Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

Another Lent begins, a difficult time of year for some, yet eagerly anticipated by others.  Today's hymn is a partial paraphrase of Psalm 51, one of the appointed psalms for the day.

Gracious God, my heart renew,
Make my spirit right and true;
Cast me not away from thee,
Let thy Spirit dwell in me;
Thy salvation’s joy impart,
Steadfast make my willing heart.

Those who seek shall learn from me
And return, O God, to thee;
Savior, all my guilt remove,
And my tongue shall sing thy love;
Touch my silent lips, O Lord,
And my mouth shall praise accord.

Not the formal sacrifice
Has acceptance in thine eyes;
Broken hearts are in thy sight
More than sacrificial rite;
Contrite spirit, pleading cries,
Thou, O God, will not despise.

Prosper Zion in thy grace
And its broken walls replace:
Then our righteous sacrifice
Shall delight thy holy eyes;
Free-will offerings, gladly made,
On thine altar shall be laid.

The Psalter, 1912; alt.
William Dalrymple Maclagan, 1875

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

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Awhile in spirit, Christ, to thee (now on Facebook)

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: O Christ, whose tender mercy hears

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: All those who seek a comfort sure

Monday, February 8, 2016

Revive Each Famished Soul

I've been thinking a lot about water lately, probably because of the terrible situation in Flint, Michigan, and the response which was undertaken by churches and religious organizations across the country long before their state government did anything.

Water is a pretty basic need for everyone, and maybe that's why water shows up often in scripture, as well as in the various religious arts, including hymns.  This one struck my attention today while doing some other research.

Flow down, O stream of life divine,
Your quick'ning truths deliver,
And flow throughout this soul of mine
Forever and forever.

Flow down and cause this heart to glow
With love to God the Giver;
That love in which all virtues grow
Forever and forever.

Flow down, as flows the sun and rain
In vital work together,
Refreshing roots and ripening grain
Forever and forever.

Flow down, revive each famished soul
That we may hunger never,
And we will praise you, God of all,
Forever and forever.

David Thomas, 1874; alt.
Traditional Irish melody
arr. Charles Villiers Stanford, c.1906

Author David Thomas (1813-1894) was a Congregational minister who led a large congregation in the Stockwell district of London, and also the founding editor of The Homilist, a "magazine of liturgical thought," where this hymn appeared.  It was also published in Thomas's A Biblical Liturgy (1874) which contained services for various occasions as well as 29 hymns by Thomas. 

I will probably be prospecting (or is that dowsing?)for more hymns about water in the weeks to come.

P.S. - Art here is from a painting by Lilla Cabot Perry, A Stream Beneath Poplars (c. 1890-1900).

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Feast of the Presentation

Forty days after Christmas we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation, or Candlemas, an occasion described in Luke 2:22-40. Mary and Joseph have brought the infant Jesus to the temple to carry out the required rituals, and there they meet Simeon and Anna, two faithful servants of God who have been waiting for the fulfillment of God's promise.

This hymn by James Montgomery is probably most often sung at Christmas, but in fact it encompasses these whole forty days, moving on to Epiphany in stanza three and this feast day in stanza four. I must admit that I had sung this hymn for many years before realizing that the saints mentioned in the last stanza were actually Anna and Simeon.

Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King.

Shepherds, in the field abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
Yonder shines the infant Light:

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen his natal star.

Saints, before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear;
Suddenly the Christ, descending,
In the temple shall appear.

James Montgomery, 1816; alt.
Henry T. Smart, 1867

REGENT SQUARE is probably the most well-known tune by Victorian composer Henry Smart (though LANCASHIRE would be a close second). In the course of writing this blog I have discovered that I like several other tunes by Smart which are no longer sung often, and have presented some of them here on the site (click Smart's tag below).

P.S. - The illustration above is detail from The Presentation in the Temple by Philippe de Champaigne (1648) done for the high altar of the Church of Saint-Honore in Paris.

Eight Years Ago: O Zion, open wide thy gates

Seven Years Ago: Hail to the Lord who comes

Six Years Ago: O Jerusalem beloved (now on Facebook)

Five Years Ago: In peace and joy I now depart

Three Years Ago: In the temple now behold him

Two Years Ago: Joy! joy! the Mother comes

Friday, January 29, 2016

William McKinley

U.S. President William McKinley, born today in 1843, served in office from 1897 until his assassination in 1901. He became a Methodist at age sixteen, and was known in later years for praying and reading the Bible daily.  He apparently considered ordination, and his mother believed that he would be a Methodist bishop some day.

