Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lazarus, Mary, and Martha

Some church calendars mark this day in remembrance of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha of Bethany, that family of close friends to Jesus. They were so close that he encouraged Mary (and even Martha) to listen as he taught, which was not considered proper for women in that time, and so close that he wept at the death of Lazarus and restored him to life.

The familiar story of Lazarus, told in John 11:17-44 is where Jesus proclaims "I am the Resurrection and the Life." This hymn for the day is a prayer for renewal and strength in the promise of resurrection.

Dear Jesus, who at Lazarus’ tomb,
To weeping friends in wearied gloom,
Didst bring new joy to life,
Grant unto those who stand forlorn
A vision of that larger morn
Where peace has conquered strife.

May we behold across the bar
The saints immortal as they are,
Empowered in act and will,
With fuller voice their praises sing,
With larger hearts their tributes bring,
With strength to help us still;

Not fettered now by fleshly bond,
But tireless in the great beyond,
And growing day by day.
Can we not make their gladness ours,
And share their thoughts, their added powers,
And follow as we pray?

O Holy Spirit, Strength and Guide
Of those who to this earth have died,
But live more near to God,
Give us thy grace to follow on,
Till we with them the crown have won
And heaven's paths have trod.

Hardwicke D. Rawnsley, 1922; alt.
Heinrich Isaac, c. 1500

P.S. The painting above is The Raising of Lazarus (1675), detail of a larger work by Luca Giordano of Naples.

Two Years Ago: Martha and Mary

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Voices Found: Caroline Atherton Mason

The poet Caroline Atherton Mason was born today in 1823 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, a coastal town north of Boston. She and her seven sisters attended the nearby Bradford Academy, where they were collectively nicknamed "the Pleiades."

Caroline began writing at an early age, but her first successful poem, Do they miss me at home?, was published originally in the Salem Register in 1844, the same year she graduated from the Academy. Though the poem was written as the lament of a homesick schoolgirl, it was later set to music by Sidney M. Grannis and became especially popular during the Civil War as a soldier's song.

Her first collection of poetry, Utterance, or Private Voices to the Public Heart, was published in 1852. She also wrote short stories and articles for many journals of the day, as divergent as the St. Nicholas Magazine and the Anti-Slavery Standard. Reportedly she was also a prolific correspondent to local newspapers where her missives were signed "C.A.M.".

In 1868 she was one of six women who wrote hymns for the February 19 ordination and installation services of Universalist minister Phebe Hanaford, the fourth woman ordained in this country. Mason's hymn opened the ordination service in the morning, and was read by the Reverend James Marsden of Abingdon, MA (it's unclear whether it was also sung by the congregation; no record of any tune survives).

Savior! in this sacred hour
With thy grace our spirits dower;
Let thine influence from above
Fill our hearts with light and love.

Lo! thy waiting servant stands,
Asking blessings at thy hands;
Saying, "Who shall speak for thee?"
Saying, "Here am I, send me!"

Oh! sustain her, comfort, guide;
Compass her on every side;
Let thy truth inspire her tongue
Ministering thy flock among.

Clothed with thine own pow'r and might,
Make her earnest for the right;
Strong to do and brave to bear,
Ever watching into prayer,

So her ministry shall be
Owned and blessed, dear Christ, of thee;
Souls be giv'n her, and thy name
Have the glory and acclaim.

Caroline Atherton Mason, 1868; alt.
Emma L. Ashford, 1905

Several of Mason's other hymn texts were included in various hymnals, among them the first Harvard University Hymn Book (1895). A year after her death in 1890, her husband Charles Mason published one final collection of her work, The Lost Ring and Other Poems.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

John Newton

Hymnwriting giant John Newton was born today in 1725 in London. From a very early age his mother taught him from the Bible, but she died when he was seven. His sea captain father was not at all a religious man, and young John joined his father at sea after only two years of formal schooling. This would lead to his infamous six-year career as captain of a slave ship before his well-documented conversion experiences.

Years later, as an Anglican minister in the parish of Olney, he produced his influential Olney Hymns (1779) with his friend and collaborator William Cowper. Newton wrote most of the 348 texts included in the collection (280 to Cowper's 68). Hymn singing was still not widespread in the Church of England; like the hymns of Philip Doddridge, Newton's were often written to illustrate a particular sermon he was delivering. For some reason, this was apparently considered more acceptable. But they were definitely written for public worship, "for the use of plain people," according to Newton's preface to Olney Hymns, and not as mere poetic reflections.

