Song Series #3: Little Beggar Man
Viola and voice: Jen Hinst-White.
Coos and grunts: Milo Hinst, one month old.
I first learned “Little Beggar Man” at age 18, from a Clancy Brothers cassette that I rewound and rewound on the drive from New York to Bennington, Vermont.
I loved it because it was fast and rattling with life; and in learning to sing it, I discovered I had an odd knack for memorizing long strings of words. This seemed a sort of useless ability until I discovered that memorizing poetry (including sacred poetry, like the Psalms) allowed it to settle deep into my muscle and blood and, with time, to alter me.
“Little Beggar Man” is good for live performing, with all its rowdy energy, but in the past few years it’s become special to me for other reasons–soul reasons. Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel introduced to me the radical notion that I did not have to earn the favor of an exacting Employer Deity but instead could receive it gratis, in abundance–a beloved beggar at God’s door, snatched up for a hug and swept in for a feast.
I don’t fit the mold of conventional Christian, in lots of ways, so I take comfort in this wild and beautiful inclusion. I don’t pretend to know much about God. He is, to me, a wonderful Mystery that I experience rather than understand.
I also don’t have much to recommend me as a musician. I learned to play viola in public school, fell in love with traditional music as a teenager, and messed around until I learned–clumsily–to play a little by ear. In neither house, Music or Mystery, am I qualified to enter. But occasionally, grateful beggar, I become a vessel for something wilder and more wonderful than I could ever conjure on my own.