Sunday, April 23, 2017

Our Easter Tribute Bring

The coming of spring has often been associated with the resurrection of Jesus in Easter hymns, some of which we have seen here before. This year, the Second Sunday of Easter also coincides with Earth Day celebrations around the world, which makes this text particularly appropriate.

See, the land, bright Easter keeping,
Rises as our Maker rose.
Seeds, so long in darkness sleeping,
Burst at last from winter snows.
Earth with heav'n above rejoices;
Fields and gardens hail the spring;
Hills and woodlands ring with voices,
While the wild birds build and sing.
Here, while heav'n and earth rejoices,
We our Easter tribute bring - 
Work of fingers, chant of voices,
Like the birds who build and sing.

Charles Kingsley, 19th cent.; alt.
Tune: SUSSEX (
English folk melody;
arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906
Charles Kingley (1819-1875) was a priest in the Church of England as well as a novelist, poet, historian, and social reformer.
The final stanza here, calling for an active response to the resurrection, might also be interpreted in our time as a call to action on environmental issues.  Another hymn by Kingsley, perhaps the one that best survives to our time, From thee all skill and science flow is also particularly resonant this weekend.

Nine Years Ago: Earth Day
Eight Years Ago: Adin Ballou

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Anna Laetitia Waring

Welsh poet Anna Laetitia Waring was born today in 1823 (some sources say 1820) in the small town of Plas-y-Felin, near Neath, where she spent her early life. Her family were Quakers, but in 1842 she joined the Church of England, reportedly due to her interest in the Anglican sacraments. She also learned Hebrew so that she could read those scriptures in the original.

Never married, she and her family moved to Bristol around 1850, where she took an interest in prison reform, visiting prisoners and volunteering with the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society.

She began writing hymns while still in her teens, but her first collection, Hymns and Meditations, was not published until 1850 (perhaps thanks to her improved access to publishers), consisting of nineteen texts. Another collection, Additional Hymns (1858) was eventually incorporated into later editions of her first book with some other texts for a final total of thirty-nine hymns. In 1911, the year after Waring's death, Hymns and Meditations was reissued again with a new section written by her friend Mary S. Talbot titled In Remembrance of Anna Laetitia Waring which included some of her secular poetry and brief biographical information, little of which had been available before.  Also, like many of the women who wrote hymns over the centuries, we have no portrait or photograph of Waring.

Today's hymn appeared in her first collection under the heading "I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. (Psalm 23:4)".  It's not a paraphrase, but was certainly inspired by that psalm - the Presbyterian Handbook to the Hymnal (1935) calls it "steeped in the spirit of the psalter."  A chart at shows that this text became even more popular in the twentieth century, appearing in at least 495 hymnals to date, by their (incomplete) count.

In heavenly love abiding, 
No change my heart shall fear.
And safe in such confiding, 
For nothing changes here.
The storm may roar around me, 
My heart may low be laid,
But God is round about me;
How can I be dismayed?

Wherever God may guide me,
No want shall turn me back.
My Shepherd is beside me, 
And nothing can I lack.
With wisdom ever waking, 
Our path is ever clear.
We know the way we’re taking,
We walk without a fear.

Green pastures are before me,
Which yet I have not seen.
Bright skies will soon be over me, 
Where threat'ning clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure,
My path to life is free.
My Savior has my treasure,
And ever walks with me.

Anna Laetitia Waring, 1850; alt.
Tune: NYLAND (
Traditional Finnish melody

In his Dictionary of Hymnology, John Julian writes of Waring's work: "Her hymns are marked by great simplicity, concentration of thought, and elegance of diction."

Samuel Miller Waring (1792-1827), an uncle of hers, had followed the same path of Quakerism to Anglicanism and also wrote hymns and poems, some collected in Sacred Melodies (1826).

Nine Years Ago: Anna Laetitia Waring

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday

Happy Easter!

We usually think of gospel songs as general in theme or subject, but given the great volume of them that were produced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, many were also written for particular occasions such as Christmas and Easter. Of course, this is true of hymns in general as well. We've seen several of the Christmas gospel songs over the years here, but not so many of those written for the Easter season (with one main exception, which is still often sung today).

Naturally, with approximately eight thousand songs to her credit, Fanny Crosby must have written some for Easter, and here's one.

Jesus Christ is risen today,
He is ris'n indeed!
Jesus Christ is risen today,
He is ris'n indeed!