Today's hymn is perhaps his second most familiar, though miles behind his first (and some might argue that his Glorious things of thee are spoken should be second). The scripture verse that appears with this text in Olney Hymns is Song of Solomon 1:3, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is perfume poured out, and from there Newton derived his first line, going on to add several other names from both the Old and New Testaments:

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In every person's ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds,
And drives away our fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
’Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary, rest.

Dear name! the Rock on which I build,
My Shield and Hiding Place,
My never failing Treasury, filled
With boundless stores of grace!

Jesus! my Shepherd, Guardian, Friend,
My Everflowing Spring,
My Love, my Life, my Way, my End,
Accept the praise I bring.

John Newton, 1779; alt.
Alexander R. Reinagle, 1836

Alexander Reinagle's popular tune ST. PETER was first matched with Newton's text in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) and like so many other combinations from that book, has become the most often-used.

The window below is from Newton's Olney parish, the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, and depicts both Newton (on the left) and Cowper.

Two Years Ago:
John Newton

One Year Ago: John Newton

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Saint Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, sometimes called the "apostle to the apostles" because she was the first witness to Jesus' resurrection on Easter morning, is commemorated on some church calendars today. As I've written before, some of the other New Testament stories which supposedly feature Mary are now thought perhaps to be stories of other women.

It was Pope
Gregory the Great in the sixth century who declared Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (Martha's sister) and the penitent woman who washed the feet of Jesus to be the same person, and it was not until the twentieth century that Western religions separated those women and their stories (1969 for the Roman Catholic Church). During all that time, Mary Magdalene was frequently portrayed in art and literature carrying the jar of perfume that was used to anoint Jesus' feet in the story from Luke 7:36-50. This hymn for the day also puts her in that story.

When Mary, moved by grateful love,
The precious ointment poured
Upon the head and feet of him
She owned as Christ and Lord,
The odor of the costly gift
Pervaded all the room;
How grateful to the sense it seemed --
How sweet the rich perfume.

An off'ring similar I bring
In thanks and praise to thee
My heart's devoted love is all,
O Christ, accept of me
This gift, and may its fragrance rise
As incense to thy throne
And seal me with thy gracious hand
To work for thee, thine own.

Mrs. R. F. Williams, 1884; alt.
Clement W. Poole, 1875

This hymn text appeared in Women in Sacred Song (1889), a two-volume collection of hymn and song texts and tunes written by women and compiled by Eva Munson Smith, and I'm not sure if it appeared anywhere else. There were many more texts than tunes in Smith's collection, and this one was printed without music. Unfortunately, not much more can probably be determined about the author, not even her own first name, as the initials probably belonged to Mr. Williams.

P.S. The painting above is by the seventeenth-century Florentine artist Carlo Dolci.

***UPDATE***  This hymn with words and music together is now posted on Facebook (but with a different, more familiar tune).  Go to "Conjubilant W. Song" and click on "Photos" -- it's in the Downloadable Hymns section.

Two Years Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

One Year Ago: Emily E. S. Elliott

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Forever and Forever Alleluia Is Outpoured

Another hymnic theme I want to explore further involves heaven, or perhaps, the Life to Come. As discussed before, the final stanza of many hymns takes us there, but there are also many hymns and songs solely about the afterlife; what we might find there and how we might find ourselves there. This blog, of course, takes its name from one of these, Jerusalem the golden, where the walls themselves are infused with the music of the praise of God (conjubilant with song). We have seen others, such as the gospel song When we all get to heaven and the collaboration between Isaac Watts and Robert Lowry (though they lived more than a century apart), Marching to Zion.

Here in the twenty-first century, in many places, death and the hoped-for nearness of heaven can seem almost metaphorical when it's encountered in church. Barring a sudden illness or accident, death mostly comes to older people who may even no longer be able to come to church regularly, so the community can sometimes avoid the reality for long periods of time. This was not the experience of churches in earlier times; death was more present for them, I think, as mortality rates were much higher. There is even an entire subcategory of hymns specifically written for the death of children that we would probably find hopelessly maudlin and sentimental today.

But I have lived in a time and a place where death was always present, where friends and colleagues and neighbors died on a weekly basis. I can tell you that hymns about heaven are just as important and meaningful and immediate in that situation as they were in the Victorian age, or any earlier time. A visiting contingent of Mennonites once came to a service where there were many men who would not be there a year later. One of their leaders memorably said "they sing like they've already been to heaven."

All this probably has something to do with my own interest in and love for these texts. I didn't know this one back then, but yes, we would have sung it like we'd already been there.

Light's abode, celestial Salem,
Vision whence true peace doth spring,
Brighter than the heart can fancy,
Mansion of the highest King;
O how glorious are the praises
Which of thee the prophets sing!

