Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thrice Happy Shall His Welcome Be

Happy New Year to the church!

We celebrate the First Sunday in Advent today, the beginning of the Christian church's liturgical year.  Though Christmas preparations have been going on in the secular world for weeks now, we are called to a different kind of preparation.

The readings for this day usually point us to the second coming of Christ, rather than the birth of the baby Jesus in the manger.  This second coming, or second Advent, will bring the reign of God to earth, where justice and equity will prevail.

Today's hymn is from a new discovery of mine, a collection of hymns called Advent Songs (1916) by Dr. Simon Nelson Patten.  Subtitled A Revision of Old Hymns to Meet Modern Needs, you can probably understand why it interests me.   Dr. Patten believed that the standard hymns of the church were too focused on the past, with language from European sources, talking about kings and lords and subjects and war, and did not represent the ideals of modern (early 20th century) Christianity.  He goes on in the introduction:

My main endeavor has been to avoid the expressions of war, depravity, and woe upon which the emotional value of earlier hymns depends. (...) At a recent baccalaureate service, the large audience, after listening to a convincing peace sermon, sang energetically, without a qualm of conscience, The Son of God goes forth to war. Our national and religious life must be reinterpreted...

Advent Songs includes several familiar hymns, such as A mighty fortress is our God and Love divine, all loves excelling, with Patten's reinterpretations, altering words and lines much as the hymns I have presented here for the last several years. He has also written  a number of original texts on subjects he considers important, such as womens' suffrage. His third category is somewhere in between: hymns with original texts but that are suggestive of other, familiar hymns.

Today's hymn is from that category.  Appropriate to the Advent season, it expresses our hopes for God's coming reign. I believe that it was also intended to remind its singers of an earlier hymn: O for a faith that will not shrink by William Hiley Bathurst (though in a different meter altogether).

O for a faith in boundless love
To open wide the realm above,
Where life is God and God is life,
Reviving souls cast down by strife.

O for a faith that growing youth
Shall keep the path of living truth,
Ours is the night, to them the day,
If now we show the onward way.

O for a faith that men are good
And, given strength, do what they should,
A growing faith that womankind
May equal man in skill and mind.

O for a faith that greed shall cease
And commerce follow ways of peace,
When neighbors fair with neighbors deal
And each regards the other's weal.

O for a faith in brotherhood
To batter down the walls that stood
Between the races of the past
Behind the feuds of clan and caste.

O for a faith that Christ may come
To end the work he has begun,
Thrice happy shall his welcome be
And great the joy of victory.

O God, give us a faith like this,
And help us feel the perfect bliss
That noble effort always brings
To those who hope for better things.

Simon N. Patten, 1916; alt.
Robert Schumann, 1839; adapt.

Patten was clearly influenced by the theology of the Social Gospel movement that was active in his times. His hymnwriting efforts may not have been as accomplished as those of Frank Mason North or Walter Russell Bowie, whose equivalent texts are still widely sung today, but this work was clearly important to him. 

In some ways he was probably ahead of his time. Today, his ideas about the language of hymns seem less radical, and revisions are more numerous.  In the 1970s, the Ecumenical Womens' Center took on the same concerns (with the addition of inclusive/expansive language), revising familiar hymns, writing new ones, and also writing texts that suggested or could be substituted for earlier ones, such as Ruth Duck's Lead on, O Cloud of Presence (for Lead on, O King eternal and Arise, your light is come (for Rise up, O men of God).  Television evangelist Robert Schuller and his wife Arvella Schuller rewrote many hymns that were sung at Schuller's Crystal Cathedral, incorporating some of the same concerns as Dr. Patten. And, of course, as explained here before, there were the efforts of the committee that produced worship resources for the Metropolitan Community Church, from which many of the hymns on this blog are taken.

So, another Advent.  As before, we will avoid the carols of the Christmas season until we actually get there (maybe it's time for another CWS Twelve Days of Christmas - go back and check out the entries here from December 25, 2009 - January 6, 2010).  There's an Advent introductory video on YouTube that says if you're too stressed about Christmas to appreciate it when it gets here, you probably didn't do Advent correctly.  We'll try to do it the right way here.

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Lo! Christ comes with clouds descending

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: 
Jesus came, adored by angels

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: 
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: 
The King shall come when morning dawns

Three (Liturgical) Years Ago: 
Once he came in blessing 

Two (Liturgical) Year Ago: In the Advent light, O Savior

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Hosanna! now through Advent

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Saint Cecilia

November 22 marks the commemoration of the patron saint of music, Saint Cecilia, in some places.  Her connection to music is perhaps a bit more tenuous than some of the legends which have sprung up around her would suggest, but it is that connection which is most remembered today.

