your own death if you do.”  Days later, Dad surprised me with the admission, “I’m not scandalized by my suffering… everything I’ve most deeply longed for all my life (tenderness, care, intimacy, etc.) has occurred in spades around this bed of suffering.” And we then spoke of, and grieved, the reality of those for whom this is not so.

I recently wrote a song for Dad that was inspired by a sermon I found online by another great preacher, N.T. Wright.  In the sermon, Wright shared a few stanzas of a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. For the purpose of his sermon, Wright added his own stanza, and I then added a few of my own to complete the song.

But before you listen, let me say (in case you are wondering) that my own sermon this morning (begins at about 40 mins) was warmly received. I sang and spoke, as best as I could, about the divine society that is the Holy Trinity: that eternal, dynamic mutuality of love and delight from which all of creation flows—from whence we came, and to whom we return.

And I believe there is something good here to ponder:

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Stanzas 1 & 2 Robert Louis Stevenson
Stanzas 3 & 4 Steve Bell
Stanza 5 Tom Wright
Music by Steve Bell 

Let beauty awake in the morn from beautiful dreams
Let beauty awake from rest
Let Beauty awake
For Beauty’s sake
In the hour when the birds awake in the brake
And the stars are yet bright in the west
Let beauty awake from rest

Let Beauty awake in the eve from the slumber of day
Awake in the crimson eve
In the day’s dusk end
When the shades ascend
Let her wake to the kiss of a tender friend
To render again and receive
Let beauty awake in the eve

While we, the gardeners of creation blessed
Furrow the soil at our Saviour’s behest
And bury the seeds of our own life’s death
And suffer God’s glory to grow

Yes we, the priests of all that is made
Gather the greatness of creation’s praise
That burgeoning freshness of glory displayed
From the depths of the earth below

Let Beauty awake in the morn from the cool of the grave
Let Beauty awake from death
Let Beauty awake
For Jesus’ sake
In the hour when the angels their silence break
And the garden is bright with His Breath
Let beauty awake from death

This song can be found on Steve’s recent CD release, WHERE THE GOOD WAY LIES:

Where the Good Way Lies CD


  1. Carol Holesha

    This is lovely. Your dad has had a profound impact on every facet of your being. As we say here in Chicago, he did good. You are a good man.

  2. Charlene McNabb

    Dear Steve! Thank you for another beautiful offering! I have been moved by your admiration for your dad over the years in all your stories, and his story about the prisoner at Drumheller on your 2nd Audio Magazine about suffering! That story truly shows your dad’s character and likeness to our Lord! My thoughts and prayers are with you all, as you “find the beauty” in this too…

  3. Judy Chan

    pondering the cycle of life – how death leads to new life … also the process of making peace with one’s powerlessness… oh, the many wonders of God & His profound mysteries – Peace, be still and know that I AM GOD.
    We appreciate the spiritual anointing of your poetry & music, blessings, Judy & Barry

  4. Suzanne St. Yves

    What a beautiful post, Steve. I needed this as you can imagine–it really resonates. Your father is a wise voice in today’s society, still preaching the Good Way in a world that needs to know that there is beauty in death when Love shows up in spades. Praying for you all.

  5. Darleen Brauen

    Steve, so glad that you are still ministering . Not an easy time while we watch our family go through such health issues. Your family has always been a blessing to us. Great examples of Gods love. You are a wonderful person inside n out. I’ve always said this about you. What you see is what you get, Steve, we love you. Paul n Darleen

  6. Kristen Rigney

    Your dad was a customer of mine @ Staples on Pembina, and was always a pleasure to serve!! May the peace that surpasses all understanding be your’s for you and all your family!!!

  7. Margaret Ryan

    Your parents lived with us after they sold their home in Moncton, NB and until he retired from Prison Chaplaincy in Atlantic Canada. We attended the same church here and I served on some of the same boards with him. We kept in contact for many years at Christmas. I have missed hearing from them for a few years, and wondered how they were. Give him and you mom my greetings, and tell them that all is well at First Baptist, and that Ray has gone on before us into paradise.
    Margaret Ryan

  8. Kathy Downey

    This beautiful composition has what I’ve known of you for more than 20 years written all through it. It felt like being tucked in under a warm blanket on a cold wintry night … like feeling the words I love you before hearing them uttered. Like being embraced by the Holy Spirit. In this song, you Steve Bell were my Comforter in a tough season.
    Much love from your friends from Brant Bible / Compass Point
    Especially from me
    Kathy Downey, Burlington

  9. Kevin Graham

    Thanks Steve: I spent many blessed moments working with Alf in the prison setting; a very loving soul who brought meaning to life’s journey.

  10. leith box

    Thank you!
    A wonderful tribute to your dad
    Giving thanks with you forfriends to journey this last leg of the earthly journey with him
    For his and your words of wisdom, I give thanks

  11. Janelda Cornfield

    Steve, your Dad and Mom have impacted my spiritual life more than you will ever know. I am truly blessed to have known them over the years.

  12. David A. Bell

    God bless you Steve. A wonderful tribute to a great Dad who obviously has had a powerful effect on you. Please greet him for me when you can and greet your Mom too whom we fondly remember from College days. Looking forward to hearing you at Tyndale.

  13. Hilda Franz

    Your tribute to your father is touching and beautiful. My own father died of the same illness that is transitioning your father from life to LIFE. I have seen him often on his scooter at Bethel Place where my sister and her husband lived. They remember him from the years when your family lived at Stony Mountain.

    The song, Let beauty awake is lovely. Thankyou for sharing it.


  14. Gail Marshall

    Steve I have always loved your stories And tonight this story about your Dad had really touched me…. your love for him and his love for you. A great Dad, a great son. Thank you for your generosity in sharing what is going on in your life.

  15. Margo Stretch

    The dying of a parent is so profound… and yes, filtered through the lens of God, His love, the love between parent and child, there is incredible beauty to be cherished. It is a rich time. I don’t know your dad, but through the snippets you’ve shared in concert; but clearly he’s leaving his family a godly legacy. I love that he hoped for you to become who you were created to be; and how very pleased he must be to have seen that occuring! My heart is with you, having journeyed down the parting road much of the last 5 years with three of our parents.

  16. Michelle

    Steve, I had the privilege of taking a Conflict Management course at Providence Theological Seminary with your dad. Day 1 he came dressed up as Jacob and launched into a monologue that lasted over an hour. By the end of that hour we had forgotten all about being in a classroom and instead were transported back to Jacob’s day and time. Over the course of the term we learned so many essential truths about the nature of God, about God’s mercy and grace. We learned about the peace that is in the eye of the storm and how we need to press in if we are going to get to that place. He left all pretense at the door and offered us part of his heart. That course has been my ultimate favorite over the years. I see him in you- how you reflect the glory of God and how you tell stories so well. I am thankful for the peace that he is walking in now and pray that it would continue to bear witness to a God who loves him (and all of us) so much. Thanks for sharing this part of your journey with us!

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