Who, captive led captivity,
Who robed the grave of victory,
Who broke the bars of death,
Who broke the bars of death!

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Amen.
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Amen.

Let every mourning soul rejoice,
And sing with one united voice;
The Savior rose today,
The Savior rose today.

Let all that fill the earth and sea
Break forth in tuneful melody,
And swell the mighty song,
And swell the mighty song.

Fanny Crosby, 1869; alt.
Tune: UNITED VOICE (L.M. with refrain)
Chester G. Allen, 1869

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: The strife is o'er, the battle done

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: Jesus Christ is risen today

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: Lift your voice rejoicing, Mary

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

In the cross of Christ I glory,
Speechless stand through endless time;
As the grandeur of the story
Fills my heart with joy sublime.

By the cross of Christ my feeling
Overflows in boundless praise
For the love that is so healing,
For the bliss of coming days.

Near the cross of Christ I never
Lose my faith, or conscience still,
But with greater zeal than ever
I go forth to do thy will.,

All my hope, my pain, my pleasure
Through the cross are glorified,
Be of all my only measure,
Near to thee I would abide.

Simon N. Patten, 1916
Tune: RATHBUN  (
Ithamar Conkey, 1849

This re-writing of the familiar text In the cross of Christ I glory is from Advent Songs (1916), by Simon Nelson Patten (1852-1922), who was an economist by trade but a hymnwriter by avocation. Subtitled A Revision of Old Hymns to Meet Modern Needs, Patten's collection provides new texts, many of them rewrites or at least suggestive of previous texts, as in this case, the original by John Bowring.

From Patten's introduction to Advent Songs, this passage may apply more directly to this particular revision, where he talks about the need for new texts to replace the old:

In the epoch of suffering, the vision was of another world with its protection, peace, and rest. Today we see the future clearly. We need a Christ more than ever, but (...) to build and not to relieve. Charity is displaced by cooperation, the physician by the architect, the hospital by the park.

Perhaps needless to say, the contemporaneous reviews of Advent Songs that I've seen were not altogether favorable, but Patten had touched on something that would flower into a broader movement in the coming years, and a century later his ideas might still be somewhat relevant to the hymnwriters of today.

The tune RATHBUN, by Ithamar Conkey (1815-1867), generally matched with Bowring's In the cross... was not used by Patten but I have restored it here.  The tune was named for Mrs. Beriah S. Rathbun, a faithful soprano in the choir of the Central Baptist Church of Norwich, CT, where Conkey was the organist for some years.

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: There is a green hill far away

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended?

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: When I survey the wondrous cross

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: On a hill far away

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Beneath the shadow of the cross


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday

When th'apostles with their Friend,
One last supper would attend,
Then his parting word he said,
Blessed the cup and broke the bread,
"This, where'er you do or see,
Evermore remember me."

Years have passed, in every clime,
Changing with the changing time,
Still the sacred table spread,
Flowing cup and broken bread,
With that parting word agree:
"Drink and eat, remember me."

When, in this thanksgiving feast,
We would give to God our best,
Then, O Friend of humankind,
Make us true and firm of mind;
Pure of heart, in spirit free,
Thus may we remember thee.

Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, 1878; adapt.
Tune: ARFON (
Welsh (or French?) melody, 19th cent.?
arr. Hugh Davies, c.1906

NIne (Liturgical) Years Ago: 'Tis midnight, and on Olive's brow

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: "Remember me," the Savior said

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Thou, who at thy first Eucharist did pray

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: Within an upper room they met (now on Facebook)

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: Love consecrates the humblest act

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: According to thy gracious word

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday

To commemorate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, today we continue a series of social justice hymns with this text by Congregational minister James Gordon Gilkey (1889-1964) that links the story from the Gospels to our lives in the present.

Outside the Holy City
Unnumbered footsteps throng,
And crowded mart and streets of trade
Fling back a swelling song.
The voices echo nearer,
In flaming hope they sing:

Throw down your branches at his feet!
To Christ your praises bring!

Once more outside our cities
God's liberation waits,
Once more the people throng to bring
A welcome at the gates.
Within, our hearts are burdened
Our feet may go astray;
O Christ of God, come near and walk
Our city streets today!

The branches that we offer
Are no unmeaning sign;
Take thou the hands we lift on high
And make them wholly thine.
No songs of shallow welcome
Are these we raise to thee;
O give us faith to face the cross
And set thy city free!