McKinley remained close to his mother throughout her life, and when she became ill in 1897 he had a direct telegraph wire installed between her home and the White House so that he could receive frequent updates on her condition.  When he learned that she was near death, he wired back "Tell Mother I'll be there."  He traveled to Canton, Ohio by train and was at her side when she died on December 12, 1897.

The story spread through the news media and "Tell Mother I'll be there" became a well-known phrase in its day.  Gospel song writer Charles M. Fillmore was inspired to write today's song from the President's words, changing the context a bit.

When I was but a little child, how well I recollect
How I would grieve my mother with my folly and neglect;
And now that she has gone to heav’n I miss her tender care:
O Savior, tell my mother, I’ll be there!

Tell mother I’ll be there, in answer to her prayer;
This message, bless├Ęd Savior, to her bear!
Tell mother I’ll be there, heav’n’s joys with her to share;
Yes, tell my darling mother I’ll be there.

Though I was often wayward, she was always kind and good;
So patient, gentle, loving when I acted rough and rude;
My childhood griefs and trials she would gladly with me share:
O Savior, tell my mother, I’ll be there!

One day a message came to me, it bade me quickly come
If I would see my mother, ere the Savior took her home;
I promised her, before she died, for heaven to prepare:
O Savior, tell my mother, I’ll be there!

Text and Tune: Charles M. Fillmore, 1898
TELL MOTHER I'LL BE THERE (Irregular with refrain)

McKinley only survived his mother by a few years and was murdered by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz six months into his second term of office.  He lived just over a week after being shot, and his last words were reportedly "Nearer, my God to thee, Nearer to thee..."

Following his death, his favorite hymns were widely reported: Nearer, my God to thee and Lead, kindly light, and both were sung during the funeral services at the Capitol and elsewhere.  Enterprising music publishers released the sheet music to these hymns, as seen below.

Four Years Ago: O God, to us show mercy

Monday, January 25, 2016

Edward Henry Bickersteth

Edward Henry Bickersteth, bishop and poet, was born on this date in 1825. His interest in hymnody probably developed early in life; his father, also named Edward, published an influential hymn collection titled Christian Psalmody in 1833.

Ordained in the Church of England in 1848, Edward Henry embarked on a successful clerical career which included missionary work abroad as well as parish appointments. He eventually became the Dean of Gloucester Cathedral in 1885 and, later that year, Bishop of Exeter.

He believed that the multitude of hymnals used in the Church of England was a weakness, and to that end he compiled The Hymnal Companion to the Book of Common Prayer (1870), hoping that it would be one of the most widely used books. While the book did go through several editions, and he updated it more than once, it never reached the popularity of Hymns Ancient and Modern or Church Hymns.  And, of course, to this day the Church of England has never selected one "official" hymnal for the denomination.

Bickersteth's own hymns were published in different collections of his poetry, including Water from the Well-Spring (1852) The Two Brothers and Other Poems (1871),  and several eventually ended up in his Hymnal Companion.  From Year to Year (1884) was a collection of hymns appropriate for each Sunday and feast day of the church year, as hymn writers before him such as John Keble (The Christian Year), Henry Alford (The Year of Praise), and Christopher Wordsworth (The Holy Year) had done. Today's hymn, one of at least two that he wrote for the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul (also observed on his birthday, January 25), first appeared in the 1890 revision of his Hymnal Companion.

All-merciful, Almighty Lord,
We bless the love, its depth and height,
Which made by thy transforming word
Thy foe a burning, shining light.

A chosen messenger of God,
Eternity o’ershadowing time,
Paul's bleeding feet unwearied trod
From shore to shore, from clime to clime;

Content to reckon all things loss,
To live and die for thy dear name;
His only glory, Christ, thy cross;
His heart aglow with heavenly flame.

O Jesus, may we follow him
Most humbly, as he followed thee;
Nor let the Gospel torch grow dim,
But quenchless flash o’er land and sea.

Henceforth no more our own, but thine;
Much loved, much loving, much forgiven;
Apostles of the grace Divine
Which fashions thus the heirs of heaven.

Edward Henry Bickersteth, 1890; alt.
Henry J. Gauntlett, 1861

Seven Years Ago: We sing the glorious conquest

Five Years Ago: The great Apostle, called by grace

One Year Ago: By all your saints still striving

Sunday, January 24, 2016

John Mason Neale (and Year Nine!)

