Sunday, January 22, 2017

God's Grace For Human Good

I think we all need to be singing (and seeking out, discovering, studying, and perhaps praying) more social justice hymns for the next few years. 

I am happy to note that this is a theme that inspires many contemporary hymnwriters, whose texts are being included in new hymnals every year.  While I will probably have more to say on these newer writers at a later date, their work is mostly outside the scope of this blog because I don't have permission to use copyrighted material here.

However, the theme is not a new one. There are probably some relevant hymn texts that I have not yet unearthed, but I have also used a number of them here over the last several years and these can be brought out again from time to time, perhaps to new readers. To start, here is another look at one of my personal favorites.

O holy city, seen of John,
Where Christ, the Lamb, doth reign,

Within whose foursquare walls shall come
No night, nor need, nor pain,
And where the tears are wiped from eyes
That shall not weep again.

Hark, how from men whose lives are held
More cheap than merchandise,
From women struggling sore for bread,
From little children’s cries,
There swells the sobbing human plaint
That bids thy walls arise.

O shame to us who rest content
While lust and greed for gain
In street and shop and tenement
Wring gold from human pain,
And bitter lips in deep despair
Cry “Christ hath died in vain!” 

Give us, O God, the strength to build
The city that hath stood
Too long a dream, whose laws are love,
Whose crown is servanthood,
And where the sun that shineth is
God’s grace for human good.

Already in the mind of God
That city riseth fair:
Lo! how its splendor challenges
The souls that greatly dare --
Yea, bids us seize the whole of life
And build its glory there.

Walter Russell Bowie, 1909; alt.
The Union Harmony, 1848

Originally presented here on June 8, 2008.

The image above is from a famous Tiffany window in the Third Presbyterian Church of Rochester, NY titled 'Holy City.'

More about Walter Russell Bowie (and another social justice text).

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Joy Without a Tear

Some churches will mark tomorrow's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in worship today, and many of them will probably sing Precious Lord, take my hand, which was King's favorite hymn. Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson sang it at his funeral in 1968, as she had often sung it at King's request for civil rights rallies.  The hymn text was written in 1932 by Thomas Dorsey, set to a melody he adapted from the older hymn tune MAITLAND. 

That tune was most often matched to this older text, and still appears in hymnals today (though it may not be sung as often as Precious Lord). 

Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.

How happy are the saints above,
Who once went sorrowing here!
But now they taste unmingled love,
And joy without a tear.

The consecrated cross I’ll bear
Till death shall set me free;
And then go home my crown to wear,
For there’s a crown for me.

And palms shall wave, and harps shall ring
Beneath heav'n's arches high,
For Jesus lives, the saints shall sing,
Who lives no more to die.

O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
When Jesus Christ from heav’n comes down
And bears my soul away.

Thomas Shepherd and others, 17th-19th cent.; alt.
George N. Allen (?), 1844

The provenance of both the text and tune have eluded hymnologists for a long time, and sources differ greatly in the details.  Only the first stanza has a definite author, Anglican (later Nonconformist) minister Thomas Shepherd (1665-1739), who published it in his Penitential Cries (1693), though in a somewhat different form:

Shall Simon bear the cross alone,
And other saints be free?
Each saint of thine shall find his own,
And there is one for me.

Sometime in the nineteenth century, this was altered, "Simon" replaced by "Jesus" and additional stanzas written; the second comes from an unnamed collection published in Norwich, England around 1810, and no text writer was named. The third stanza first appeared (also anonymously) in the Social and Sabbath School Hymnbook (1844) published in Oberlin, Ohio. This book was edited by George Nelson Allen (1812-1877), and although the tune is generally attributed to him, none of the seven known editions of the book contained music for any of its texts. Later appearances in other books do credit the third stanza to Allen.

Three more stanzas appeared when the hymn was published in the important Plymouth Collection of Hymns and Tunes (1855) edited by Henry Ward Beecher, including the final two above. These were credited to Charles Beecher (one of Henry's brothers) in the first edition, but his name was removed in subsequent printings. It was in that book that this tune first appeared, called CROSS AND CROWN, and identified only as a "Western Melody" (no mention of Allen). However, MAITLAND is the name by which is it now generally known, and for more than a century Allen was listed as the composer. The most up-to-date sources now only credit him as the "probable" composer. The hymn's inclusion in the influential Plymouth Collection ensured that it spread to many other hymnals before long.

