Hymn Reflection: All Creatures of our God and King

Church Music in America is seemingly “torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool.” That is to say, we are experiencing a period of transition stylistically, theologically, and musically as well as lyrically. There appears to be a groundswell of desire to return to the time honored-hymn form…a new renaissance, as Robert Webber put it, of the “ancient-future” in which many musicians, composers, and lyricists are returning to texts and tunes that have stood the test of time as the basis for new compositions. We need look no further than Keith and Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend, Sovereign Grace Music, Indelible Grace, David Crowder, even the popular groups coming out of the Passion movement, Bethel, and yes, even Hillsong has tipped their caps to the sound of songs from years gone by.

Such is the case with the hymn-subject of this entry, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” and its well-known tune, LASST UNS ERFREUEN. As recently as November of 2017, Sovereign Grace Music did a new arrangement of “All Creatures. CCLI claims no less than 185 different entries in their catalog of songs either quote, mention, borrow from, or add choruses or other pieces to the original hymn. “All Creatures” is found in over 200 hymnals, and the LASST UNS ERFREUEN tune is found in excess of 300 hymnals as well.

ABOUT THE WRITERS

091e7-1bhsovazwr9qfkkpytsqwywSt. Francis of Assisi (ca. 1182–1226) lived during the time of the Crusades, when the upper class and elite ruled the land and when armored knights rode chivalrously on their horses across the European countryside. But not Francis. A monk in search of reform, Francis lived a humble, simple lifestyle in service to God and to his fellow man. He is said to have loved nature, travel, and would preach to anyone who’d listen, even if it was a group of birds in a cave. His love of nature and his love for the Creator of nature is what birthed his “Song of Brother Sun and All Creatures,” or “Cantico del frate sole.” It was one of several popular laude spirituale, or popular spiritual songs in Italian for use outside of the liturgical context.

Francis is believed to have written this poem near the end of his earthly life, during a period of tremendous pain and suffering. And among its more salient details are the tone with which Francis writes, a tone that expresses a desire for man and nature to be one, a love of the earth and all God’s creatures in it, a voice way ahead of its time and well before any hint of a movement toward a cultural and ecological revolution like America saw in the 1960’s.

Dr. J.R. Watson, British hymnologist observes: “In the original the saint gives each element, such as fire and water, a human gender, so that they become ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’ This remains in the appellation of ‘Dear mother earth’ in verse 4, and is suggested by the personification of death as ‘kind and gentle’ in verse 6. These elements in the hymn make it seem tender as well as grand. It is based in part upon Psalm 148.”

In most English Versions, freely translated by William Henry Draper, we find either four or five verses. William Henry Draper (1855–1933) was born at Kenilworth, GB and educated at Oxford for both undergraduate and graduate degrees. He was ordained in 1880 to serve the Anglican church at St. Mary’s in Shrewsbury, as well as in Alfreton, and Leeds.

Draper is credited as the paraphraser or free translator of this text attributed to St. Francis.

He is also given credit for twelve to fifteen other hymns, the most popular being “In our day of Thanksgiving, one psalm let us offer.” Julian offers that Draper had some sixty hymns to his credit in 1907 and gave Draper high praise for his verse. Draper composed his translation/paraphrase for the occasion of a children’s celebration of Whitsuntide at Leeds between 1906 and 1919. It was published in the Public School Hymnbook of 1919, and Draper couldn’t remember the exact date of his composition. It was set to Ralph Vaughan Williams tune, LASST UNS ERFRUEN, a staple tune of British hymnody, in this publication, though it is believed to have been sung and known prior to the 1919 book.

THE TUNE

0b64d-1mvbtilff8i3icrjzubtkjgThe tune, LASST UNS ERFREUEN, is most often set by Ralph Vaughan Williams, who originally included it when he compiled and edited The English Hymnal in 1906. The title is derived from the Eastertide text, Lasst uns erfreuen herzlich sehr, from the 1623 Jesuit hymnal collection titled Ausserlesene Catlwlische Geistliche Kirchengesänge. Other texts often associated with this tune include “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” “From All That Dwell Below The Skies,” “Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones,” “Now All The Vault Of Heaven Resounds,” and “Give To Our God Immortal Praise.” There are numerous arrangements and opportunities for variation in texture, voicing, call and response, or many other creative options. Erik Routley once suggested this hymn to be a part of a broader family of tunes based on the major triad, including MIT FREUDEN ZART.

