Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Martha and Mary

Today in the calendars of many churches is the commemoration of Martha and Mary of Bethany (some traditions also include their brother Lazarus).

The well-known passage from Luke 10:38-42 describes a dinner at their house, where Jesus is a guest. Martha, only doing what she was brought up to do, finds that the world is not always so simple (a hard lesson for many of us), while Mary learns that sometimes just being quiet and receptive is exactly right (equally hard for some others, I suppose).

For an appropriate hymn we're already back to John Newton, whose Olney Hymns included the following.

Martha her love and joy expressed
By care, to entertain her guest;
While Mary sat to hear her Lord,
And could not bear to lose a word.

The principle in both the same,
Produced in each a different aim;
The one to feast their friend was led,
The other waited to be fed.

But Mary chose the better part,
For Jesus' words refreshed her heart;
While busy Martha angry grew,
And lost her time and temper too.

With warmth she to her sister spoke,
But brought upon herself rebuke;
One thing is needful, and but one,
Why do our thoughts on many run?

How oft are we like Martha vexed,
Encumbered, hurried, and perplexed!
While trifles so engross our thought,
The one thing needful is forgot.

Let other hearts the world admire,
Thy love is all that I require!
Gladly I may the rest resign,
If the one needful thing be mine.

John Newton, c. 1779; alt.

Tune: WINDHAM (L.M.)
Daniel Read, 1785

Since Olney Hymns contains no tunes for its texts, and I don't ever recall seeing this in any other hymnal, I chose one from the same period, perhaps the kind of tune that Newton's congregation would have used. Daniel Read was an early American composer, so his tune may never have actually been matched with the English Newton's text, but I think it fits. (My own somewhat Victorian tendencies might have chosen something like ARIZONA, but that's not always an impulse to be followed.)

P.S. You can read a bit more about the Vermeer painting above, Christ in the House of Mary and Martha at the Essential Vermeer website.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How Measureless and Strong

Getting away from our summer Sunday themes (or maybe starting a new one), I'm posting this hymn first encountered at last week's Hymn Society Annual Conference. Though my friends and I had never heard it before, it was one we came away talking about. Turns out it's not all that obscure; it's (partly) from a Mennonite pastor, the tune arranged by his daughter, and is in some modern hymnals, such as Hymns for the Family of God (not to mention widely written about on the internet).

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the farthest star,
And reaches to the deepest well.
It seeks to find each heart, to bind
In one earth's numberless throng;
Each wand'ring child is reconciled,
And pardoned from all wrong.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure,
The saints' and angels' song!

When years of time shall pass away
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When some who here still fear to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God's love so sure will still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to every race —
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And everyone a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Frederick H. Lehman, 1917; adapt. C.W.S.
LOVE OF GOD (Irregular with refrain)
Frederick H. Lehman; arr. Claudia Lehman Mays, 1917

The story of this hymn is a bit peculiar; the third verse was given to Lehman, who was told it had been found written on a wall in an asylum after the death of a patient. He writes:

The profound depths of the lines moved us to preserve the words for future generations. Not until we had come to California did this urge find fulfillment, and that at a time when circumstances forced us to hard manual labor. One day, during short intervals of inattention to our work, we picked up a scrap of paper and added the first two stanzas and chorus to the existing third verse lines.

However, it was also discovered that that "found" verse was actually adapted from a much longer poem written in 1096 by Rabbi Mayer, a German Jewish cantor in the city of Wurms. Mayer's poem, the Hadamut, was written in Aramaic, and the translated original lines apparently later adapted by the asylum patient ran thus:

Were the sky of parchment made,
A quill each reed, each twig and blade,
Could we with ink the oceans fill,
Were every man a scribe of skill,
The marvelous story of God's great glory
Would still remain untold;
For He, most high the earth and sky
Created alone of old.