Anglican priest, scholar and hymnologist (also spiritual godfather to this blog) John Mason Neale was born today in London in 1818.  His father, the Reverend Cornelius Neale, was a staunch Evangelical who was ordained in 1822, only a year before his death.

Neale studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was considered to be "the cleverest man of his year" but since he had avoided any study of mathematics he was not allowed to graduate with honours, but only a regular degree.  While at Cambridge he developed an interest in the Oxford Movement, taking him away from his Evangelical roots. While many in the movement were mostly concerned with doctrine and, to a lesser extent, liturgy, Neale was also interested in church architecture, and how church buildings could be restored to the layouts of the early Roman Catholic church.

Following his ordination to the priesthood in 1842, his Oxford tendencies as well as his poor health limited his career opportunities.  He was under the authority of Charles Sumner, Bishop of Winchester (also an Evangelical), who prevented him from taking a curacy in Guildford and eventually installed him as the warden (not even the chaplain) of Sackville College, which was actually an almshouse.  While at Sackville, Neale spent his own money to restore the chapel, which has fallen into disrepair, but in following some of the architectural and design principles he had come to prefer (including open benches and candles on the altar), he again attracted the attention of the bishop, who placed him under inhibition for thirteen years, meaning that he could not function as a priest (and that the Sackville inmates could not receive the sacraments in their own chapel).  Though Neale remained firmly in the Church of England, it was believed by many that he would eventually leave and join the Roman Catholic Church, as many of the Oxford Movement followers (or Tractarians, as they were known) had already done.

He published more than a hundred books in the following years at Sackville, including his sermons, stories for children, and his great History of the Holy Eastern Church, for which he learned Russian in addition to the Greek he already knew.  Eventually he would master nearly twenty languages. 

Neale's tremendous contribution to English language hymnody stemmed from his Tractarian sympathies. In an article published in 1849, he wrote about the great heritage of hymns in the Catholic Church from centuries past which had been taken from the people when the Church adopted the vernacular during the Reformation.

That treasury, into which the saints of every age and country had poured their contributions, delighting, each in his generation, to express their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows, in language which would be the heritage of their Holy Mother until the end of time--those noble hymns, (...) whether of the sevenfold daily office, of the weekly commemoration of creation and redemption, of the yearly revolution of the Church's seasons, or of the birthdays to glory of martyrs and confessors--those hymns by which day unto day had uttered speech, and night unto night had taught knowledge--could not, by the hands then employed in ecclesiastical matters, be rendered into another, and that a then comparatively barbarous, tongue. 

Neale took it upon himself to translate or paraphrase many dozens of hymns from Latin, Greek, Syrian, and Russian, publishing them in several different collections, including

The Hymnal Noted (1851)
Medieval Hymns and Sequences (1862)
Hymns of the Eastern Church (1870)

He also wrote original hymn texts, published in Hymns for Children (1843), Hymns for the Sick (1843) and elsewhere, though they are far less known as his translated texts, which appear in most hymnals up to the present day.  Today's short hymn of praise and trust in God is one of his originals.

Great Creator, you have taught us
We should live to you alone;
Year by year, your hand hath brought us
On through dangers oft unknown.
When we wandered, you have found us,
When we doubted, sent us light;
Still your arm has been around us,
All our paths were in your sight.

We would trust in your protecting,
Wholly rest upon your arm,
Follow wholly your directing,
You, our only guard from harm;
Therefore, God, we come believing
You can give the power we need,
Through the prayer of faith receiving
Strength, the Spirit’s strength, indeed.

John Mason Neale, 1844; alt.
Henry T. Smart, 1868

Neale died on August 6, 1866, the Feast of the Transfiguration, so when he was later added to the Anglican calendar of notables, his day was moved to August 7

As I have mentioned several times before, John Mason Neale's translation of a long text by Bernard of Cluny we now sing as Jerusalem the golden, which contained the phrase which names this blog.  Though technically the first post here was on January 23, 2008, today we celebrate our eighth anniversary and embark on our ninth year on the occasion of Neale's birthday.

P.S. The stained glass window honoring Mason is from the church of St. Swithuns East Grinstead, which is located near Sackville College, and in which churchyard Neale is buried.

Seven Years Ago: John Mason Neale

Six Years Ago: John Mason Neale

Five Years Ago: John Mason Neale

Three Years Ago: John Mason Neale

Saturday, January 23, 2016

You Give the Winter's Cold

'Tis winter now; the fallen snow
Has left the heavens all coldly clear;
Through leafless boughs the sharp winds blow,
And all the earth lies dead and drear.

