Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Patience of Unanswered Prayer

The Sundays after Pentecost do go on for quite a while. Today is only the sixteenth. Here's another hymn on the Holy Spirit that is sung by several denominations.

It seems like I've always known this one and I assumed that "everyone" knew it too. So it was a surprise to find that it has never been in any of the primary Episcopal hymnals (1871, 1892, 1916, 1940, 1982) since it was written. Finally it was included in the supplement Wonder, Love and Praise (2001), and we sang it this summer. Naturally, it was unfamiliar to some people. Any hymn can be a favorite of many and completely unknown to many others.

I am not enough of a theologian to be able to determine why this one has not been accepted by the various Episcopalian hymnal committees over the years, but I'm glad it's finally being used.

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art;
And make me love thee as I ought to love.

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.

Teach me to feel that thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love thee as thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The baptism of the heaven-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and thy love the flame.

George Croly, 1854; alt.
Frederick Atkinson, 1870

You may remember that composer Atkinson had hoped that this tune would be sung with Abide with me, but that idea never took hold. I don't know what he had against EVENTIDE.

"Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer" has to be one of the most useful lines ever included in any hymn.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

George Frederick Root

Composer George Frederick Root was born today in 1820. Musical from an early age, he studied with George Webb, and later worked with Lowell Mason, probably the best-known hymn tune composer in America at that time.

As an instructor at Mason's Boston Academy of Music, he began his composing career with simple pieces for his students, often writing both words and music for his songs and choral pieces. In 1848 he collaborated with Fanny Crosby on a simple cantata called The Flower Queen. They would go on to write several more pieces together, both secular and sacred.

During the Civil War he wrote several songs that were much in demand, including The Battle Cry of Freedom. Publishers had trouble keeping up with the orders for the sheet music, and a southern poet appropriated the tune and wrote a Confederate version for the other side to sing. Root edited a number of collections of songs, anthems, and hymns, all containing many of his compositions (The Sabbath Bell and others are available online). You can hear quite a few of them at this page.

Root's hymns and gospel songs were apparently very popular, appearing in dozens of American hymnals of the late nineteenth century, but they mostly faded out in the twentieth. This is one that I like, based on a story of Jesus' healing from Matthew 9:18-26.

She only touched the hem of his garment
As to his side she stole,
Amid the crowd that gathered around him,
And straightway she was whole.

Oh, touch the hem of Christ's garment!
And thou, too, shalt be free!
That saving power this very hour
Shall give new life to thee!

She came in fear and trembling before him,
She knew the Christ had come;
She felt that from him virtue had healed her,
The mighty deed was done.

He turned with “Daughter, be of good comfort,
Thy faith hath made thee whole!”
And peace that passeth all understanding
With gladness filled her soul.

George F. Root, 19th c.; alt.
Tune: GARMENT'S HEM ( with refrain)
George F. Root, 19th c.

Not wholly forgotten, George Root was inducted into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, though perhaps more for The Battle Cry of Freedom than for his hymns.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Today is the 199th birthday of Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809 - 1894), a doctor and Harvard Medical School professor who is better known today for his literary pursuits -- he was a poet, a novelist, and a writer of humorous essays (though he also published medical books as well). He was also a co-founder of the Atlantic Monthly magazine which is still published today. Born into an old New England family, his father was a Congregational minister, and his mother a descendant of poet Anne Bradstreet. His son, Oliver Wendell Jr., became a justice of the United States Supreme Court. The illustration at the left is a memorial postcard issued after his death (click to enlarge) with a quotation from his poem The Voyage of the Good Ship Union.

Holmes also wrote a number of hymns, including this one, which appeared at the end of his book The Professor at the Breakfast Table.

God of all being, throned afar,
Thy glory flames from sun and star;
Center and soul of every sphere,
Yet to each loving heart how near!

Sun of our life, thy quickening ray,
Sheds on our path the glow of day;
Star of our hope, thy softened light
Cheers the long watches of the night.