How appropriate that a hymn about the vast expansiveness of the love of God could be started by a rabbi in Germany and finished more than 850 years later by a Mennonite pastor in California (brought together by an unknown person who probably felt in desperate need of that love).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Jessie Seymour Irvine

Born on this day in 1836, Jessie Irvine was the daughter of a Scottish clergyman. As a young student of the organ, she wrote a tune which was later published in the Northern Psalter (1872) called CRIMOND, harmonized by David Grant. The tune was assumed to be Grant's for many years, and it was not until the Scottish Psalter of 1929 that Irvine was finally credited as the composer. I've found no reference to any other compositions by her.

Though it was not the original text used for this tune, this paraphrase of Psalm 23 is now the most widely used for CRIMOND.

Thou art my Shepherd, I’ll not want.
Thou makest me down to lie
In pastures green; thou leadest me
The quiet waters by.

My soul thou dost restore again;
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
Even for thine own Name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk in death’s sad vale,
Yet will I fear no ill;
For thou art with me; and thy rod
And staff my comfort still.

My table thou hast furnish├Ęd
In presence of my foes;
My head thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me;
And in God’s house forevermore
My dwelling place shall be.

Scottish Psalter, 1650; adapt. 1990
Tune: CRIMOND (C.M.)
Jessie Seymour Irvine; harm, David Grant, 1872

This hymn is believed to be a favorite of Queen Elizabeth; it was sung at her wedding in 1947. It has appeared in many hymnals, and as I've said before, appears to be the oldest hymn tune written by a woman that remains in wide use today.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Saint James

Saint James the Greater (to differentiate him from other Jameses named in the New Testament) is commemorated today in Western Christianity. This James was the son of Zebedee who, with his brother John, left their fisherman father by the seashore to follow Jesus. James and John were called the Sons of Thunder by Mark.

Unlike some of the disciples, James is specifically placed in several of the stories of Jesus's ministry, so more is known about him than others. He was also the first of the disciples to be martyred, beheaded by Herod in the year 44. Some accounts claim that his body was taken to Spain and buried there, where he had evangelized for some years, and thus he is named as the patron saint of that country. He is often depicted as a pilgrim, carrying a staff, as in the window here.

For all thy saints, a noble throng,
Who fell by sword and flame,
Who soon were called, or waited long,
O Christ, we praise thy Name!

For James, who left his father’s side,
Nor lingered by the shore,
When, softer than the rolling tide,
Thy summons glided o’er.

Who stood beside the maiden dead,
Who climbed the mount with thee,
And saw the glory round thy head,
One of thy chosen three.

Who knelt beneath the olive shade,
Who drank thy cup of pain,
And passed from Herod’s flashing blade
To see thy face again.

So shall we learn to drink thy cup,
So strong and firm be found,
When thou shalt come to take us up
Where all thy saints are crowned.

Cecil Frances Alexander, 1875, alt.
Tune: ST. JAMES (C.M.)
Ralph Courteville, 1696

Cecil Frances Alexander was the wife of an Anglican bishop who wrote many hymns, some of which are still familiar today, such as the recently-mentioned Once in royal David's city. This text was probably written specifically to go with this older tune, which originally had appeared in a hymnal with the unwieldy title of Se­lect Psalms and Hymns for the Use of the Par­ish Church and Ta­ber­na­cle of St. James’, West­min­ster.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

John Newton

Thanks to one megahit hymn, John Newton, born on July 24, 1725, is perhaps the most well-known hymn writer of the eighteenth century in modern times (even more so than Watts and Wesley, who wrote a greater number of hymns that are still in current use). Recent years have seen books, documentaries, and even a feature film recounting the story of Newton, slave ship captain turned Anglican priest, and his Amazing grace.

Newton's conversion to Christianity occurred on May 10, 1748, a date which he marked each following year, but he did not abandon the slave trade for some years after that, though eventually he came to renounce and condemn it. While Amazing grace is assumed to refer to his reformation, he wrote another hymn which seems to come even more directly from his past. It begins:

In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.

After settling into his new life in the clergy, Newton and his friend and neighbor William Cowper wrote hymns as part of their regular Bible study. These were collected in a volume called Olney Hymns, published in 1779. Many of them (mostly unknown today) recount stories from scripture, such as this one about Hannah and her prayers for a son, from 1 Samuel 1:4-20.

