“Sam’s song”

Kevin Belmonte has shared his reflections on his experience at the last night of our recent Vacation with a Purpose event.  Kevin was one of our speakers during  VWAP and is a biographer of D.L. Moody, William Wilberforce, & John Bunyan; the  historical consultant on the film Amazing Grace; and the author of an upcoming biography of G.K. Chesterton and a Quotable Chesterton.

July 30, 2010

Noel Paul Stookey with Kevin Belmonte's son, Sam

Today I returned from an overnight stay with my four-and-a-half-year-old son Sam at C.S. Lewis College in Northfield, Massachusetts. Last night, honored guests from the Northfield Mount Hermon community, and volunteers from all over the country who have been helping to ready this new college for its opening a little over a year from now, attended a very special concert given by Noel Paul Stookey of “Peter, Paul and Mary” at Margaret Olivia Music Hall. My wife Kelly was away on a business trip, so Sam and I were set to have some good father/son time with all those who had come…

It was a night I shall long remember, especially for little Sam’s sake. It began with dinner at six, when I was asked to sit at Noel’s table and tell him a bit about my work on the film Amazing Grace. I felt privileged to do so, and it was then that I introduced Sam to him-a particular pleasure, since Peter, Paul and Mary’s live recording of “The Garden Song” is one that Sam loves to sing along with.

After dinner, Sam and I took a walk along the beautiful campus first established by D.L. Moody in November 1879 as the Northfield Seminary for Girls. To walk the grassy hillsides, amid buildings that are so many architectural treasures, and the handsome maple, oak and beech trees that boarder the grounds, is to be surrounded by a profound sense of history, blessing and philanthropic purpose. So many young people have walked this campus as students, received an excellent education and realized the promise of D.L. Moody’s hope that he had “been able to set in motion streams which will continue long after I have gone.”

Those streams continue still, beautifully renewed by the purchase of the Northfield Seminary campus for the use of C.S. Lewis College. During my time there this month, as part of the Vacation with a Purpose volunteer team (and as a guest lecturer in the evenings on D.L. Moody and William Wilberforce), I have been witness to start of a new chapter in the life of this storied place. Already, I feel as though I have been given memories enough to last a lifetime-the high privilege of meeting D.L. Moody’s great-grandson Dave Powell and his lovely wife Lucia, and the start of a cherished friendship with them-the hosting of a screening of Amazing Grace, the first film to be shown at C.S. Lewis College-and the gift of working alongside so many new friends to help renovate Moore Cottage, the handsome guest house built in D.L. Moody’s time.

These are cherished recollections, but I must say that the memories I treasure most are those of my son Sam romping over those grassy hillsides, playing with other children, kicking a soccer ball with me, and taking time to offer a quiet prayer of thanks at the crest of Round Top-the hallowed spot where D.L. and Emma Moody rest.

And as of my last visit to attend the Noel Paul Stookey concert, I have a new set of memories to add to the ones above. Sam was able to visit with Noel for a few moments at the close of the sound check. He could not have been kinder to Sam, or more thoughtful. He let Sam strum the strings of his guitar, and as Sam did, he fingered chords and began to sing: “This is Sam’s song-these are Sam’s chords.” It was an impromptu song, just for Sam. Those few moments, seeing Sam’s eyes light up, and the smiles that he and Noel shared, were very special.

Noel then posed for a picture with Sam, and showed a gift for playful banter with a child that reminded me very much of the way that Bill Cosby is with children-radiating great, good and infectious humor. I loved hearing Sam laugh with his new friend…

Before the concert began, I was asked to offer a word of prayer for the assembled guests. I was honored that Dr. Stan Mattson, the President of the C.S. Lewis Foundation, extended this invitation to me.

As I got up to pray, I had to carry Sam in my arms to the stage, as he was a bit tired and clingy. I thought little about it, since I have often done this. Sam usually rests quietly on my shoulder until I’ve finished speaking. He’s very good that way.

But tonight, as Stan later said, “the Lord of the Dance had something else in mind.” As I started to pray, Sam began to repeat what I was saying. What unfolded next was spontaneous and touching. Realizing I now had to offer a prayer that a little boy could understand, I said these words:

“Dear God, please bless Mr. Moody’s house, please bless this new house-Mr. Lewis’s house, and please bless all the children who will come here. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Sam said all of these words, as only a little boy can. And when I began to say “in Jesus’ name”-he skipped right to the end of this familiar close and said, rather loudly, “Amen!”

Nothing, as it turned out, could have been more fitting. Following the close of the concert, people stopped by again and again to say how much little Sam’s prayer had touched them. The next morning, several more friends took time to say much the same thing. It was an unlooked-for blessing-one all the more cherished for its being so unexpected…

And then, to cap the evening, Noel Stookey sang “The Garden Song,” asking just before he started: “Is Sam still here?”-to which the reply was a collective “Yes!” And so, my son and I got to sing the familiar words with everyone else there in lovely Margaret Olivia Music Hall. It was one of those moments that made me very happy to be a father…

Now that I think about it all-the legacy of D.L. Moody, all those who created and have served the Northfield Seminary-and the birth of the new school that is C.S. Lewis College in this storied place-I think of the words that Noel Stookey sang to my son: “This is Sam’s song.” These words make me think of all that lies in the future for this place. Little Sam prayed with me that God would “bless the children that come here” in the days and years to come. The thought that Sam might be a part of such a bright company, and know the gift of days and years on the campus of C.S. Lewis College, is a thought that fills me with expectation. “This is Sam’s song”-what a lovely lyrical metaphor that harkens to the future of this place, and what a treasured keepsake of a special meeting with a new friend.