Sunday, July 29, 2012

Works of Love Surpassing Measure

Psalm 145 is one of the texts appointed for today in some lectionary cycles.  Today's psalm paraphrase, adapting the first ten verses,  is by Bishop Richard Mant of the Church of Ireland, published in his Book of Psalms in an English Metrical Version (1824).

God, my King, thy might confessing,
Ever will I bless thy name;
Day by day thy throne addressing,
Still will I thy praise proclaim.

They shall talk of all thy glory,
On thy might and greatness dwell,
Speak of thy dread acts the story,
And thy deeds of wonder tell.

Nor shall fail from memory’s treasure
Works by love and mercy wrought;
Works of love surpassing measure,
Works of mercy passing thought.

Full of kindness and compassion,
Slow to anger, vast in love,
God is good to all creation;
All thy works thy goodness prove.

All thy works, O God, shall bless thee;
Thee shall all thy saints adore:
King supreme shall they confess thee,
And proclaim thy sovereign pow'r.

Richard Mant, 1824; alt.
Christian F. Witt, 1715
adapt. Henry J. Gauntlett, 19th cent.

The shortened summer service at my church does not include the reading of a Psalm, but we are singing this today (and few will realize that it is from today's missing reading).

Four Years Ago: Martha and Mary

Two Years Ago: Lazarus, Martha, and Mary

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

John Newton

John Newton (July 24, 1725 - December 21, 1807) will always be best remembered for the hymn Amazing grace.  His well-known conversion experience as an adult would eventually lead him to an active role in the anti-slavery movement in Great Britain.  Fortunately, he did live to see the abolition of slavery there in 1807, months before his death.

Newton's many hymn texts were published together in his collected Olney Hymns (1779) but they had been written over several years, usually to accompany one of his sermons delivered as the rector of Olney parish. We can assume that today's text came from Newton's preaching on the first section of the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Judges, an episode in the life of Samson. 

I don't believe that most of the book of Judges appears in modern lectionary cycles, and you may understand why if you read all the way to the end of Chapter 14.  I remember hearing about Samson in Sunday school, and of course his later encounter with Delilah is more well-known.  This hymn, according to, only appeared in eight hymnals in the U.S., and none after the mid-nineteenth century. 

The lion that on Samson roared,
And thirsted for his blood;
With honey afterwards was stored,
And furnished him with food.

Believers, as they pace along,
With many lions meet;
But gather sweetness from the strong,
And from the eater, meat.

The lions rage and roar in vain,
For Jesus is their Shield;
Their losses prove a certain gain,
Their troubles comfort yield.

The lions roar but cannot kill,
Then fear them not, my friends;
They bring us, though against their will,
The honey Jesus sends.

John Newton, 1779
Scottish Psalter, 1615

It's unlikely that this will ever be revived, especially with no lectionary connection, but I thought it was interesting, and I do like hymns based on Bible stories.

Four Years Ago: John Newton

Three Years Ago: John Newton

Two Years Ago: John Newton

One Year Ago: John Newton

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Saint Mary Magdalene

I have written before about Mary Magdalene on the occasion of her feast day today (as usual, you can check the links below), and about the scholarly confusion that has ensued over the years over just which "Mary" we're reading about at various points in the Gospels.

Not everyone agrees that the woman in Luke 7:36-38 is Mary Magdalene, though she often has been depicted as that woman in art and literature, as well as in today's hymn.  However, I decided to use this hymn text because it does go on to recount her witness to Jesus' crucifixion (when most of the disciples were in hiding).  And then I couldn't resist an addition of my own: a stanza honoring her role as "apostle to the apostles" on Easter morning.  This is an ancient concept which seems to have been (mostly) forgotten for a few centuries but is more often recognized in modern hymnody about Mary Magdalene.

The original Latin text was written by Cardinal Bellamine, probably in the fourteenth century, and used as an office hymn for this day ever since.  It begins:

Pater superni luminis,
Cum Magdalenam respicis, 
Flammas amoris excitas, 
Geluque solvis pectoris.

The English translation, constructed in the same meter by Edward Caswall (whose birthday I missed last week) may have first appeared in Lyra Catholica (1851), a prominent book of ancient Latin texts translated into English.

Creator blest! one glance of thine,
Whose eyes the Universe control,
Fills Magdalene with holy love,
And melts the ice within her soul.

Her precious ointment forth she brings,
Upon Christ's sacred feet to pour;
She washes them with humble tears;
And with her hair she wipes them o'er.

Impassioned to the Cross she clings:
Nor fears beside the tomb to stay;
Nought for its ruffian guard she cares,
For love has cast all fear away.

The morning breaks: He calls her name,
The pow'rs of death could not prevail; 
She hastes to tell the fearful twelve,
First to proclaim the glorious tale.

O Christ, thou very Love itself!
Blest hope of earth, through thee forgiv'n!
So touch our spirits from above,
That we may rise to thee in heav'n.