A distant music mingles
With all our songs today,
Hosannas from a city fair
Where sin has passed away.
There rides the Christ triumphant
And glorious songs ring clear;
O God, give us the strength to build
With Christ that city here!

James G. Gilkey, 1915; alt.
Tune: ALFORD (
John Bacchus Dykes, 1875

Nine (Liturgical) Years Ago: Green Palms and Blossoms Gay

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Hosanna, loud hosanna

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Ride on, ride on in majesty

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: Come, faithful people, come away

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: See what unbounded zeal and love

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: O Christ, who through this holy week

Seven (Calendar) Years Ago: Jane Laurie Borthwick

One (Calendar) Year Ago: Jane Laurie Borthwick

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hymns in the News

Last week the Library of Congress announced the twenty-five recordings selected for the National Recording Registry in 2016. Each year siince 2002 the registry has selected recordings to be preserved for their historic significance, like the more well-known annual list of the Library's National Film Preservation Registry (active since 1987). You can see all of the recordings chosen since 2002, by year, at this link.

This year the list includes three hymn recordings, some of which can be seen on YouTube video below.

Second on this year's list is a 1923 recording of Lift every voice and sing by James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamund Johnson, sung by the Manhattan Harmony Four. That recording doesn't seem to be available, so I've decided on a 2016 recording from the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City.  You can also check out the (not very hymn-like) Melba Moore and Friends version mentioned by the Board.

Coming in at number five on the list is I'll fly away, by Albert E. Brumley (1929), recorded by the Chuck Wagon Gang in 1948.

Finally, number thirteen on the list is Judy Collins' famous 1970 recording of Amazing grace, which probably makes John Newton the earliest lyricist included this year.

Seven Years Ago: The strife is o'er, the battle done 

Nine Years Ago: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Strengthen With Thy Grace

On this day in 2017 we have a convergence of traditions. It's the Second Sunday in Lent on
the Christian calendar, and it's also the Feast of Purim on the Jewish calendar. Neither of
these days is tied to a specific date, so they rarely coincide.  And yet, we can bring them
together through one particular hymn.

Purim celebrates the story from the book of Esther, a woman born an Israelite but later
married to King Ahasuerus of Persia, who kept her origins a secret. At this time the Israelites 
were in exile in Persia. When Haman, an advisor to the king, devised a plot to kill all the
people of Israel, Esther defied convention by appearing before the king to plead for her
people (it was a capital offense to approach the king without permission). The eventual
deliverance of the Jews from the genocidal threat against them is marked by the joyful
celebration of Purim. Though Purim is a movable feast, it generally falls during the
Christian season of Lent.

Today's hymn dates from the sixth century, a text attributed to Pope Gregory the Great
(540-604), which begins:

Clarum decus jejunii
Monstratur orbi coelitus,
Quod Christus Auctor omnium
Cibis dicavit abstinens.

This was translated by Maurice Frederick Bell for the English Hymnal (1906). As was typical,
the text's illustrative exemplars from the Bible were all men, a conceit to which we need no
longer subscribe. In the revision below, the original third stanza (which you can see in the
full text here), referencing Daniel and John, was replaced by one about Esther, and
included in our original hymnal project for the Metropolitan Community Church.  
The glory of these forty days
We celebrate with songs of praise;
For Christ, by whom all things were made,
For us has fasted and has prayed.
Alone and fasting Moses saw
The loving God who gave the law;
And to Elijah, fasting, came
The steeds and chariots of flame.
So also Esther, at her hour,
For such a time was filled with pow'r
To go to the king, prepared to give
Her life, to let her people live.
Then grant us, Christ, like them to be
Full oft in fast and prayer with thee;
Our spirits strengthen with thy grace,
And give us joy to see thy face.
Creator, Christ, and Spirit blest,
To thee be every prayer addressed,
Whom grace and pow'r doth freely share,
With all who turn to thee in prayer.

Gregory the Great, Latin, 6th cent.;
tr. Maurice F. Bell, 1906; alt.
st. 3 Steve Carson, 1989
Joseph Klug, 1543;
harm. J. S. Bach, 18th cent.
stanza3 Copyright © 1989 Steve Carson

Oddly enough, March 12 was also the original feast day of Gregory the Great (the date
of his death), but in 1969 the Roman Catholic Church moved it to September 3 (the
date of his elevation to Pope). So we actually have a triple convergence today.