There forever and forever
Alleluia is outpoured;
For unending, for unbroken
Is the feast-day of the Lord;
All is pure and all is holy
That within thy walls is stored.

There no cloud nor passing vapor
Dims the brightness of the air;
Endless noonday, glorious noonday,
From the Sun of suns is there;
There no night brings rest from labor,
For unknown are toil and care.

O how glorious and resplendent,
Fragile body, thou shalt be,
When endued with heavenly beauty,
Full of health, and strong, and free,
Full of vigor, full of pleasure
That shall last eternally!

Now with gladness, now with courage,
Bear the burden on thee laid,
That hereafter these thy labors
May with endless gifts be paid,
And in everlasting glory
Thou with brightness be arrayed.

Thomas a Kempis, 15th cent.
tr. John Mason Neale, 1854
Welsh traditional melody

I can never, ever get through the fourth stanza.

The original Latin text, Jerusalem luminosa, is attributed to Thomas à Kempis (or perhaps one of his followers) and was subtitled Of the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem, so far as concerneth the Glorified Body. Thomas à Kempis was a medieval monk best known for the book The Imitation of Christ. Our old friend John Mason Neale first published his translation in the 1858 edition of his Hymnal Noted.

The Welsh melody RHUDDLAN (which should ideally be played just a tad slower and more majestically) comes from a battle song called Dowch i'r Frwydr and was perhaps first published in Musical Relics of the Welsh Bards (1800). From there is was arranged into a hymn tune in the English Hymnal of 1906. Some hymnals also set this text to the popular (if slightly overused) REGENT SQUARE by Henry Smart.

P.S. - The painting above is a portion of Ascent of the Blessed, also from the early fifteenth century and a concept of heaven from Hieronymous Bosch.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts, was born today in 1674 in Southhampton, England, where this statue (dedicated in 1861) stands in a park today. His father was a schoolmaster, so the boy began to learn Latin at age four, and by seven he was starting to write verse. His first hymn, reportedly written before he was twenty, was Behold the glories of the Lamb.

Watts was the first prolific writer of hymns which were not paraphrases of the Psalms, until that time the only accepted texts to be sung in worship in England. As a Nonconformist minister, he began to use his hymn texts in his own congregation and published his first collection in 1707, inspiring writers of the time such as Philip Doddridge and Anne Steele. His ministry was focused more on education than strict denominational dogma, and he was surprisingly ecumenical for his time. This may be part of the reason that his hymns have been so widely sung across so many different churches in the last three hundred years.

His total output was more than 750 hymns, and each year more and more of them are available at the Cyber Hymnal. According to John Julian in his Dictionary of Hymnology, about 450 of those were still in use at the beginning of the twentieth century. Today's hymn is perhaps not as widely known as it once was (#20 in 1899's The Best Church Hymns), but it's not gone completely. Here Watts joins our voices on earth with the angelic choir in Revelation 5:11-13.

Come, let us join our cheerful songs
With angels round the throne.
Ten thousand thousand are their tongues,
But all their joys are one.

“Worthy the Lamb that died,” they cry,
“To be exalted thus!”
“Worthy the Lamb,” our hearts reply,
“The Lamb was slain for us!”

Jesus is worthy to receive
Honor and power divine;
And blessings more than we can give,
Be ever, ever thine.

Let all that dwell above the sky,
And air and earth and seas,
Conjoin to lift thy glories high,
And speak thine endless praise!

The whole creation joins in one,
To bless the sacred Name
Of God who sits upon the throne,
And to adore the Lamb.

Isaac Watts, 1707; alt.
Elizabeth Howard Cuthbert, 1814

This tune by Elizabeth Cuthbert is one of two that she is known to have written (though I have not yet located the second). It appeared in several nineteenth century hymnals but is not much known today (much like its composer, unfortunately).

Two Years Ago: Isaac Watts

One Year Ago: Isaac Watts

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ten Best Hymns (?)

Over at a mega-blog called First Things, these's a post you might want to read titled Are These the Ten Best Hymns of All Time? At least they phrased it as a question rather than a statement.

It's a blog sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Public Life,
"an inter-religious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society," according to them. Which is fine; I don't have to subscribe to their philosophy to read a few posts. I have a few suspicions about their "interreligious" claim, but we'll get to that later.

