Friday, August 29, 2008

My Favorite Hymns: Beginning in the Middle of the List

This part covers the tenth to the seventh on the list of my favorite hymns.

Some may wonder why I am writing this. I've wondered that myself. The hymns are a large part of the spiritual journey of my life. I want to document this part and move on. The order may change. I may learn a new hymn and have it move upward on my list. Ten years ago, "Give Thanks" or "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love" wouldn't have been on the list because I hadn't heard or noticed them. Things change. Life changes. Overall, though, this list hasn't changed a lot --new additions, maybe-- old favorites stay.

10. Blest Be the Tie That Binds:
I wrote about what this hymn means to me and to the life of the church in the blog on Rogers Heights, so I won’t repeat what I said.
Words: John Fawcett
Music: Arr. from Hans G. Naegeli by Lowell Mason

9. Morning Has Broken:
Cat Stevens first introduced me to the lovely hymn, “Morning Has Broken.” Every day is “... like the first morning.... God’s re-creation of the new day.” There is perhaps in me a remnant of the American Indian custom of greeting the dawn with prayer. This song – and to a lesser extent, “When Morning Gilds the Skies,” -- are prayers of praise and thanksgiving for each new day. It is good to remember Who gives them to us.
Words: Eleanor Farjeon
Music: Gaelic Melody: Bunessan, arr. by David Evans

8. Give Thanks; We Gather Together; Let All Things Now Living; Come, Ye Thankful People, Come; O, Be Joyful in the Lord:
This is more of a category than a single selection. I never said I was limited to individual songs either. This group of hymns is about thankfulness. I’ve preferred Thanksgiving to Christmas for a long time. There are no great expectations for Thanksgiving to live up to, just a peaceful time to count our blessings.

“Give Thanks” is my favorite among the new music. It is a simple song, but so moving.
Words and music: Harry Smith

“We Gather Together” is not strictly a song of thanksgiving, but I have always grouped it with the hymns of thankfulness. The last line of the first verse “He forgets not his own” is the promise that we will never be lost to God. The last line of the third verse, “Oh, Lord, make us free.” Our freedom comes from the Lord, let us never forget.
Words: Anonymous, Tr. by Theodore Banker
Music: Netherlands folk song, Arr. by Edward Kremser

“Let All Things Now Living” is also based on a traditional folk melody, Welsh, this time. “His banner is o'er us, his light goes before us,.... As forward we travel from light into light.” We have much to be thankful for.
Words: Katherine K. Davis
Music: The Ash Grove, a traditional Welsh melody.

“Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” exudes the joy of the harvest safely gathered. Those of us raised in cities can feel only a pale echo of the relief when the crop is stored and the coming winter provided for, but in my own life, I can remember a few times of feeling -- for a short while -- that everything was well. That condition never lasted for long, but then, it didn’t for the farmers either. Meanwhile, it is a wonderful feeling.
Words: Henry Alford
Music: Charles J. Elvey

Finally, “Oh Be Joyful in the Lord” from Psalm 100. I haven’t been able to find a source for this. Apparently Psalm 100 has been set to music several times. I learned it from sheet music; I think it is not a hymn, per se, but an anthem. I’ve searched my sheet music and can’t find it, so it may have been lost with so much else along the way. The words are an adaptation of the psalm. The version I like may be by Handel.

It is a song of praise and thanksgiving, of taking joy in the Lord.

7. Joy to the World:
This is a traditional Christmas song, but I remember once at summer camp, the leader suggested that we sing it. I realized then that “Joy to the World” is a universal hymn not just a Christmas one. On the other hand, in two Christmas plays I’ve directed, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson and a “Wondrous Event” by yours truly, we ended by singing “Joy to the World.” I told the children that I didn’t care if they sang the right pitch, I didn’t care if they were together, I wanted to hear a shout of “Joy.” And I did.
Words: Isaac Watts
Music: George R. Handel

On that note, I’ll leave you for today. To be continued tomorrow:

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