Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trinity Sunday

Lead us, great Creator, lead us
O'er the world's tempestuous sea;
Guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us,
For we have no help but thee;
Yet possessing ev'ry blessing
If our God our comfort be.

Savior, breathe forgiveness o'er us;
All our weakness thou dost know;

Thou didst tread this earth before us,
Thou didst feel its keenest woe;
Lone and dreary, faint and weary,
Through the desert thou didst go.

Spirit of our God, descending,
Fill our hearts with heav'nly joy,
Love with ev'ry passion blending,
Pleasure that can never cloy;
Thus provided, pardoned, guided,
Nothing can our peace destroy.

John Edmeston, 1821: alt.
An Essay on the Church Plain Chant, 1782

This is not the grandest of Trinitarian hymns, but I still want to post it here today. I bind unto myself today may be about the longest (in English, at least), and Holy, Holy, Holy may be the most familiar (it's even the first hymn - #1 - in some hymnals). But this is the one that I always think of first. There's a story behind it that I've known for many years.

Back in the Presbyterian church my family attended when I was in high school and college, there was a family from New Zealand, here for a few years on assignment from one of those big multinational companies. They were active members in the church, he in the choir and she in a weekly Bible study group; probably in other areas I don't remember any more.

One Sunday before we sang this hymn, our pastor told a story about it. This couple had attended seminary together (they may have met there; I don't recall) and at some point, this hymn became "theirs." They often sang it together, and over many years, if they were apart, there was a particular time of day when they would go off alone and sing it, feeling connected by the hymn regardless of the physical distance between them. Back then I was sitting in the back of the choir loft, familiarizing myself with the indexes in the back of the hymnal during the sermon (not always...), developing this interest of mine, but this was the first time I had encountered the idea that you could have "your own" hymn. After that, the story would be mentioned whenever we sang this (maybe 3 times a year or so); everyone knew the story. I thought it was soooo cool.

A year or two later, the husband was killed in a car accident. Of course we sang this hymn at his funeral and the story was told again. The family moved back to New Zealand after that and most of us lost touch with them over the years, but the story lived on and was retold for years to come. There's a new pastor there now (I guess he's been there several years now, but he's still new to me) and I hope he knows the story -- it became a part of that congregation. And I always think of Mr. and Mrs. C. when this hymn comes to mind.

You may have a hymn story of your own, or one from your church - please consider sharing it. I'm sure psychologists can tell us why and how music can bring memories back to us, but whatever it is, if you're reading this you probably know that the convergence of music and Spirit, combined in a hymn or song can revive a story you haven't thought about in ages. I have other stories, of course, or I probably wouldn't be writing this blog. There's one in particular (actually, it's a hymnal story) about Christmas Eve but I probably can't tell it here - I wouldn't be able to see the screen as I was typing. But it comes to me every year.


Leland Bryant Ross said...

Thanks for the hymn (not one I have ever sung) and the story (not one I had ever heard) and the challenge.

But don't you think the tune should be construed as (owing to the internal rhymes in the penultimate lines)?


C.W.S. said...

Pretty sure I've generally seen it as; certainly in the few hymnals I have handy at the moment that's how it's metered.