Lord of all life, below, above,
Thy light is truth, thy warmth is love,
Thy rainbow arch, our covenant sign;
All that illumines earth is thine.

Grant us thy truth to make us free,
And kindling hearts that burn for thee,
Till all thy living altars claim
One holy light, one heavenly flame.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1848; alt.
Tune: MENDON (L.M.)
German melody; arr. Samuel Dyer, 1828

Holmes appears as a character, along with his literary circle of friends from Cambridge, MA (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and J.T. Fields) in the recent popular historical mystery The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl (recommended).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

God's All-Inclusive Love

It's a special day here at CWS -- we have the first copyrighted hymn to appear here, with permission, and it's a favorite of mine. Written in 1980 for use in the Metropolitan Community Church, this is an original text and tune that I've always thought should be used across a broader spectrum of churches.

We are the Church Alive,
Christ's presence on this earth
We give God's Spirit body in
The act of our new birth.
As yielded open channels
For God's descending dove,
We shout and sing, With joy we bring
God's all-inclusive love.

We are the Church Alive,
Our faith has set us free;
No more enslaved by guilt and shame,
We live our liberty!
We follow Christ's example
And freedom now proclaim,
Destroying myths of doubt and fear
In Jesus' mighty name.

We are the Church Alive,
The body must be healed;
Where strife has bruised and battered us,
God's wholeness is revealed.
Our mission is an urgent one;
In strength and health let's stand,
So that our witness to God's light
Will shine through every land.

We are the Church Alive,
All praise to God on high!
Creator, Savior, Comforter!
We laud and magnify
Your name, almighty God of love;
Pray give us life, that we
May be your church, the Church Alive,
For all eternity.

Jack Hoggatt and David Pelletier, 1980
Jack Hoggatt, 1980

Copyright © 1980 Jack Hoggatt and David Pelletier
Used by permission.

It has been widely used in MCC churches since its debut, but I believe it became even more significant and meaningful later in the 1980s and 90s as so many people died in the AIDS epidemic (not yet known in 1980). It was an awe-filled experience to sing "We are the Church Alive/The body must be healed..." with hundreds of other voices on a Sunday morning -- a hymn, a prayer, and a cry of defiance all in one. Thanks to Jack for letting me present it here, to at least a few people who haven't heard it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Help the Memory, Clear the Brain

This is the Masonic Hall in East Greenbush NY, in a photo I took this weekend. Many years ago my parents were founding members of a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in that town, and before their building was finished, the church met here, in the second floor auditorium. I remember going to this building for church, though I was about five years old when the church building was completed and the congregation no longer met here. I remember folding wooden chairs, and everyone singing.

Back on
June 29 I was talking about gospel songs and my own background. We (my family) were Lutherans initially. The congregation I mentioned sang from The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 (the "blue book") for as long as we were associated with this church. Later, in high school, my parents decided we were Presbyterians now. The Presbyterian church sang from The Hymnal of 1933, even though there were newer ones available (in fact, they only reluctantly purchased the "new" 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal, a few years after it became available).

Neither of those hymnals contain any gospel songs to speak of. But when I became involved with the Metropolitan Community Church in the 1980s, somehow I knew some of the gospel songs that were a large part of their repertory. Not a lot of them, but some. I even knew, for example, that Blessed assurance was a favorite of my mother's (raised Catholic, then Lutheran - again, without that gospel song history). But I don't remember how I knew them, since they weren't sung in either the Lutheran or Presbyterian churches, not being included in those hymnals. It's only since I've been writing this blog that I started to wonder.

So I stopped by this building a few times when I was in East Greenbush this weekend. Unfortunately, there was no one around, and the place was locked up tight. But looking through the front door, it looks like not much has changed in the last 50 years. The foyer seems untouched, looking (I think) much like it did in 1930 or so when the building was new.