When Hannah, pressed with grief,
Poured forth her soul in prayer;
She quickly found relief,
And left her burden there:
Like her, in every trying case,
Let us approach the throne of grace.

When she began to pray,
Her heart was pained and sad;
But ere she went away,
Was comforted and glad:
In trouble, what a resting place,
Have they who know the throne of grace!

Eli her case mistook,
How was her spirit moved
By his unkind rebuke?
But God her cause approved.
All swelling sorrows sink apace,
When we approach the throne of grace.

She was not filled with wine,
As Eli rashly thought;
But with a faith divine,
And found the help she sought:
Fresh strength they gain to run their race,
Who come before the throne of grace.

Thousands before have tried,
And found the promise true;
Not one been yet denied,
Then why should I or you?
Let us by faith their footsteps trace,
And hasten to the throne of grace.

John Newton, c. 1779; alt.
Tune: BEVAN (H.M.)
John Goss, 1853

No doubt we'll be seeing more of John Newton's hymns. Amazing grace has been covered exhaustively elsewhere, but there are many other interesting ones to explore.

P.S. This hymn is written in the unique Hallelujah Meter (, not often differentiated in modern hymnal indexes. The most well-known tune in H.M. is DARWALL, originally written in 1770 for a paraphrase of Psalm 148. I don't go on much about meter (really just a summary of the syllables in each line of each verse of a particular hymn), though I think it's kind of interesting. You can read more about hymn meters if you're so inclined.

***UPDATE***  This hymn with words and music together is now posted to be shared on Facebook.  Go to "Conjubilant W. Song" and click on "Photos" then "Albums" -- it's in the Downloadable Hymns album.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Saint Mary Magdalene

Today is the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalene, a well-known figure in anyone's reading of the Bible, though perhaps not as well known as you might think.

Modern scholarship now rejects the idea that she was a former prostitute, which made its way into the story somewhere along the way though it is never stated in the New Testament. There is also some confusion about whether she is the "sinful woman" with the costly jar of perfume in Luke 7:36-38 (the page at the first link above attempts to sort it out, though without much success). In art, however, she is often depicted with the jar, as in this painting by Caravaggio (1596), which also includes a discarded strand of pearls to signify her former life as a prostitute. She deserves some new art.

In most accounts she was possessed by seven demons who were cast out by Jesus, and she then became one of his followers. Most importantly, she was the first witness to the resurrection, sometimes called the apostle to the apostles.

Mary Magdalene, to whom
Jesus Christ vouchsafed to appear!
Newly risen from the tomb,
Would he first be seen by her?
Her by sin and doubt possessed,
Till the Word her woes expelled;
Quenched the fear within her breast,
All her suffering sorrows healed.

Yes, to her the Savior came,
First his welcome voice she hears:
Jesus calls her by her name,
Thus the weeping woman cheers,
Who can now presume to fear?
Who despair of grace to see?
Jesus, wilt thou not appear,
Show thyself alive to me?

Highly favored soul! To her
Farther still his grace extends,
Making her the messenger,
Sends her to his sorr'wing friends;
Tidings of their living Lord
First in her report they hear:
She must spread the Gospel word,
Ere to them he will appear.

Charles Wesley, 1746; alt.
Edwin Flood, 1845

I can think of at least three modern hymns (all under copyright) that explore this aspect of Mary Magdalene's story:

The first one ever (Linda Wilberger Egan)
A woman in a world of men (Brian Wren)
Woman, weeping in the garden (Dan Damon)

So it seems like a new idea, but here's Charles Wesley, more than 250 years ago, writing a hymn about it. I doubt this text appears in any hymnal published in the last 100 years or more. Some ideas seem to go underground for a while but they come back as "modern." Also, for purely practical reasons, there are a lot of Easter hymns out there that "have to" be sung every year, so this part of the story seems less important to include for some people (good reason for her feast day to be outside the Easter season).

Poking around for today's entry I came upon a story I hadn't heard before that continues the story of Mary as Gospel bearer. From Wikipedia:

One tradition concerning Mary Magdalene says that following the death and resurrection of Jesus, she used her position to gain an invitation to a banquet given by Emperor Tiberius. When she met him, she held a plain egg in her hand and exclaimed "Christ is risen!" Caesar laughed, and said that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as the egg in her hand turning red while she held it. Before he finished speaking, the egg in her hand turned a bright red, and she continued proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house.