And yet God's love is not withdrawn;
God's life within the keen air breathes;
God's beauty paints the crimson dawn,
And clothes each branch with glittering wreaths.

And though abroad the sharp winds blow,
And skies are chill, and frosts are keen,
Home closer draws its circle now,
And warmer glows its light within.

O God, you give the winter's cold,
As well as summer's joyous rays,
You warmly in your love enfold,
And keep us through life's wintry days.

Samuel Longfellow, 1864; alt.
Kenneth G. Finlay, 1912

Seven Years Ago: Phillips Brooks

Five Years Ago: O star of truth, downshining

Monday, January 18, 2016

William Henry Havergal

William Henry Havergal, born today in 1793, may have been one of the people most responsible for the immense surge in hymn singing in England in the middle of the nineteenth century.  He and Henry J. Gauntlett worked to adapt and arrange older melodies, such as psalm tunes and chorales from Germany into the four-part harmonies that we still sing today (much like Lowell Mason was doing in the United States).  He composed a number of original hymn tunes and also wrote hymn texts.

Havergal was ordained in the Church of England in 1816, serving several churches, the longest in Astley, a village in Worcestershire, where he is buried.  

Today's hymn has both a text by Havergal as well as one of his arrangements, adapted from a sixteenth-century German melody.

To praise our Shepherd's care,
His wisdom, love, and might,
Your loudest, loftiest songs prepare,
And bid the world unite.

Supremely good and great,
He tends his earthly fold;
And stoops, though throned in highest state,
The weary to uphold.

He hears their softest plaint, 
Follows them when they roam;
And if one single lamb should faint,
His bosom bears it home.

Kind Shepherd of the sheep,
A faithful flock are we,
And snares and foes are nigh, but keep
The lambs who look to thee.

William Henry Havergal, 19th cent.; alt.
Tune: NARENZA (S.M.)
Catholicum Hymnologium, 1584;
arr. William Henry Havergal, 1847

One of his daughters, Frances Ridley Havergal, followed in his line of work as a writer of hymns and composer of tunes.  Havergal is now mostly remembered for his tunes rather than his texts, while the texts of Frances are most familiar and her tunes are all but unknown.  Following Havergal's death in 1870, Frances edited a collection of his tunes and arrangements which was published in 1871.

Another Commemoration Today: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Seven Years Ago: William Henry Havergal

Four Years Ago: The Confession of Saint Peter

One Year Ago: The Confession of Saint Peter

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Rivers of Unfailing Joy

A portion of Psalm 36 is the appointed Psalm for the day in the Revised Common Lectionary. It's always appropriate to sing a paraphrase of the day's psalm, so we have here another one from The Psalter (1912), a collection we have seen before which was published in cooperation with a number of Presbyterian bodies in the United States.

Thy mercy and thy truth, O God,
Transcend the lofty sky;
Thy judgments are a mighty deep,
And as the mountains high.

Lord, thou preservest all on earth;
Since thou art ever kind;
Beneath the shadow of thy wings
We may a refuge find.

With the abundance of thy house
We shall be satisfied,
From rivers of unfailing joy
Our thirst shall be supplied.

The fountain of eternal life
Is found alone with thee,
And in the brightness of thy light
We clearly light shall see.

From those that know thee may thy love
And mercy ne’er depart,
And may thy justice still protect
And bless the upright heart.

The Psalter, 1912; alt.
Tune: ST. STEPHEN (C.M.)
William Jones, 1789

Six Years Ago: Glory to thee O Christ (available on Facebook at "Conjubilant W. Song")

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Echoes of Mercy, Whispers of Love

Nearly two weeks ago, on December 29, I was in the middle of the Twelve Days of Christmas posts and so didn't get around to posting this, but if you haven't seen it it's definitely worth watching.  On that night, the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony was broadcast (the event itself was on December 6).  Five worthy honorees in different artistic categories were celebrated for their contributions to the arts in the United States.

The day after, most of the buzz was about Aretha Franklin's performance in honor of songwriter Carole King, but for our purposes, CeCe Winans'  rendition of Blessed assurance for Cicely Tyson was the one to savor. Presenter Kerry Washington explains the reason for this particular tribute, in which Winans is joined by students from the Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange, New Jersey.

I think Fanny Crosby and Phoebe Knapp would be quite honored as well to know that their song is still known and loved more than a century later, and has spread its message to more people around the world than they could have imagined.