I have a feeling that if I had gotten inside, I might have found a dusty closet somewhere with a pile of non-denominational hymnals of some sort, the kind that might have been used in community gatherings 50-75 years ago. Surely the Lutherans wouldn't have had a set of "blue books" right away after their church was established (even though they may have gotten them before their own building was completed). In the meantime, they must have sung from something, and it seems to me that this might just be from where I remember that handful of gospel songs. I'd like to come up with some way of proving it, but maybe this is close enough.

P.S. the title of today's entry comes from
here. ("Brain" is not a word used often in hymns.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Saint Bartholomew

Today is the feast day of Saint Bartholomew the Apostle. If you ever had to memorize the names of the twelve disciples, he's among them. But do you remember anything else in particular about him?

Probably not.

As it happens, the only specific mentions of him in the New Testament occur when the twelve disciples are listed. Presumably he was at some of the important events recounted, but was never mentioned by name. Some scholarship claims that Bartholomew (meaning “son of Tolomai”) might be the person named Nathaniel who appears in John's Gospel. But maybe not. I guess it's appropriate that the picture here is a little blurry.

If you Google “St. Bartholomew” he doesn't even come up first -- you get St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church on Park Avenue in New York City. They are marking this day today, you'll see.

So you'd think it would be hard to write a hymn about him. Noted hymnwriter John Ellerton (who wrote quite a number of saint's-day hymns) skillfully turns the very fact of his obscurity into a broader theme that brings us all into this hymn of praise.

Jesus Christ, to whom the number
Of thy starry host is known,
Many a name, by earth forgotten,
Lives forever round thy throne;
Lights, which earth-born mists have clouded,
There are shining full and clear,
Nobles in the court of heaven,
Nameless, unremembered here.

In the roll of thine apostles
One there stands, Bartholomew,
He for whom today we offer,
Year by year, our praises due;
How he toiled for thee and suffered
No one here can now recall;
All his saintly life is hidden,
All to him that did befall.

Was it he, beneath the fig tree
Seen of thee, and guileless found;
He who saw the good he longed for
Rise from Nazareth’s barren ground;
He who met his risen Savior
On the shore of Galilee;
He to whom the word was spoken,
“Greater things thou yet shall see”?

None can tell us; all is written
In the Lamb’s great book of life,
All the faith, and prayer, and patience,
All the toiling, and the strife;
There are told thy hidden treasures;
Number us, O Christ, with them,
When thou makest up the jewels
Of thy living diadem.

John Ellerton, 1871; alt.
Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, 1897

This tune by C.H.H. Parry seems well-suited to the text, though if you've just sung it on August 15 for Sing we of the blessed Mother (and what other tune could you possibly use for that text?) it might be too soon to use it again. Other possibilities would be LUX EOI, or REX GLORIAE if you are allergic to overly-chromatic lines.

August 14 is also the anniversary of the beginning of the
St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572, when over 5000 people died in and around Paris in mob violence against French Calvinist Protestants (the Huguenots). This historical event has been depicted in a wide variety of artistic forms, from plays, novels and paintings, to an episode of British sci-fi TV show Doctor Who, to the French grand opera Les Huguenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer (who didn't write any hymn tunes as far as I know - though that opera uses Martin Luther's famous tune EIN FESTE BURG more than once).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Civilla Durfee Martin

Hymnwriter Civilla Martin was born on this day in 1866, in Nova Scotia. Her lifelong love of music was shared with her husband Walter Martin, and they collaborated on several songs, with him supplying the music to her words. Her popular texts also inspired other gospel song composers, such as Charles H. Gabriel, who wrote the music for one of her most familiar selections.

One day in 1905, Martin was visiting a bedridden friend, and asked her if she was ever discouraged by her situation. The woman responded "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he's watching me," probably a reference to Matthew 6:26 -- Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet God feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Before long Martin had written the following song, and with Gabriel's tune it spread throughout many denominations.

Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely,
And long for heaven and home,
When, Jesus, you're my portion?
My constant friend you'll be:
Your eye is on the sparrow,
And I know you're watching me;
Your eye is on the sparrow,
And I know you're watching me.

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For your eye is on the sparrow,
And I know you're watching me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,”
Your tender word I hear,
And resting on your goodness,
I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path you're leading,
But one step I may see;
Your eye is on the sparrow,
And I know you're watching me;
Your eye is on the sparrow,
And I know you're watching me.

Whenever I am tempted,
Whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing,
When hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to you,
From care you set me free;
Your eye is on the sparrow,
And I know you're watching me;
Your eye is on the sparrow,
And I know you're watching me.

Civilla D. Martin, 1905; alt.
Tune: HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW (Irregular with refrain)
Charles H. Gabriel, 1905

This song was a favorite of jazz singer Ethel Waters, who recorded it and also titled her autobiography His Eye Is On the Sparrow.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bernard of Clairvaux

Both the Episcopal and Roman Catholic calendars mark August 20th as the commemoration of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 - 1153), a French Benedictine monk who later joined the stricter Cistercian order and helped it to flourish. Bernard was a noted theologian unfortunately associated with the Second Crusade (his treatises were considered directly responsible for recruiting thousands of soldiers to invade the Holy Land), but other writings, such as a series of sermons on the Song of Songs are more admired today.

He is also known for a number of hymns, originally written in Latin, that have been translated into many languages. This one, part of a longer poem, begins:

Salve caput cruentatum,
Totum spinis coronatum,
Conquassatum, vulneratum,
Arundine verboratum
Facie sputis illita.

This was translated into German by Paul Gerhardt, sometimes called "the sweet singer of Lutheranism," in the seventeenth century, beginning thus:

O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,
Voll Schmerz und voller Hohn,
O Haupt, zum Spott gebunden
Mit einer Dornenkron’,
O Haupt, sonst schön gezieret
Mit höchster Ehr’ und Zier,
Jetzt aber höchst schimpfieret;
Gegrüßet sei’st du mir!

This work of Bernard and Gerhardt has been translated into English a number of times, producing one of the most universally used Lenten hymns. One of the most well known translations:

O sacred head, sore wounded,
Defiled and put to scorn;
O kingly head surrounded
With mocking crown of thorn:
What sorrow mars thy grandeur?
Can death thy bloom deflower?
O countenance whose splendor
The hosts of heaven adore!

Thy beauty, long-desirèd,
Hath vanished from our sight;
Thy power is all expirèd,
And quenched the light of light.
Ah me! for whom thou diest,
Hide not so far thy grace:
Show me, O Love most highest,
The brightness of thy face.

In thy most bitter passion
My heart to share doth cry,
With thee for my salvation
Upon the cross to die.
Ah, keep my heart thus moved
To stand thy cross beneath,
To mourn thee, well-beloved,
Yet thank thee for thy death.

My days are few, O fail not,
With thine immortal power,
To hold me that I quail not
In death's most fearful hour;
That I may fight befriended,
And see in my last strife
To me thine arms extended
Upon the cross of life.

Bernard of Clairvaux, 1153; tr. Robert Bridges, 1899
Hans Leo Hassler, 1601; harm. J.S. Bach, 1729

Earlier translations were done by Henry Williams Baker (first editor of the seminal English Hymns Ancient & Modern), James Waddell Alexander, and Samuel Macaulay Jackson. Alexander's version contains at least two verses that are sometimes combined with other translations.

O sacred head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, thine only crown;
How art thou pale with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn!
How dost that visage languish
That once was bright as morn!

What language shall I borrow
To thank thee, dearest Friend,
For this thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever,
And should I fainting be,
O let me never, never
Outlive my love to thee.