This is apparently why some traditions only produce red-colored Easter eggs, though I don't remember the rector telling this story when they passed out red eggs this year.

***UPDATE***  This hymn with words and music together is now posted to be shared on Facebook.  Go to "Conjubilant W. Song" and click on "Photos" then "Albums" -- it's in the Downloadable Hymns album.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Singing Loud With Cheerful Voice

So I'm back home again. My trip was to the West Coast, the Northern California Bay Area where I attended the Annual Conference of the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada. It was a remarkable experience that I'm still sorting out in my head and will probably provide some more material for the blog in the weeks and months to come. It was my first time there, though I had thought about going several times in previous years.
If you can imagine 300 or so people coming together every year to sing hymns for four days, it was just as good as that. They'll sing anything, and if the music or the words are a little tricky at first, they'll keep trying, determined to get it right by the last verse. We sang hymns in all different styles and from many different traditions, from Morning Prayer at 8:30 am to Night Prayers at 9:30pm. Every day included a 90-minute hymn festival around a different theme, as well as numerous other opportunities to sing from new hymnals and smaller hymn collections, often led by the editors, text writers, and/or composers. The schedule was packed!

Meals became a great opportunity for further conversation on the events of the day - you never knew who you might be sitting beside - a fellow enthusiast, the editor of a major denominational hymnal, a writer or composer whose work you've admired for a long time or one whose work you just encountered half an hour before.

I thought I didn't have one particular favorite thing we sang (there was a lot to choose from!) until the last morning, when I found it. The final hymn festival was on The Greening of Hymnody, new and old hymns and songs about God in Nature and our responsibility for the care of the earth. I had never seen or heard this hymn but I loved it immediately.

All things praise thee, God most high,
Heav'n and earth and sea and sky,
All were for thy glory made,
That thy greatness, thus displayed,
Should all worship bring to thee;
All things praise thee: God, may we!

All things praise thee: night to night
Sings in silent hymns of light;
All things praise thee: day to day
Chants thy power in burning ray;
Time and space are praising thee;
All things praise thee: God, may we!

All things praise thee; round her zones
Earth, with her ten thousand tones,
Rolls a ceaseless choral strain;
Roaring wind and deep-voiced main,
Rustling leaf and humming bee,
All things praise thee: God, may we!

All things praise thee, high and low,
Rain and dew, and seven-hued bow,
Crimson sunset, fleecy cloud,
Rippling stream, and tempest loud,
Summer, winter, all to thee
Glory render: God, may we!

All things praise thee: gracious Lord,
Great Creator, pow'rful Word,
Omnipresent Spirit, now
At thy feet we humbly bow,
Lift our hearts in praise to thee;
All things praise thee: God, may we!

George William Conder, 1874; alt.
James Frederick Swift, 1903 (?)

George William Conder was an English clergyman who helped compile the Leeds Hymn Book and wrote a number of hymns for a later supplement of that hymnal. I'll be looking through that one for more of his work. The best-known tune of James Frederick Swift was not a hymn, but the secular song Sailing, sailing over the bounding main. I haven't quite nailed down when he wrote this hymn tune.
I'd bet that several people took this hymn home with hopes of using it in worship. More to come on the festival...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Song That Ne'er Will Die

Today I'm combining two of our summer themes in one: the Holy Spirit, and Gospel songs. Most Gospel songs are about Jesus in some way: his life, his love for us, singing his praises, etc. There are some, however, that are not.

This number in Gospel song style about the Holy Spirit first appeared in 1890 in a hymnal with a great title: Precious Times of Refreshing and Revival. The writer, Frank Bottome, emigrated to the U.S. from England and became a Methodist Episcopal minister in 1850.
Composer William Kirkpatrick wrote tunes for just about all the popular text writers of the time.

O spread the tidings ’round, wherever truth is found,
Wherever human hearts and human woes abound;
Let ev’ry human tongue proclaim the joyful sound:
The Comforter has come!