Oh, let the organ swell the lay,
In honor of this festive day;
Let earth's harmonious choirs proclaim
Cecilia's ever-blessed name.

Rome gave the virgin martyr birth,
Whose holy skill has filled the earth,
And from the early dawn of youth,
She fixed herself on song and truth.

Then, from the world's bewild'ring strife,
In peace she spent her holy life,
Teaching the organ to combine
With voice, to praise the Lamb divine.

Cecilia, with a two-fold crown
Adorned in heav'n, we pray, look down,
Upon us exiled here below,
On earth your music here bestow.

Charles Constantine Pise, 1851; alt.
T. Tertius Noble, 1900

I believe the "two-fold crown" refers to her standing as both virgin and martyr.

The Reverend Charles Pise, an American, was ordained in the Roman Catholic Church in 1825 and served parishes in Washington DC and Brooklyn.  He was also the first Catholic chaplain of the US Senate who served for a term.  This hymn was first published when added to an American edition of Edward Caswall's Lyra Catholica in 1851.

P.S. One of the most unusual tributes to Cecilia was recorded by the Andrews Sisters during World War II: The Shrine of St. Cecilia, which can be heard on YouTube.

Seven Years Ago: If Jordan Above Me Shall Roll

Six Years Ago: Saint Cecilia

Five Years Ago: Successive Cecilias

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: The Feast of Christ the King

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: The Feast of Christ the King

Three (Liturgical) Years Ago: The Feast of Christ the King

Friday, November 20, 2015

Hymns In The News

Today we're not talking about a hymn connected to a single event but rather about a collection of hymns for multiple events.  The website Baptist News Global published an article today about a set of resources recently made available by the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada for times of crisis. 

Over the years, the Society has been contacted by people looking for suggestions of hymns that could be used either at times of national crisis or tragedy, or for a similar event in the life of an individual congregation.  While there are certainly many general hymns in our hymnals that can be used at such times, there has also been a need for texts that have been targeted for particular themes or events, perhaps in more contemporary language. Modern hymnwriters have also been writing on these topics, though their texts are usually considered too specific for inclusion in a denominational hymnal.

A task force from the Hymn Society has compiled a collection of these hymns on several themes and worked with the authors to make the hymns accessible, resolving copyright issues in a simple way.  They will be adding to the collection so that it will be an ongoing resource.

The Baptist News Global article can be seen here, and the Hymn Society collection is here.

P.S. I'm pretty sure that I am somewhere in that photograph at the top of the article, taken during a hymn festival at the Hymn Society's annual conference in 2009 at St. Olaf College, but no one has found me yet.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

R. Kelso Carter

Today is the birthday of Russell Kelso Carter, born in Baltimore in 1849 into a Presbyterian family. As a young man he briefly pursued a military career.  In the 1870s he began to experience various health problems, which led him to investigate faith healing and eventually to join the Methodists, which seemed to him to provide a closer relationship with God. He was active in the Methodist Holiness movement and wrote Miracles of Healing in 1880. 

During this time he was also writing texts and tunes for gospel songs, either by himself or in collaboration with other writers and composers.  He later co-edited two song books, Songs of Perfect Love (1886) with John R. Sweney and Hymns of the Christian Life (1891) with A. B. Simpson.  He also edited a magazine called The Kingdom for a time.

Today's hymn comes from his second collection, a Carter tune with a text by Simpson.

The mercy of God is an ocean divine,
A boundless and fathomless flood.
Launch out in the deep, cut away the shore line,
And be lost in the fullness of God.

Launch out, into the deep.
Oh let the shore line go.
Launch out, launch out in the ocean divine,
Out where the full tides flow.

But many, alas! only stand on the shore,
And gaze on the ocean so wide.
They never have ventured its depths to explore,
Or to launch on the fathomless tide.

Oh, let us launch out on this ocean so broad,
Where floods of salvation o’erflow.
Oh, let us be lost in the mercy of God,
Till the depths of God's fullness we know.

A. B. Simpson, 1891; alt.
Tune: OCEAN DIVINE ( with refrain)
R. Kelso Carter, 1891

In 1892 Carter moved to the West Coast, leaving his family behind.  When he divorced his wife (and remarried in 1895) he was met with widespread disapproval, which may have been the reason why he left the church, and his faith healing beliefs, for a time and studied to become a physician.  In later years he reached a middle point and conceded that both faith and science had a role in the healing process. He eventually returned to Baltimore and died there in 1928.

More recently, the tune for Carter's most well-known song (at the link below) has gained a new text by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, titled Blessed are the poor among you.