Jackson's translation is said to be closest to Gerhardt's German (though it doesn't fit the Hassler/Bach tune quite as well):

O Head, blood-stained and wounded,
Tortured by pain and scorn;
O Head, in jest surrounded
By a rude crown of thorn!
O Head, once rich-adornèd
With highest laud and lays,
But now so deeply scornèd,
To thee I lift my praise!

Thy face was once the fairest,
In beauty like the light;
Thou with the sun comparest;
Why art thou now so white?
Thy eye, whose rays outstreaming
The world enlightened had,
Why is it now scarce gleaming
Upon thy cross so sad?

PASSION CHORALE, originally by the German Hans Leo Hassler, was apparently a favorite of Bach, who used it in five times in his St. Matthew Passion, twice in the Christmas Oratorio, five more times in his cantatas, and also wrote an organ prelude based on it. He usually re-harmonized the tune each time he used it.

This eighteenth-century harmonization of a seventeenth century tune is now irrevocably associated with this hymn derived from the writings of a twelfth century French monk, and translated into English in the nineteenth century thanks to a seventeenth century German poet. Our heritage of hymns spans a very broad time (and space) frame.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

River of the Water of Life

On a hot summer day in Brooklyn NY, pastor Robert Lowry of the Hanson Place Baptist Church found himself thinking about a Scripture passage from the opening of Revelation 22: a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God. Just reflecting on that image was refreshing, and he soon had the first line of a hymn, "Shall we gather at the river," followed quickly by the response in the refrain, "Yes, we'll gather..." The rest of the verses flowed easily from his imagination (unavoidable pun).

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will walk and worship ever,
All the happy golden day.

Ere we reach the shining river,
Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.

Soon we’ll reach the shining river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.

Robert Lowry, 1864
Tune: HANSON PLACE ( with refrain)
Robert Lowry, 1864

Countless people have since found refreshment of one sort or another thanks to Lowry's hymn. There's a fifth verse given (inserted between the third and fourth verses above) at the Cyber Hymnal site that I've never seen before and I can't decide if I like it enough to include it or not.

At the smiling of the river,
Mirror of the Savior’s face,
Saints, whom death will never sever,
Lift their songs of saving grace.

This hymn gained even wider exposure on the concert stage when composer Aaron Copland wrote a solo setting for it as part of his Old American Songs series. Many people who have heard it sung by concert singers such as William Warfield (who sang the premiere), Marilyn Horne, or Samuel Ramey have never sung it themselves.

The building below was the Hanson Place Baptist Church from 1860 to 1963. It is now the Hanson Place Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Saint Mary the Virgin

August 15 is the feast day of Mary, the mother of Jesus, on the Episcopal calendar of saints, though some Anglo-Catholic churches apparently celebrate on December 8. On the Roman Catholic calendar, where Mary has a number of days devoted to her, today is the Assumption of Mary, whereupon she was taken into heaven.

Though this does not appear to be a movable feast, I know we will be celebrating it on Sunday in my Episcopal parish, and singing my favorite hymn for the day, Sing we of the blessed mother by George Timms (somewhat rewritten for Episcopal worship in the Hymnal 1982). But since that modern hymn is still under copyright, here is another one we will probably sing, though with a different tune (some would say that this is the only correct tune, and that the Hymnal 1982 is wrong to have another).

Ye who claim the faith of Jesus,
Sing the wonders that were done
When the love of our Creator
Over death the victory won,
When God made the Virgin Mary
Mother of the Promised One.
Hail Mary, hail Mary,
Hail Mary, full of grace.

Blessed were the chosen people
Out of whom the Christ did come;
Blessed was the land of promise
Fashioned for an earthly home;
But more blessed was the mother,
Bearing Jesus in her womb.
Hail Mary, hail Mary,
Hail Mary, full of grace.

Wherefore let all faithful people
Tell the honor of her name;
Let the Church, in her foreshadowed,
Part in her thanksgiving claim;
What Christ's mother sang in gladness
Let Christ's people sing the same.
Hail Mary, hail Mary,
Hail Mary, full of grace.