Riccardo Bellarmine, ca. 14th cent.;
tr: Edward Caswall, 1851; alt. (st. 4 C.W.S.)
Tune: PIXHAM (L.M.)
Horatio W. Parker, 1901

If you don't think that the ancient office hymns should be disturbed, feel free to leave out the fourth stanza, but it seems to me that the Cardinal could have included the idea.  However, for many years the primary educational value of Mary Magdalene was considered to be the story of the reformation of a "fallen woman."

P.S. - The statue above is South German in origin, by an unknown fifteenth-century artist, and currently in the collection of The Cloisters, a renowned museum in New York City.  It caught my eye because one of the stained glass windows in my church (depicting the Presentation) is also from the fifteenth century and was supposedly loaned to and on display at The Cloisters for several years in the 1930s and/or 40s.

Four Years Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

Three Years Ago: Emily E. S. Elliott

Two Years Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

God Mend Thine Every Flaw

The debate over the use of patriotic songs in church (and then calling them "hymns") has probably been going on for a very long time, as part of a larger tension between the desires of and allegiances to the church and those of and to the state.  Even Jesus was sometimes seen in opposition to Caesar, and the Old Testament recounts various events where God and earthly rulers were not, shall we say, on the same page.

Whether or not you sang the following on Sunday, in recognition of Independence Day here in the US, there was likely some discussion about it, either among those planning the service, or later, among those who attended.  Maybe both,  I sometimes fear that this is becoming an American equivalent to the UK's Jerusalem, something used in a vaguely patriotic way without any deeper examination.  And yet, a closer reading of the full text (rarely sung outside of churches, where everyone has the words in their hymnals) suggests that it's really a sort of prayer -- not a blindly patriotic and jingoistic song.  The text really looks to the future, where things will, with God's help, be better than they are today.

So, I guess I am just running it up the flagpole to see who salutes.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain;
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion'd stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness
America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea.

Katharine Lee Bates, 1904
Tune: MATERNA (C.M.D.)
Samuel A. Ward, 1882

Katharine Lee Bates wrote the original version of this text in 1893, inspired by an excursion to the top of Pikes Peak, near Colorado Springs.  Originally titled America: A Poem for July 4, it was quite different from the text we know today.  She revised it extensively in 1904 and it soon began appearing in hymnals., coupled with a number of different tunes no one sings any more.  In 1910 it was first matched with the now-familiar MATERNA by Samuel Augustus Ward.  Ward's tune was originally written for the hymn O mother dear, Jerusalem, which is where the tune gets its name.

In 1880 Katharine Bates graduated from Wellesley College, then as now a college for women.  She returned to Wellesley as an instructor, then full professor, and then head of the English department.  She also had a long career as a writer of poetry, travel books and stories for children.  Bates lived for twenty-five years with Katharine Coman, who also taught at Wellesley (the first woman professor of statistics), and was later the dean.  Coman died of breast cancer in 1915, and Bates said of their relationship: So much of me died with Katharine Coman that I'm sometimes not quite sure whether I'm alive or not.  Seven years later she published Yellow Clover, a book of poetry "to or about my Friend."  

Bates is still remembered at Wellesley, as you can see from the college's homepage. Apparently they still sing America the beautiful at graduation, but with the line "and crown thy good with sisterhood."

Four Years Ago: God of creation, whose almighty hand

Two Years Ago: Many and great, O God

Sunday, July 1, 2012

For You Have Set Me Free

One of the readings for this particular Sunday from the Revised Common Lectionary (used in many churches across various denominations) is Psalm 30.  In some places, the psalms are sung in metrical paraphrases (what most people would consider hymns) rather than read or chanted.

The following paraphrase of Psalm 30 is from The Psalter (1912), a collection chosen and assembled by several different subdivisions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States and Canada, working together. 

God, I will praise your name,
For you have set me free,
Nor suffered foes to claim
A triumph over me;
O Lord, my God, to you I cried
And you have health and strength supplied.

You have my soul restored
When I was near the grave,
And from the depths, O Lord,
You graciously did save;
O blessed saints, sing to the Lord,
God's holiness with thanks record.

God's wrath is quickly past,
God's favor lives for aye;
Though grief a night may last,
Joy comes at break of day;
In my prosperity secure
I said, “My peace shall still endure.”

The Psalter, 1912; alt.
Tune: GOPSAL (H.M.)
George Frederick Handel, c. 1750

The tune GOPSAL was indeed written by Handel, and is apparently not an arrangement from one of his other works.  In 1826, the composer Samuel Wesley (son of Charles Wesley and father of Samuel Sebastian Wesley) was cataloguing the music in the library of the Fitzwiliam Museum at Cambridge, and he discovered three tunes by Handel still in manuscript, never published.  Samuel described them in a letter to his wife:

"...fine Hymn-Tunes from Handel's own manuscript, and what is uncommonly fortunate, they are all set to my father's own words, so that my dear father's poetry must have highly delighted Handel."

GOPSAL, originally called THE RESURRECTION, accompanied Charles Wesley's hymn Rejoice, the Lord is King, and is still sometimes sung with that text.  Its new(er) name comes from Gopsal Hall, the former residence of Charles Jennens, who wrote the texts for some of Handel's choral works, including Messiah.