THE TEXT

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All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing:
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
thou silver moon with softer gleam,

[Refrain]
O praise him, O praise him,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
ye clouds that sail in heaven along,
O praise him, Alleluia!
Thou rising morn in praise rejoice,
ye lights of evening, find a voice:
[Refrain]

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
make music for thy Lord to hear,
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright
that givest us both warmth and light,
[Refrain]

All ye who are of tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part,
sing his praises, Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
praise God and on him cast your care,
[Refrain]

Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship him in humbleness,
O praise him, Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son
and praise the Spirit, Three in One,
[Refrain]

In each stanza, the author personifies an aspect of nature as brother and sister humankind. In the opening stanza, he calls all creatures in praise to God . . . echoes of Psalm 8, Psalm 19 reminiscent in the back of our minds. Each stanza ends with a Trinitarian “alleluia,” beginning with a two-part opening chorus motif calling us to “praise him,” and concluding with the tripartite “alleluia.” Some translations have translated the refrain as “Praise God” in an effort to make the language more gender-neutral. Others have removed the language considered to be archaic, “thees” and “thous” with we, you, and other modern pronouns.

Stanza two speaks of the winds, clouds, moon, evening lights, and skies, all in praise of the Creator.

Stanza three speaks of the flowing water, which brings cleansing and healing, that clear water . . . double-entendre perhaps, speaking of Christ as living water and the water that flows from the throne as referenced in the Old Testament narrative. It also speaks of fire in contrast to water.

Stanza four breaks from this pattern of Creator-Creation praise to focus on the act of forgiveness on the part of humans, created in the image of the Creator and created to offer forgiveness to one another. God as forgiver, Christ as sacrifice and bearer of our sin, shame, and care. Echoes of Christ bearing our burden as he shares in Matthew 11 immediately come to mind. Once again, the stanza ends in a closing Trinitarian refrain.

Stanza five could be considered a corollary to stanza one, once again calling all of creation to bless their creator-God. This time, the Creator is praised as the holy Three-in-One, Father, Spirit, and Son. The author calls all creation to praise the Creator, to praise the Father, the Son, and Spirit, Three-in-one. And as each stanza that preceded it, stanza five concludes with the Trinitarian refrain.

A CLOSING WORD…

Having grown up in Churches of Christ, I can safely say that we did not sing, talk about, make mention of, or give credence to the Trinity as I grew up, and really, even still today. Sure, we believed in Father, Son, and Spirit. But the word “Trinity” is not found in Scripture and being a people who believed themselves to be students of the word and people of reason, we didn’t acknowledge that word. To take it one step further, we all but edited the Trinity and hymns written purposefully to be Trinitarian in their construct out of our hymnals altogether. As a result, I didn’t sing this and numerous other hymns referencing the Trinity. Only now are some of our churches beginning to recover original language and original verses that have long been omitted from our hymnals to recover the original intent and composition as intended by the author. I hope that ours and many other churches that do not know this hymn that spans some 400+ years at the very least will recover it and begin to include it in their hymnody once again. The theology and heritage are incredibly rich and worthy of regular inclusion in our congregational worship practice.

References
http://www.hymnology.co.uk/a/all-creatures-of-our-god-and-king.
Hymns and History, F.M. McCann, ACU Press, 1997.
Psalter Hymnal Handbook, E. Brink, B. Polman, Faith Alive: 1998.
https://hymnary.org/text/all_creatures_of_our_god_and_king
https://hymnary.org/tune/lasst_uns_erfreuen

Shaped Notes and Widescreens

college-photo_8440Last Thursday, I was blessed to be invited to present a lecture presentation sponsored by Abilene Christian University’s Charis Foundation (www.char.is). This lecture focuses on just a smidge, an introduction, a snippet of my research into the hymnody, worship, and congregational song of Churches of Christ and in the Restoration Movement.