Vincent Stuckey Stratton Coles, 1906; alt.
Traditional French melody

The Hymnal 1982 has a new additional verse by F. Bland Tucker, a metrical Magnificat which logically follows the lines in the third verse "What Christ's mother sang in gladness/Let Christ's people sing the same."

V.S.S. Coles was a priest in the Church of England, but as you may guess he was firmly in the Anglo-Catholic camp. He wrote a few more verses of this hymn which are unlikely to be sung today outside the Roman Catholic church, or perhaps the most Catholic of Anglo-Catholic churches. Even the mention of the Virgin Mary outside the Christmas or Good Friday stories is sometimes controversial in many Protestant churches, so these hymns are not often used.

UPDATE 8/17/08: As expected, we did sing those two hymns, as well as Jerusalem, my happy home (which includes the line Our Lady sings Magnificat...) Ye who claim the faith of Jesus was sung to the tune DEN DES VATERS SINN GEBOREN (with apologies to the fans of DAILY, DAILY). When this tune is used, the first two "Hail Mary"s are left out. Thanks to commenter Leland for the sound file!

The Assumption of the Virgin, 15th century painting by Francesco Botticini

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sir Joseph Barnby

Joseph Barnby (born August 12, 1838) was another Victorian church musician and composer who started his career at an esrly age. At 7 he sang in the choir at York Minster, and at 12 he was already an organist and choirmaster. Later educated at the Royal College of Music, he went on to hold several organist and conductor positions in London. He was knighted in 1892 for his contributions to British music. His compositions include several anthems (one available at the Sibley Music Library site, settings of the evening canticles (one can be found at the Choral Public Domain Library), an oratorio (Rebekah) and a cantata (The Lord is King), as well as many secular partsongs.

He edited at least five hymnals, including The Hymnary (1872) and The Home and School Hymnal (1894). Naturally, many of his own hymn tunes found their way into these hymnals, but his tunes were very popular for nearly fifty years, appearing in nearly all the hymnals published in Britain and the US during that time. After his death in 1896, a collection of Barnby's 246 hymn tunes was published (the Cyber Hymnal lists only 58).

Here at the blog we have already heard his ST. ANSELM. His tune SARUM was for many years the preferred tune for For all the saints, appearing in many hymnals until SINE NOMINE by Ralph Vaughan Williams became more popular. The same thing happened to most of his tunes as the Victorians fell out of favor with hymnal editors in the mid- twentieth century. His only tune that remains in somewhat wide use is LAUDES DOMINI, for When morning gilds the skies.
This one also remains in some (maybe only Episcopal?) hymnals.

Now the day is over,
Night is drawing nigh,
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.

Jesus, give the weary
Calm and sweet repose;
With thy tenderest blessing
May mine eyelids close.

Grant to little children
Visions bright of thee;
Guard the sailors tossing
On the deep, blue sea.

Through the long night watches
May thine angels spread
Their bright wings above me,
Watching round my bed.

When the morning wakens,
Then may I arise
Pure, and fresh, and sinless
In thy holy eyes.

Sabine Baring-Gould, 1867
Joseph Barnby, 1868

This is an somewhat unique tune in that the melody, usually important, is not all that interesting. This hymn really requires the participation of a choir, or at least a congregation that will sing the four-part harmony to have its full effect. Baring-Gould, author of the text, had written a tune of his own for it, called EUDOXIA, but it's Barnby's tune that prevailed.

This is another of those Victorian children's hymns that have come to be used in general worship, though it's borderline twee, with the "sailors tossing on the deep, blue sea." Another verse I left out (the original second):

Now the darkness gathers,
Stars begin to peep,
Birds, and beasts and flowers
Soon will be asleep.

Practically Walt Disney, with the sleeping flowers and the peeping stars.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mary Artemesia Lathbury

Mary Artemesia Lathbury (born August 10, 1841) was a teacher, artist, and editor as well as a writer (and not only of hymns). She taught art at a number of schools in the northeastern US, and was then hired as associate editor for the Methodist Episcopal Sunday School publications. She wrote and illustrated many poems and other pieces for those books and magazines, including the Child's Life of Christ.