The Comforter has come, the Comforter has come!
The Spirit come from Heav’n, the Savior’s promise giv’n;
O spread the tidings ’round, wherever truth is found—
The Comforter has come!

She comes, and softly sings, with healing in her wings,
To ev’ry captive soul a full deliverance brings;
And through the vacant cells the song of triumph rings;
The Comforter has come!

O boundless love divine! How shall this tongue of mine
To wond’ring mortals tell the matchless grace divine—
That I, a child of God, should in God's image shine!
The Comforter has come!

Sing till the echoes fly above the vaulted sky,
And all the saints above to all below reply,
In strains of endless love, the song that ne’er will die:
The Comforter has come!

Frank Bottome, 1890; alt.
Tune: COMFORTER ( with refrain)
William J. Kirkpatrick, 1890

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Isaac Watts

Today is the birthday of Isaac Watts, often called the Father of English Hymnody. Anyone out there reading this blog undoubtedly knows a number of hymns by Watts, maybe without realizing it, because many of them are still sung today and I think it's a rare hymnal that contains no Watts hymns. Cyberhymnal.org lists nearly 700, and most accounts say that there were about fifty more that he wrote.

Watts showed a talent for poetry at an early age and was challenged by his father to write hymn texts. I'm still travelling this week without a lot of time to blog, but I encourage you to read the biographical material at the links above, since Watts is still so very important to our modern understanding and love of hymns. Too important to skip his birthday!

It's hard to say which one is the most familiar, but I'm choosing this one for today, which has to be right up there at the top.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.

A thousand ages in thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all of us away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

Isaac Watts, 1719
Tune: ST. ANNE (C.M.)
William Croft, 1708

This paraphrase of Psalm 90 has had a number of small alterations over the years across the hundreds of hymnals that have published it. Some use Watts' original Our God, our help in ages past, but many have altered it as above. For me, God is bigger than just "ours."

A birthday this important deserves two hymns. The most significant thing about Watts, and why he received the "Father of English Hymnody" title, is that he published and popularized hymns that were not simply transcriptions of the Psalms and other passages from Scripture. Others took up this method of hymnwriting and it eventually overtook the previous one; there are many many more of these kind of hymns than the Scripture paraphrases. Here's one that is not as well known, but I always like hymns that use garden imagery and the people of God as plants tended by a loving gardener.

We are a garden walled around,
Chosen and made peculiar ground;
A little spot enclosed by grace
Out of the world's wide wilderness.

Like trees of myrrh and spice we stand,
Planted by God's almighty hand;
And all the springs in Zion flow,
To make the young plantation grow.

Awake, O, heav'nly wind! and come,

Blow on this garden of perfume;
Spirit divine! descend and breathe
A gracious gale on plants beneath.

Make our best spices flow abroad,

To entertain our Savior God
And faith, and love, and joy appear,
And every grace be active here.

Isaac Watts, c. 1708; alt.
Melchior Vulpius, 1609; harm. J.S. Bach, 1724

So how many of the 700 listed at the above link do you know?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lift Us to High Resolve

The voice of God is calling
Its summons ever clear;
As once God spake in Zion
So now God speaketh here:
“Whom shall I send to succor
My people in their need?
Whom shall I send to loosen
The bonds of shame and greed?”

“I hear my people crying
In suburb and on hill;
No field or mart is silent,
No city street is still.
I see my people falling
In sadness and despair.
Whom shall I send to shatter
The fetters which they bear?”

We heed, O God, thy summons,
And answer: Here are we!
Send us upon thine errand,
Let us thy servants be.
Our strength is dust and ashes,
Our years a passing hour;
But thou canst use our weakness
To magnify thy power.

From ease and plenty save us;
From pride of place absolve;
Purge us of low desire;
Lift us to high resolve;
Take us, and make us holy;
Teach us thy will and way.
Speak, and behold! We answer;
Command, and we obey!

John Haynes Holmes, 1913; alt.
Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

A twentieth century hymn in both tune and text, this is another of the great social justice hymns of the Church Universal. John Haynes Holmes was a Unitarian minister who spent most of his career in New York City following his installation as minister at the Church of the Messiah (photo below). He was a founder of both the NAACP and the ACLU, to name only two of the significant organizations with which he was involved.