Five Years Ago: R. Kelso Carter

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Love Is Our Refuge

Last weekend I attended a hymn festival in Boston presented by the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, an organization that you should all join which is dedicated to "promoting, enlivening, and encouraging congregational song."  The Society is now holding these events in various parts of the country in addition to their annual conference, and if there's one nearby you should definitely take the opportunity to go.  More will be announced for 2016, I'm sure.

The theme of this particular festival was the celebration of hymn writers and composers from the Boston area, both historical and contemporary.  Many of the hymns were familiar, and we had a chance to learn more about the backgrounds of each one.  The hymn below was not one I had seen before, by Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science church. In that denomination it is known as the "Mother's Evening Prayer." It has mostly only been published in Christian Science hymnals, but I see nothing in it that would prevent it from being sung elsewhere, even though it avoids the "Lord and King" language for Jesus in favor of other more peaceful names.  The closing line is derived from Matthew 28, Jesus' commissioning of the disciples following the resurrection.

O Gentle Presence, peace and joy and pow'r,
O Life divine, that owns each waiting hour,
Thou Love that guards the nestling's falt'ring flight,
Keep thou thy child on upward wing tonight.

Love is our refuge, only with thine eye
Can I behold the snare, the pit, the fall;
Thy habitation high is here, and nigh,
Thine arm encircles me, and mine, and all.

Beneath the shadow of thy mighty wing,
In that sweet secret of the narrow way,
Seeking and finding, with the angels sing:
"Lo, I am with you always, watch and pray."

Mary Baker Eddy, 1896; alt.
Frederick C. Atkinson, 1870

In light of this week's events, a hymn about peace and love that encircles us all seems very appropriate (please remember that there were also bombings in Beirut the day before the Paris attacks, as indeed there are every week in other parts of the world).

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Anne Steele

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1778 of Anne Steele, the first female hymnwriter in England who produced a substantial number of texts, though many of them were not published until nearly a century after her death. Daughter of a Baptist minister, Steele was born on an unrecorded date in 1716 in the town of Broughton in Hampshire, where she lived her whole life.  The hymns and poems that were published in her lifetime were credited to her pseudonym of "Theodosia."

The image here is from the title page of a book published in Boston in 1908, but it is incorrect in at least two ways: Steele never married, and thus was never "Mrs." and these two volumes did not include her "complete works," which were not actually compiled and published until 1863.

Today's hymn appears to be one of those that was published later.  Though the Wikipedia entry linked above claims that her hymns "emphasize the less optimistic phases of Christian experience" I find that this one, while acknowledging earthly troubles, still tells of the hope and trust found in God (also, I don't find the other hymns of hers we have seen here in the past -- see the links below -- to be "less optimistic" either).

Almighty Refuge of my soul,
On thee when sorrows rise,
On thee, when waves of trouble roll
My weary hope revives.

While hope revives, though pressed with fears,
And I can say "My God,"
Before thy throne I spread my cares
And pour my woes abroad.

To thee I tell each rising grief,
For thou alone canst heal;
Thy word can bring a sweet relief
For every pain I feel.

But oh, when gloomy doubts prevail,
I fear to call thee mine;
The springs of comfort seem to fail,
And all my hopes decline.

Yet, gracious God, where can I flee?
Thou art my only trust;
And still my soul would cling to thee,
Though prostrate in the dust.

Thy mercy-seat is open still;
Here let my soul retreat,
With humble hope attend thy will,
Expectant at thy feet.

Anne Steele,  18th cent.; alt.
John Playford, 1671

Steele may well have known Playford's tune, which was published in his collection Psalms and Hymns a century earlier than her hymns were written, but of course we can't know whether she thought of matching this text to that tune. 

Seven Years Ago:  Anne Steele

Five Years Ago:  Anne Steele

Three Years Ago: Anne Steele

P.S. Steele's hymn from 2008 can now be seen and downloaded at my Facebook page (Conjubilant W. Song).  "Follow" that page for continuing updates.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

William Cullen Bryant

American poet William Cullen Bryant was born today in 1794, in Massachusetts.  His boyhood home, where he also spent summers later in life, is now a historic site.  After a brief period as a lawyer in the western part of the state he moved to New York City to pursue a literary career.

For many years in the mid-nineteenth century he was the editor in chief of the New York Post, when it was known as the New York Evening Post and had a much different reputation than it enjoys nowadays.

In his day he was considered one of the most prominent American poets, though more people probably knew his name than actually read his poetry. He also wrote several hymns, most of which were privately published in 1869.

Bryant was a political activist on several topics, and the Evening Post gave him an excellent platform for disseminating his opinions.  He was against slavery, a supporter of organized labor and other human rights.  He was also one of the founders of the Republican Party in the 1850s, and introduced Abraham Lincoln to New York at Lincoln's famous Cooper Union speech in 1860.