She attended the annual sessions of the Chautauqua Institution for many years, and wrote her two most famous hymns while there: the evening hymn Day is dying in the west, and this one, probably the most widely used, still today.

Break now the Bread of life,
Dear Friend, to me,
As once you broke the loaves
Beside the sea;
Beyond the sacred page
Your voice is heard;
My spirit longs for you,
O living Word!

Bless here the truth, dear Christ,
To me, to me,
As once you blessed the bread
By Galilee;
Then shall all bondage cease,
All fetters fall;
And I shall find my peace,
My all in all.

Mary A. Lathbury, 1877, alt.
William F. Sherwin, 1877

Lathbury wrote only two verses. In 1913 Alexander Groves added two more verses; many hymnals publish all four, some only the original two. I chose to leave the additions out for a few reasons.

A well-written hymn will have a recognizable final verse, one that comes to a climax or conclusion. Lathbury's does - we, with Christ's blessing, find our "all in all." But Groves' verses continue on, with his own final verse, meaning that there's now an extra one. Also, Lathbury specifically writes "Beyond the sacred page," indicating perhaps that there's more to faith than scripture alone. But Groves brings the Bible back into it in two lines -- "(Thy) holy Word the truth that saveth me" and his final line, "And in (thy) Book revealed, I see the Lord." Did he overlook her meaning, or did he decide to "correct" her? Either way, I no longer see any need for his extra verses. Voices Found includes a new third verse (using a vague shadow of Groves' last verse), but gives no indication of its author. Maybe two verses are enough.

Mary Lathbury wrote several more hymns, more than are listed at her
Cyber Hymnal page. In Songs From the Hearts of Women, a 1903 book about women hymn writers, it's written of Lathbury "her chance of having a name two hundred years hence is better than that of most writers in America." This hymn has already lasted 131 years, so 200 doesn't seem unlikely.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

John Mason Neale

When John Mason Neale translated yesterday's hymn for the Transfiguration from Latin to English he had no idea that he would eventually die on that feast day, in 1866. Nor could he have imagined that one day he would be honored in the Anglican and Episcopal calendars with a day of his own. But since those calendars traditionally mark the day of the honoree's death, and August 6 was already taken by the Transfiguration, Neale's commemoration was moved to August 7.

John Mason Neale (born January 24, 1818), though acclaimed today for his contributions to hymnody, was not so well-respected in his own time. He was ordained in 1841, but poor health prevented him from taking more lucrative clergy positions, and for many years he lived on an annual salary of 27 pounds, as the head of Sackville College (not an educational institution, but an almshouse). His ministry to the poor widened when he founded the Sisterhood of St. Margaret, an Anglican religious order dedicated to caring for the sick. This was seen as dangerously close to Roman Catholic practice by many people, and Neale was thought to be unfaithful to his own church.

Neale believed that worship in the vernacular, which had become prevalent over the previous few centuries, left the ancient and medieval traditions behind. Wanting to reclaim the works of the great poets and thinkers of the church's past, he began translating Latin hymns into English (again being accused of Catholic sympathies), then moved on to Greek sources, which had been largely unexplored until then.

Of the great number of hymns bearing his name, most are his translations, such as yesterday's selection. He did write some texts of his own, though most of these are not as well-known. Even his most famous one is actually not that well-known beyond the first verse. The following text was from his Hymns for Children, though like many such hymns of his time supposedly written for children, it works just as well for everyone.

O very God of very God,
And very Light of Light,
Whose feet this earthly valley trod,
To bring it to the right.

O guide us till our path is done,
And we have reached the shore
Where thou, our everlasting Sun,
Art shining evermore.