During World War I, he strongly supported pacifism in his sermons and other writings, which brought him into serious conflict with the Unitarian denomination. Several of his other hymns, which were eventually published in a collected edition, reflect this commitment to pacifism and world peace and certainly bear further examination.

Friday, July 11, 2008

My Strength and Shield

Depending on where you are right now, you may want to sing along.

Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
Hold me with thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
Be thou still my Strength and Shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever give to thee.

William Williams, 1745; tr. Peter Williams 1771
John Hughes, 1907

Now that's a hymn that really should be more than three verses long. Actually, there are two more, but I don't think anyone uses them. The three we know fit together quite well, recounting a journey both earthly and spiritual, while the other two verses are more general in nature.

Slow week at the blog - not many birthdays or other commemorations in the first part of July. This works out well because I will be traveling next week, though I do hope to post a little bit (one very significant birthday next week at least). Things should pick up later in the month.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Henry J. Gauntlett

Henry John Gauntlett is another Victorian hymn tune composer who is now only known for a small handful of tunes. Born on this day in 1805, he progressed so far in his musical education and ability that at the age of nine he was appointed the organist at the church in Buckinghamshire where his father served as clergy. However, since he beat out his two sisters for the position it may not be quite as impressive as it seems in some accounts.

His parents then, as many parents still, thought that music was no suitable profession for an adult (child organists were OK), so he became an attorney, not fully realizing his musical aspirations until the age of thirty-nine, when he abandoned the bar and took music on full-time. He was a renowned organist, and obtained patents for applying electrical and magnetic action to the mechanics of the pipe organ. He accompanied the first perfomance of Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah from the full manuscript, as there was no separate organ part to read from. Mendelssohn was very impressed by Gauntlett's wide-ranging musical talents and spoke highly of him in later years.

Gauntlett is often cited as the first composer of four-part hymn tunes as we know them today. Some sources claim that he wrote ten thousand hymn tunes, though others think it seems unlikely, even if older tunes that he only harmonized or arranged (such as STUTTGART) were included. He edited several hymnals, from the first, The Church Hymn and Tune Book (1852) to The Wesleyan Tune Book (1876) on which he was working when he died in 1875. He was consulted on most of the other hymnals published in England during his lifetime (a large number indeed).

This tune (and hymn) are still used in many churches.

Jesus lives! no longer now
Can thy terrors, death, appall us;
Jesus lives! by this we know
Thou, O grave, canst not enthrall us.

Jesus lives! for us Christ died;
Then, alone to Jesus living
Pure in heart may we abide,
Glory to our Savior giving.

Jesus lives! our hearts know well
Naught from us God's love shall sever;
Life, nor death, nor powers of hell
Tear us from God's keeping ever.

Jesus lives! to Christ the throne
Over all the world is given;
May we go where Christ has gone,
Live eternally in heaven.

Christian Gellert, 1751; tr. Frances E. Cox, 1841, alt.
Tune: ST. ALBINUS ( with Alleluia)
Henry J. Gauntlett, 1852

Gauntlett has one even more familiar tune, IRBY, used for Once in royal David's city, but we'll get to that at a more appropriate time of year. Here at the blog, we've heard his ST. BARNABAS, which hymnologist Erik Routley called "astounding" (though he didn't mean it in a good way). Routley says of Gauntlett "At his best he is a true and inspired master of the commonplace..." One tune, ST. ALPHEGE, is said to have been composed at a dinner, while a messenger waited for the manuscript.

However many Gauntlett tunes there are, the twenty-four listed at cyberhymnal.org are a very small fraction, and I'm not sure I want Erik Routley -- no fan of the Victorians -- to have the last word unchallenged. Gauntlett was widely respected in his time, much in demand for his skills. Though his time has come and gone, a backhanded "compliment" cannot completely diminish his accomplishments.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fresh Supplies of Love

O Source of life divine,
Who hast a table spread,
Supplied with mystic wine
And everlasting bread,
Preserve the life thyself hast giv'n,
And feed and train us up for heav'n,
And feed and train us up for heav'n.