The list has only a few surprises, I think.
  • The number one hymn does come out of nowhere; I don't ever recall encountering it on any similar list before, though it's certainly a fine text by Isaac Watts. I've written about five others of the ten (#s 4, 5, 7, 9 and 10) and all those seem to be reasonable choices.
  • It is a bit odd that anyone would deliberately choose two paraphrases of Psalm 23 (#s 1 and 4) to be included in one top ten list, but there you are.
  • Only one of the ten was written in the last hundred years (which may partially account for my never having heard of it), O God beyond all praising by Michael Perry. I'm not sure whether that is truly a text for the ages, or if they were swayed by the tune (THAXTED by Gustav Holst, better known in the UK to the text I vow to thee, my country - a favorite of Princess Diana).
It's not claiming to be a list of favorite hymns, so I'm not at all bothered that only one on their list (#7) is also on my own top ten list (though definitely lower than I'd put it). There's no real indication of their criteria, or even of how many "editors" contributed to the discussion. And, as we've discussed here before, there's no way you can ever pick just ten! You always remember later that you left one (or more) out.

Back in 1899, The Best Church Hymns produced a list of thirty-two. Comparing their top ten to these ten, only one hymn appears on both: When I survey the wondrous cross (#2 in 1899, #8 today). Christ the Lord is risen today came in at #24 then, and Holy, Holy, Holy was just off the list, "unofficially" ranked at #33. But I do think it's interesting that six of the other places on the list were not taken by newer hymns written since 1899, but by texts that were already being sung back then, though they had yet to gain the broader popularity they enjoy today.

As always, the comments on the post are interesting to read, partly because some of the commenters give away more information than they might intend about their individual biases (and many forget that the list is not supposed to be a list of favorites). But some certainly do have worthwhile possible substitutions, and you might also.

This post followed an earlier one titled Are These the Ten Worst Hymns of All Time? and I think it's here that the editors at First Things might have slightly dented their claim to be "interreligious." The giveaway is that all ten are Roman Catholic "contemporary" worship songs from the last forty years. Either the editors all grew up singing (and apparently hating) these songs, or they're looking at them from the outside and just happened to choose all their "worsts" from the same tradition, in which case they couldn't have looked very hard. No single denomination could reasonably be said to have a monopoly on bad hymns, and there were certainly bad hymns written more than forty years ago. Also, I've sung several of these ten, and I have to say that a few of them are really very effective in the right setting and people love to sing them. So whose standards are being used to condemn them?

But, as I may have said before, I don't generally write here about "worsts" or hymns I might consider "bad." Sure, there are texts and tunes I don't particularly like, but I think it's better to focus on the good hymns (or at least, on the interesting ones). Everyone has favorites, and there's little point in stepping on them.

Thanks to the blog One Eternal Day (blog title also taken from a hymn) for pointing me to these posts at First Things.

One Year Ago: Thomas Kelly

Sunday, July 11, 2010

One Shepherd and One Fold

Another theme to explore over the next few months is unity and the hymns that have been written about it. The very early Christian church seemed to be one body, though they had their disagreements. Jesus prayed in John 17: 20-21: I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. Many of the letters to the early churches have to do with their living together as one community.

Over time, disagreements would lead to the splintering of one church into many: dozens, hundreds and then thousands of different denominations. This isn't going to go away any time soon; if anything, I believe that the various ecumenical movements that were active thirty or forty years ago never achieved much and most churches are farther apart than ever, divided by differing beliefs and practices both large and small.

In spite of all this, there is a strain of thought that believes that the things that unite us are (or ideally should be) stronger than the things that divide us. It may be, though, that unity remains a far-off goal for which we strive, though it will only be achieved in the life to come.

This hymn by Jane Laurie Borthwick appeared in her collection Thoughts for Thoughtful Hours (1857) where it was titled Anticipations. The first line was originally And is the time approaching, but as we have seen, hymnal editors generally prefer statements to questions. In some hymnals, the line was even changed to Hasten the time appointed.

Now is the time approaching,
By prophets long foretold
When all shall dwell together,
One Shepherd and one fold.
Let all that now divides us
Remove and pass away,
Like shadows of the morning
Before the blaze of day.

Let all that now unites us
More sweet and lasting prove
A closer bond of union,
In a blest land of love.
Let war be learned no longer,
Let strife and tumult cease,
All earth one wide dominion,
The promised reign of Peace.

O long expected dawning,
Come with thy cheering ray!
When shall the morning brighten,
The shadows flee away?
O sweet anticipation!
It cheers the watchers on
To pray, and hope, and labor,
Till every strife be gone.

Jane L. Borthwick, 1857; alt.
George J. Webb, 1837

Borthwick's original text was in four stanzas, but only these three are generally used today, this first stanza being a combination of her first two. The original first stanza ended with these four lines instead of the current four (which were originally the first four of the second stanza):

Let every idol perish,
To moles and bats be thrown
And every prayer be offered
To God in Christ alone.

No more moles and bats.