Interestingly, it's possible that Allen and the Beecher brothers were acquainted; as a young man Allen left his home in Massachusetts intending to study with their father Lyman Beecher at the newly-opened Lane Seminary in Cincinnati. However, illness along the way caused him to stop in northern Ohio, where he was to remain. If he did know the Beecher family before and after their exodus to Ohio, this may be one reason why a text of uncertain origin from a hymnbook published in Oberlin made it to Brooklyn ten years later.

Another Martin Luther King Hymn: O pure reformers! not in vain

Eight Years Ago: Louisa Putnam Loring

Friday, January 13, 2017

John Darwall

Composer and Anglican priest John Darwall was baptized on this date in 1732. For most of the last three hundred years his birthdate was unknown, but more recently both the online Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology and Glory to God: A Companion (2016) by Carl P. Daw list the date as December 27, 1731.

Dr. Daw goes on to say that Darwall was "a talented amateur musician, (who) did much to revive congregational singing at the parish where he served longest, working particularly to encourage the singing of the psalms at a less dreary tempo than had become customary." 

Though he wrote tunes to accompany all of the paraphrased psalms in the New Version by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady, we only sing one of those tunes today, the one which was written for Psalm 148.  However, this tune is sung across most denominations and to many different texts (three others thus far on the blog, and the fourth today).  

Break, day of God, O break,
The night has lingered long;
Our hearts with courage wake,
To strive against all wrong:
O Lamb of God, whose love is light,
Shine on my soul, and all is bright.

Break, day of God, O break!
The earth with strife is worn;
The hills with thunder shake,
Hearts of the people mourn;
Break, day of God, sweet day of peace,
And bid the shout of warriors cease!

Break, day of God, O break,
Like to the days above!
Let justice now awake,
And faith, and hope, and love:
For lo! we see the brightening sky;
The golden morn is drawing nigh.

Henry Burton, 1900; alt.
John Darwall, 1770

The first lines of each of Darwall's tunes can be seen at this site, though unfortunately not the whole tunes.

Seven Years Ago: John Darwall

Eight Years Ago: John Darwall

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Baptism of Christ

If your church is not celebrating Epiphany today, they may be marking the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River (or, they might try to squeeze them both together). This story is told in Matthew 3:13-17, with Jesus' cousin John performing the rite, followed by a heavenly affirmation.

Praying by the riverside,
From the heav'n serenely wide
To thee, Savior, came the Dove,
Fullest life of peace and love.

Soft as water on the brow,
Softly, gently, comest thou,
Who hast gifts for every hour,
Endless grace and peace and power.

Faith and hope and holy love,
Fire and spirit of the Dove,
God, on this your church bestow;
Like the Savior may we grow.

Thomas T. Lynch, 19th cent. alt.
Orlando Gibbons, 1623

Thomas Toke Lynch was the controversial author of The Rivulet (1855), a collection of hymn texts which were denounced by many as insufficiently religious. This particular text must have been written later, as it does not appear in that book.

P.S. The fifteenth-century painting above is detail from The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca, now held in London's National Gallery. 

Link to Compline Service with Hymns and Anthem (Peter Hallock's Baptism of Christ)

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: 'I come,' the great Redeemer cries

Eight (Calendar) Years Ago: Lowell Mason

Three (Liturgical) Years Ago: O God, our strength in weakness

One (Calendar) Year Ago: Lowell Mason

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Feast of the Epiphany

January sixth is always the date for this celebration of Christ revealed to the world through the visit of strangers from another land (Matthew 2), though most churches will move it to a Sunday. Epiphany on the church calendar dates back to the fourth century, where it celebrated the whole Nativity narrative (before Christmas became a separate event with its own date).

Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929), best known for America the beautiful, wrote this Epiphany poem in 1905 and it appeared in a handful of hymnals (though apparently not since the Methodist Hymnal of 1935).  As you'll see, second stanza is probably the reason for this. The "kings" are traditional rather than scriptural, though tradition has won out in this case.

The kings of the east are riding
Tonight to Bethlehem;
The sunset glows dividing,
The kings of the east are riding,
A star their journey guiding,
Gleaming with gold and gem.
The kings of the east are riding
Tonight to Bethlehem.

To a strange sweet harp of Zion
The starry host troops forth:
The golden-glaived Orion
To a strange sweet harp of Zion,
The Archer and the Lion,
The Watcher of the north:
To a strange sweet harp of Zion
The starry host sweeps forth.

There beams above a manger
The child-face of a star;
Amid the stars a stranger,
It beams above a manger,
What means this ether-ranger
To pause where poor folk are?
There beams above a manger
The child-face of a star.

Katharine Lee Bates, 1905
Tune: WALLACE (Irregular)
Clarence G. Hamilton, 1905

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Shining in the East (Day Twelve)

The last of the Twelve Days of Christmas is upon us, and tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. The three mysterious visitors, only described in the second chapter of Matthew (whoever they may have been: kings, magi, "wise men," maybe not even men, maybe not even three), are on their way. We close our bloggy celebration of the season with a very familiar carol with a very obscure origin.

Sources are unclear as to just how old this carol may be. The text is first published in Some Ancient Christmas Carols (1823), collected by Davies Gilbert, and the text (somewhat altered) joined with this tune followed in Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (1833). The version usually sung today is the harmonization by John Stainer, from Christmas Carols New and Old (1871). However, all these books were collecting carols from a long-running oral tradition, and scholars differ as to whether this one originally dates from the sixteenth century, or perhaps as early as the thirteenth century.

Apparently, since there isn't much to write about the source of this carol, the writers of hymnal companions have filled up their entries with other information: about the overall carol tradition (Episcopal Hymnal 1940), how they were used in Christmas observances (Lutheran Book of Worship), or even with editorial judgments ("this carol, as is the case with many carols, has little to commend it as a specimen of poetry" -- Presbyterian Hymnal 1933).  The congregation doesn't care; they always sing it heartily, whether on Christmas Eve, or closer to Epiphany (since the star-followers are so prominently featured).

The first Nowell the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
Born is the Savior of Israel.

They look├Ęd up and saw a star
Shining in the east, beyond them far;
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.

And by the light of that same star
Three sages came from country far;
To seek for a king was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.

This star drew nigh to the northwest,
Over Bethlehem it took its rest;
And there it did both stop and stay,
Right over the place where Jesus lay.

Then entered in those sages three,
Full reverently upon the knee,
And offered there, in his presence,
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.

Traditional English carol, date unknown
Tune: THE FIRST NOWELL (Irregular with refrain)
harm. John Stainer, 1871

"Nowell," of course, is the old English version of the word, which seems more appropriate for this English carol than the French "Noel," though not all hymnal editors agree.

Seven Years Ago: Sound over all waters

Six Years Ago: Do you know the song that the angels sang?

One Year Ago: Where shall the Prince of Peace be born

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

When Love Fills All the Universe (Day Eleven)

The song the herald angels sang,
O’er Bethlehem’s starlit plain,
Still echoes in the hearts of earth,
A gladsome sweet refrain,
A gladsome sweet refrain.
Peace, peace on earth, good will to all,
Let justice reign supreme,
When love fills all the universe,
The past is but a dream.

Thro’ all these long millennia,
This song of peace and love,
Has breathed its balm of blessing,
And hovered like a dove,
And hovered like a dove.
Above the restless pulse of earth,
Bidding our sorrows cease,
Till war and strife are ended,
And nations dwell in peace.

Thro’ all the ages yet to come,
’Twill whisper sweet and low,
If we but love each other true,
’Tis heav’n begun below,
’Tis heav’n begun below.
And so with song and radiance,
The way will grow more bright,
Till the star that shines o’er Bethlehem,
Fills all the world with light.