Our thirsting souls sustain
With fresh supplies of love,
Till all thy life we gain,
And all thy fullness prove,
And, strengthened by thy perfect grace,
Behold without a veil thy face,
Behold without a veil thy face.

Charles Wesley, 1745; alt.
John David Edwards, 1840

Charles Wesley occasionally wrote short hymns, too. They weren't all fourteen verses long, like Come, O thou Traveller unknown, or eighteen verses, like O for a thousand tongues to sing. This one really was only two verses long, first published in 1745 in his collection titled Hymns on the Lord's Supper. The minor changes made (mostly before we got to it) were to help it fit this particular tune better.

RHOSYMEDRE was one of three Welsh hymn tunes that Ralph Vaughan Williams arranged into organ preludes in 1920 (the other two were
HYFRYDOL and BRYN CALFARIA). You can find performances of them on YouTube though I can't vouch for them - using dial-up right now.

P.S. The illustration above is a communion table from Elizabethan times, from Sunningwell Church in Bristol.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Thy Paths Our Chosen Way

God of creation, whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies,
Our grateful songs before thy throne arise.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
Through every land by thee our lot is cast;
Be thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay,
Thy Word our law, thy paths our chosen way.

From war’s alarms, from griefs that seem immense,
Be thy strong arm our ever sure defense;
Thine inspiration in our hearts increase,
Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.

Refresh thy people on their weary way,
Lead us to heaven's never-ending day;
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
And glory, laud, and praise be ever thine.

Daniel Crane Roberts, 1876; alt.
George W. Warren, 1892

This hymn was written for the U.S. Centennial celebrations in Brandon, Vermont, but sung to a different tune. Roberts later submitted it to the committee that was compiling the Episcopal hymnal of 1892. George Warren then chose the text for a celebration of the centennial of the Constitution and wrote his tune for it.

It's been slightly rewritten, which admittedly takes the national elements out of it, but remember that we were adapting it for the use of an international denomination. Inclusivity means everyone, not just those of us in the U.S. There's always a debate about the appropriateness of patriotic songs and hymns in worship; I'm wary of them, though I know they are important for many people.

Anyway, happy Fourth to my U.S. readers, and to those outside the country, here's a hymn of praise you can use too.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, born on this day in 1860, is perhaps best known today for her short story The Yellow Wallpaper, an account of severe depression written from her own experience. She was a member of the extended Beecher family and grew up aware of her prominent great-aunts Harriet Beecher Stowe, Catharine Beecher, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, all famed for their involvement in progressive causes.

Gilman's book Women and Economics (1898) argued that women must attain economic independence of their husbands in order to attain true equality of the sexes. Though her writing supported feminist causes, she preferred not to be called a feminist, but a humanist.

In 1911 she published Suffrage Songs and Verses, from which today's selection is taken. It's been adapted from a women's suffrage anthem into a text about freedom and equality for everyone, with a tune I think you will recognize. (You can see her original five-verse text here.)

Day of hope and day of glory! After slavery and woe,
Comes the dawn of human freedom, and the light shall grow and grow
Until every man and woman equal liberty shall know,
In freedom marching on!

Glory, glory hallelujah!
Glory, glory hallelujah!
Glory, glory hallelujah! In freedom marching on!

Not for self but larger service has our cry for freedom grown,
There is crime, disease and warfare as we face the world alone,
In the name of love we're rising now to serve and save our own,
Together marching on!

We will help to make a pruning hook of every outgrown sword,
We will help to knit the nations in continuing accord,
In humanity made perfect every freedom is restored,
As Peace goes marching on!

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1911; adapt. 1990
William Steffe (coll.), c.1856

This tune will be sung all over the place this Independence Day weekend, though with a much more familiar text. William Steffe was almost certainly not the composer of the tune, though; he included it in a collection of campmeeting songs he published in 1856. But I don't want to get sidetracked with a discussion of the Battle Hymn or its tune - it's Gilman we're commemorating today. You can learn even more about her at the site of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society.