Though I have sung this hymn many times (most recently at a 2015 hymn festival
celebrating the women of the Bible), I was not aware of the Lent/Purim relationship
until a few years ago, but I have no doubt that my friend Steve Carson knew when he
chose Esther to be the woman included in this hymn.

Eight Years Ago: Paul Gerhardt

Seven Years Ago: Robert Lowry

Six Years Ago: Paul Gerhardt

Another Female Stanza Substitution: Jesus calls us o'er the tumult

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday

There is no sorrow, Christ, too light
To bring in prayer to thee;
There is no anxious care too slight
To wake thy sympathy.

Thou, who hast trod the thorny road,
Wilt share each small distress;
Thy love, which bore the greater load,
Will not refuse the less.

There is no secret sigh we breathe,
But meets thine ear divine;
And every cross grows light beneath
The shadow, Christ, of thine.

Jane Fox Crewdson, 1860; alt.
Edwin Moss, 19th cent.

Nine (Liturgical) Years Ago: Lord, who throughout these forty days

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Awhile in spirit, Christ, to thee (now on Facebook)
Eight (Calendar) Years Ago: Thirsting for a living spring
Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: O Christ, whose tender mercy hears

Six (Calendar) Years Ago: Saint David
Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: All those who seek a comfort sure

Two (Calendar) Years Ago: Sing of Jesus, sing forever

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Gracious God, my heart renew

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

James Russell Lowell

James Russell Lowell, born today in 1819, was one of the most prominent American intellectuals of the nineteenth century, even though by his own admission he had not applied himself particularly well to his studies at Harvard University. He graduated without any sort of distinction in 1838, but would return in 1855, once his writing career was established, as a professor of modern languages. In the interim, he had practiced unsuccessfully as a lawyer until turning his efforts to writing. His first book of poems appeared in 1841, but he also wrote political pamphlets, satirical essays, and more significantly, articles for abolitionist newspapers and magazines. Successive collections of his poetry continued to appear for the rest of his life.

In 1857 he became the first editor of the Atlantic Monthly (still running today), a post he held until 1863, after which he spent the next ten years editing the North American Review, which was the first literary magazine in the US, founded in 1815. Also known for his political views, he would later serve as minister to Spain (1877-1880) and ambassador to Great Britain (1880-1885). 

The hymn texts now attributed to Lowell were mostly not intended as congregational song, but were excerpted and adapted by various hymnal editors over time.  Lowell first appears in Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology in the 1907 edition (entry seen at the first link above), where Julian says that Lowell wrote "no hymns." Today's hymn was first adapted for singing by W. Garrett Horder in his Hymns, Supplemental to Existing Collections (1896), and apparently had not become sufficiently popular to gain Julian's notice by 1907.  However, it would later appear in many twentieth-century collections (163 documented at, before falling somewhat out of favor in the last thirty years or so.

In the 1840s, at the beginning of Lowell's career as a poet, the United States was headed toward armed conflict with Mexico, which he strongly opposed, partly for the reason that it might spread slavery into the newly annexed territory of Texas. In December 1845 he wrote a long poem titled The Present Crisis, believing that the nation stood at a moral crossroads. It was published in the Boston Courier on December 11. More than fifty years later, Horder (followed by many subsequent editors) believed that this poem had something important to say to people of faith beyond Lowell's particular concerns and took several lines from the long poem, rearranging some of them and making the lines more metrical, resulting in the hymn Once to every man and nation.

By the late twentieth century, some editors saw problems with the text. "Man" was no longer considered useful to refer to the whole of humankind (in spite of self-appointed grammar police). Also, some believed that the important choices we face do not happen only once; that we have to make the choice between right and wrong many times in our lives.  After being left out of a number of important denominational hymnals, some editors have made further adaptations so that it can be used again. The Welsh tune TON-Y-BOTEL has been the predominant tune matched with this text for most of its life.

To us all, to every nation,
Come those moments to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God's new Messiah,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever,
’Twixt that wrongness and that right.

Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share its wretched crust,
Ere its cause bring fame and profit,
And ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave one chooses
While the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue
Of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs,
Jesus' bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever
With the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet 'tis truth alone is strong;
Though its portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
God is standing in the shadow,
Keeping watch above God's own.

James Russell Lowell, 1845; adapt.
Thomas J. Williams, 1890

New occasions teach new duties, Time makes ancient good uncouth. 
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.
Words to live by.
Eight Years Ago: Sarah Flower Adams