This popular tune by George Webb was originally written for a secular song but has been used for many different hymn texts over the years. Though Webb supposedly wrote several more hymn tunes, they are unknown today (and not even particularly easy to find in older hymnals, unlike many other "forgotten" tunes).

One Year Ago: John Quincy Adams

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Charles A. Tindley

Composer, hymnwriter, and pastor Charles Albert Tindley was born in Berlin, Maryland in 1851, the child of a slave father. He taught himself to read and write, finally as a young adult attending night school while working as a janitor. One of his janitor positions was at the Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia; at the same time he was taking correspondence courses in Hebrew, Greek, and theology from Boston University.

After receiving his degree and becoming ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church, he became an itinerant preacher, serving in several locations and then for three years as a district elder in Wilmington, Delaware. In 1902 he returned to Calvary Methodist in Philadelphia as its pastor. It was a small church at the time, but his dynamic preaching. commitment to music as well as to humanitarian ideals helped the church to grow. More than twenty years later they built a new church and named it the Tindley Temple Methodist Church, reportedly over his objections.

He published forty-seven gospel songs in his lifetime, many in a collection called New Songs of Paradise (1916), and all of which were more recently collected in the book Beams of Heaven (2006). One of his lesser-known songs, I'll Overcome Some Day, is considered by some to be the basis, or at least some part of the inspiration for the civil rights anthem We shall overcome.

This song by Tindley is remembered and sung today, and still appears in some newer hymnals.

When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the world is tossing me
Like a ship upon the sea
Thou who rulest wind and water,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the hosts of hell assail,
And my strength begins to fail,
Thou who never lost a battle,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When I do the best I can,
And my friends misunderstand,
Thou who knowest all about me,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When my foes in battle array
Undertake to stop my way,
Thou who savèd Paul and Silas,
Stand by me (stand by me).

When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When my life becomes a burden,
And I’m nearing chilly Jordan,
O thou Lily of the Valley,
Stand by me (stand by me).

Charles A. Tindley, 1905
STAND BY ME (Irregular)

At the time of Tindley's death in 1933, his church had grown into a multi-racial congregation of over 12,000 menbers. It was a large church, but not a wealthy one, and at the height of the Depression a headstone for their pastor was not a priority. In 1999 a coalition of Methodist pastors in Phildelphia began to raise money for a memorial. Three years later on September 14th, a service of remembrance was celebrated at the Tindley Temple, including several of his songs and his favorite readings. Following the service, the assembly moved to the cemetery in Collingdale, about ten miles away, where a large stone marker for Tindley was finally unveiled.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Thou Star-Abiding One

Another Fourth of July is here, and I have to say that I have not yet resolved my thoughts and feelings about nationalistic hymns in church, though they may appear in many hymnals and may be sung in many places (this morning we closed with America the beautiful). I always wonder about the context - what exactly is it we are singing about and why exactly are we singing it here?

The Reverend Elizabeth Kaeton, an Episcopal priest in Chatham, NJ and a wonderful writer with a blog of her own, has developed a Service of Lessons and Hymns for Independence Day which provides a good context, I think. I encourage you to take a few minutes and read through the service, even if you come to it tomorrow or later in the week.

One of her national hymns for the day is probably not one I would have considered, but it's a good one to remember that this land was here long before July 4, 1776, and long before it was "settled" by people who had to sail a long way to get here.

Many and great, O God, are thy things,
Maker of earth and sky;
Thy hands have set the heavens with stars;
Thy fingers spread the mountains and plains.
Lo, at thy Word the waters were formed;
Deep seas obey thy voice.

Grant unto us communion with thee,
Thou star-abiding One,
Come unto us and dwell with us;
With thee are found the gifts of life,
Bless us with life that has no end,
Eternal life with thee.

Joseph R. Renville, 1842
tr. Philip Frazier, 20th cent.
LAC QUI PARLE (Irregular)
Native American tune
adapt. Joseph Renville ?, 1842

This hymn comes to us from the Native American Dakota tradition, probably the one most widely known today, finally appearing in several hymnals of the last 25 years. Joseph Renville's mother was Dakota and his father a French Canadian fur trader. He helped to found a mission to the Dakota people in Minnesota on the shores of Lac qui Parle, and translated Christian texts into the Dakota language. The mission is maintained today as a historical site; the church pictured above was rebuilt in the twentieth century after the original was destroyed by fire in 1854.

Renville published the first Dakota hymnal, Dakota dowanpi kin in 1842, which included this text. Scholarship seems to disagree about whether the tune was adapted from a native melody or whether it was written new, in a similar style. You can read much more about the hymn in a 2007 article by hymnologist Dr. C. Michael Hawn.