Jennie Wayne, 1891; alt.
Tune: THE STAR AND THE SONG (Irregular)
Pluma M. Brown, 1897

Pluma Brown (1858-1940) was a hymnal editor as well as a composer - many of her tunes appear in the Song-Hymnal of Praise and Joy (1897) which she compiled.  Not all of the tunes are necessarily worthy of revival - even this one has a peculiar moment in the middle of the stanza (the repeated line). If I were republishing this tune I might just leave those measures out...

Six Years Ago: In the lonely midnight

One Year Ago: Love came down at Christmas

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Full of Mercy, Truth, and Grace (Day Ten)

Is thy heart athirst to know
That the God of heav’n and earth
Deigns to dwell with us below,
Yea, hath stoop’d to mortal birth?
Search the Word with ceaseless care
Till thou find this treasure there.

With the sages from afar
Journey on o’er sea and land,
Till thou see the Morning Star
O’er thy heart unchanging stand,
Then shalt thou behold his face
Full of mercy, truth, and grace.

Jesus, let me seek for nought
But that thou shouldst dwell in me
Let this only fill my thought,
How I may grow more like thee,
Through this earthly care and strife,
To the calm eternal life.

With the wise who know thee right,
Though the world accounts them fools,
I will praise thee day and night;
I will order by thy rules
All my life, that it may be
Filled with praise and love of thee.

Laurentius Laurenti, 1700;
tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1863; alt.
William H. Monk, 1861

Six Years Ago: We three kings

One Year Ago: I think of that star of long ago

Monday, January 2, 2017

Whose Name Is Called Emmanuel (Day Nine)

For the ninth day of Christmas, we have an Incarnation text that seems almost too poetic to be used as a hymn, but I like it. The poet Dora Greenwell (1821-1888) wrote with "intense religious feeling," and may never have intended for her work to be sung, but hymnal editors find their material where they will. Greenwell's most well-known poem to be used as a hymn is I am not skilled to understand, which is used in many more hymnals from the last fifty years than it was in her own time.  Once one of your poems is taken up in a hymnal, others will usually follow.

And art thou come with us to dwell,
Our Hope, our Guide, our Love, our Word?
And is thy name Emmanuel,
God present with this world restored?

The heart is glad for thee! It knows
None now shall bid it err or mourn;
And o’er its desert breaks the rose
In triumph o’er the grieving thorn.

Thou bringest all again; with thee
Is light, is space, is breadth and room
For each thing fair, beloved, and free
To have its hour of life and bloom.

The world is glad for thee! the heart
Is glad for thee! and all is well,
And fixed and sure, because thou art,
Whose name is called Emmanuel.

Dora Greenwell, 1874
Tune: ST. ALKMUND (L.M.)     
Easy Music for Church Choirs, 1853

Dora Greenwell never felt that her poetry met her own high standards, but this opinion was probably not shared by her literary friends. She greatly admired the work of her friend Christina Rossetti, of whom she wrote:

Thou hast filled me a golden cup
With a drink divine that glows,
With the bloom that is flowing up
From the heart of the folding rose...

Eight Years Ago: Elizabeth Rundle Charles

Seven Years Ago: Lo! how a Rose e'er blooming

Six Years Ago: Elizabeth Rundle Charles

Four Years Ago: Elizabeth Rundle Charles

One Year Ago: We celebrate the day

Sunday, January 1, 2017

In This New Year of God (Day Eight)

Hush, all ye sounds of war, ye nations all be still,
A voice of heav’nly joy steals over vale and hill,
O hear the angels sing the captive world’s release,
For now is born in Bethlehem the Prince of Peace.

No more divided be, fear be discarded then,
Old enmity forget, old friendship knit again,
In this new year of God let kindred love increase,
For now is born in Bethlehem the Prince of Peace.

Anonymous, William H. Draper, 20h cent.; alt.
Cyril E. Barker, 20th cent.

Eight Years Ago: Bessie Porter Head

Seven Years Ago: O God, by whom all change is wrought

Seven Years Ago: Mists and clouds and shadows

Six Years Ago: Another year is dawning

Five Years Ago: O God, whom neither time nor space

Four Years Ago: New mercies, new blessings, new light on our way

One Year Ago: Deck the halls with boughs of holly