We wait in faith, and turn our face
To where the daylight springs,
Till thou shalt come, our fears to chase,
With healing in thy wings.

To our Creator, power and might
Both now and ever be;
To Christ, that is the Light of Light,
And Holy Ghost, to thee.

John Mason Neale, 1846; alt.
Tune: SONG 67 (C.M.)
Orlando Gibbons, 1623

Another one of Neale's translations was of the Rhythm of Bernard de Morlaix, Monk of Cluny, in the Celestial Country. Not that you would remember, but I wrote about that particular work in my very first blog entry. It was John Mason Neale who first wrote the phrase "conjubilant with song."

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Feast of the Transfiguration

The Feast of the Transfiguration, observed today in some church calendars, is a relatively new addition, having only been "officially" observed since the fifteenth century in Western traditions.

In more recent times, some denominations mark the occasion on the last Sunday before Lent, so I suppose there are churches where both dates are observed. Observing the Transfiguration on the final Sunday in the Epiphany season also brings together the theme of light which is part of both: the Epiphany star and the light from above that transfigures Jesus (as in Gustave Dore's woodcut here which will expand if you click on it). For some unremembered reason I didn't present a Transfiguration hymn back in February so here's another chance.

This hymn is also from the fifteenth century, originally in Latin and translated in the nineteenth century.

O wondrous sight! O vision fair
Of glory that the church may share,
Which Christ upon the mountain shows,
Where brighter than the sun Christ glows!

The law and prophets there have place,
Two chosen witnesses of grace,
And God's own voice from out the cloud
Proclaims the Savior Christ aloud.

With shining face and bright array,
Christ deigns to manifest that day
What glory shall be theirs above
Who joy in God with perfect love.

And faithful hearts are raised on high
By this great vision’s mystery;
For which in joyful strains we raise
The voice of prayer, the hymn of praise.

Sarum Breviary, 1495; tr. John Mason Neale, 1851
English melody, c. 1415

The tune DEO GRATIAS is adapted from a famous melody known as the Agincourt Carol, which originally accompanied a song recounting the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, in which the English defeated the French. It seems ideally suited for this hymn, though some hymnals prefer the somewhat more ordinary WAREHAM (even the Episcopalians, who supposedly have a reputation for more interesting musical settings).

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Freshness of Thy Grace

Where cross the crowded ways of life,
Where angry people's cries are heard
Above the noise of selfish strife,
We hear thy voice, O living Word.

In haunts of wretchedness and need,
On shadowed thresholds filled with fears,
From paths where hide the lures of greed,
We catch the vision of thy tears.

From tender childhood’s helplessness,
From woman’s grief, man’s burdened toil,
From famished souls, from sorrow’s stress,
Thy heart has never known recoil.

The cup of water given for thee,
Still holds the freshness of thy grace;
Yet long these multitudes to see
The sweet compassion of thy face.

O Savior, from the mountainside
Make haste to heal these hearts of pain;
Among these restless throngs abide;
O tread the city’s streets again;

Till all on earth shall learn thy love
And follow where thy feet have trod,
Till, glorious from thy heav'n above,
Shall come the city of our God!

Frank Mason North, 1903; alt.
Tune: GERMANY (L.M.)
From William Gardiner's Sacred Melodies, 1815

Methodist minister Frank Mason North was Corresponding Secretary for the New York City Missionary and Church Extension Society when he was asked to write a missionary hymn for the Methodist Hymnal of 1905. He had never written a hymn before, but this one came out of a sermon he was writing on Matthew 22:9 - Go ye therefore unto the partings of the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the feast. The "partings of the highways" became the first line of North's hymn, which he followed with images found in cities around the world.

North went on to write several more hymns, though in later years he claimed in a letter that he was "not a hymn writer, as that term is ordinarily used." Perhaps he meant that he was not as prolific as many, or that it was not a primary avocation of his, but this one hymn at least-- the first one he wrote -- has crossed over to many hymnals and denominations in the last 100 years.