Another cause which he apparently supported was the temperance movement, which campaigned for the abolition of alcoholic beverages.  The following hymn, which appeared in several hymnals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, begins as another saints' day hymn about the imprisonment of Peter (from Acts 12), then develops into a strong denunciation of the perils of drink, which can be overcome by the power of God.

When, doomed to death, th'Apostle lay
At night in Herod's dungeon cell,
A light shone round him like the day,
And from his limbs the fetters fell.

A messenger from God was there,
To break his chain and bid him rise;
And lo! the saint, as free as air,
Walked forth beneath the open skies.

Chains yet more strong and cruel bind
The victim of that deadly thirst
Which drowns the soul, and from the mind
Blots the bright image stamped at first.

O God of love and mercy, deign
To look on those with pitying eye
Who struggle with that fatal chain,
And send them succor from on high!

Send down, in its resistless might,
Thy gracious Spirit, we implore,
And lead the captive forth to light,
A rescued soul, a slave no more!

William Cullen Bryant, 19th cent.
Tune: BRESLAU (L.M.)
As Hymnodus Sacer (Germany), 1625

This hymn was not confined to the separate temperance songbooks used by many local and national groups such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union, but also appeared in the denominational hymnals of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1878), the Protestant Episcopal Church (1892) and the United Evangelical Church (1897).

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Feast of All Saints

The Feast of All Saints falls on a Sunday this year, and will be celebrated across many denominations as a time for reflecting on those saints who came before us, the ones we know and the ones we don't, the ones that shape our lives today and the ones yet to come.  In addition to many rousing hymns (see the links below for a start), the liturgy also often includes a spoken or sung litany of the saints, either traditional or contemporary.  Also, if so inclined, you can take an online quiz to find out which saint would like to be your friend.

We continue today, as we have throughout this year, with an updated version of this hymn by Horatio Bolton Nelson, which includes a middle stanza on the saint(s) we commemorate each feast day.

By all your saints still striving,
For all your saints at rest,
Your holy name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
We sing our praise anew
And, walking in their footsteps,
Would live our lives for you.

Apostles, prophets, martyrs,
And all the sacred throng,
Those named and those unnumbered,
Who raise the ceaseless song;
All these, passed on before us,
O Christ, we now adore,
And, walking in their footsteps,
Would serve you more and more.

We pray for saints we know not,
For saints still yet to be,
For grace to bear true witness
And serve you faithfully,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all power and glory
And praise to God alone. 

Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt.
Henry T. Smart, 1835

Prolific Victorian composer Henry Smart had a birthday last week, on October 26.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Saint Simon and Saint Jude

Today we mark the shared feast-day of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, the tenth and eleventh of Jesus' disciples listed in scripture. Tradition holds that they traveled together as evangelists to the Middle East, where they were martyred.

By all your saints still striving,
For all your saints at rest,
Your holy name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
We sing our praise anew
And, walking in their footsteps,
Would live our lives for you.

We praise these two apostles,
Who sealed their faith today;
One love, one zeal compelled them 
To tread your sacred way;
May we, with zeal as earnest
The faith of Christ maintain,
And, bound in love as kindred,
At length your rest attain.  

We pray for saints we know not,
For saints still yet to be,
For grace to bear true witness
And serve you faithfully,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all power and glory
And praise to God alone.

Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt.

English traditional melody; arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

Seven Years Ago: Thou who sentest thine apostles

Six Years Ago: Let the church of God rejoice

Five Years Ago: When thou, O Christ, didst send the Twelve

Three Years Ago: Blessed feasts of blessed martyrs

P.S. One of these hymns, Let the church of God rejoice, is now available on Facebook (at "Conjubilant W. Song") for you to share.  It's appropriate for other saints' days as well, with a tune that deserves to be better-known.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Floods Stood Upright

Last night I had the opportunity to hear a live performance of one of my very favorite choral works, Handel's Israel in Egypt (1739).  The words of the oratorio are taken from the Book of Exodus, telling the story of the Israelites held in slavery in Egypt and their eventual deliverance, set to a brilliant score by Handel. 

Just about the only drawback to the performance was that several of the choruses were omitted, for whatever reason.  I missed them!  One of them is presented here, from Part Two - the words from Exodus 15:8, referring to the parting of the Red Sea.

And with the blast of thy nostrils, the waters were gathered together.
The floods stood upright as an heap.
The depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.

Each of these three sentences is set to a unique musical phrase, and in true Handelian fashion, they are then played off against one another, cavorting and merging and overlapping.

If you don't know Israel in Egypt, you should!  The rest of it can be found on YouTube as well.