This presentation begins to pick up the timeline of our hymnological history over the last 30-50 years. It was impossible to say as much as I’d wanted to during this presentation…I was cutting things right and left, before and during the presentation because of my inability to keep good time (ironic, given that I’m a conductor… 🙂 ). So, I hope to follow this up with some blog posts and maybe some other exciting things I’ll share with you in the coming days that may be an extension of this blog. We’ll see…

I make reference also to some very preliminary survey numbers in this presentation 3ea7bf8where I’ve been able to survey almost 3,800 congregations of all flavors, shapes, and sizes. I hope to talk more about this and expand this in coming months as well. If for some reason, you or your church wasn’t a part of those but you’d like to be, please let me know!

Anyway, I’d love to dialogue with you about this presentation. Please leave a comment…email me using the link above on the menu. This is living, breathing, ongoing and expanding research. You can be a part of that.

Here’s that video for your enjoyment…or for your assistance in sleeping.

D.J. Bulls from AdamsCenter 4 Teaching&Learning on Vimeo.

 

Worship & Spiritual Maturity

mr-bean_
Last week, I presented a session at ACU on Worship & Spiritual Maturity called “I Shall Not Be Moved…”
There’s so much important material on this subject…the importance of participation as it relates to spiritual formation & maturity…how singing shapes and forms us not only spiritually, but physically…the witness of that singing to the world.  Maybe I’ll have more on this later, but just to tease those who will actually read this, here’s a critical reminder: only when we fully invest in worship as participants/performers, can we expect to fully mature and be formed in worship. (Maybe that’s why we have so much immaturity in the Church? Folks just come hoping to get something out of it or check their religious box instead of giving heart, soul, mind and strength back to God?)
Here are a few excerpts…maybe more to come.
We are commanded to sing…it’s not a suggestion. No, God Doesn’t care about whether or not your tenor is perfect or if you know the alto line or not…or really whether or not you can match pitch. But he wants to know your heart wants to praise him. People are watching you when you worship or when you don’t. #dontbeaspectator #getinvolved
Far too often, we’ve bred a culture of worshippers who view worship as a spectator sport; and that’s an unfortunate comparison, because we’ve seen them “spectate” at their favorite sports team games and they’re far more into that game than they are into the “game,” (if you’ll allow the metaphor) of worship. It’s time for us to remember we’re not called to be worship spectators. God is the spectator…the audience. We are the performers, seeking to honor and offer something to God-the ultimate audience. #DontBeASpectator #getinvolved #worshipquips

Build Your Kingdom Here

I posted a few days ago about the theology of the songs we sing about Heaven…I also talk about the upward trend we’re seeing in worship music to include a broader, kingdom theme.  One  of those groups that are giving voice to kingdom songs are the great Northern Irish “family” band called Rend Collective Experiment.

One of the many songs that the church around the world has taken into its musical vocabulary from Rend is their wonderful modern hymn “Build Your Kingdom Here.”  I was swapping messages with another US church leader just this morning about this wonderful song and how its such a dichotomy from the old heaven tunes…with their poor theology of Kingdom & Heaven…This songs empowers the church to realize God has placed us in an incredible position to be his ambassadors…”his hope…” on the front lines of his kingdom building, making life on earth as it is in heaven.  I hope this song blesses you as much as it’s blessed me and the churches I’ve served over the last few years.

Build Your Kingdom Here
Rend Collective Experiment, © 2011 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Come set Your rule and reign
In our hearts again
Increase in us we pray
Unveil why we’re made
Come set our hearts ablaze with hope
Like wildfire in our very souls
Holy Spirit come invade us now
We are Your Church
And we need Your power
In us

We seek Your kingdom first
We hunger and we thirst
Refuse to waste our lives
For You’re our joy and prize
To see the captive hearts released
The hurt, the sick, the poor at peace
We lay down our lives for Heaven’s cause
We are Your church
And we pray revive
This earth (We’re prayin’ for revival)

Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray (Change the atmosphere)

Unleash Your kingdom’s power
Reaching the near and far
No force of hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
Awake the kingdom seed in us
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ
We are Your church
Oh, and we are the hope
On earth

Build Your Kingdom Here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray

“Law of Love and Gospel of Peace”

Last Christmas, I wrote this post amidst a sea of unrest, politically and otherwise.  In light of recent tragic events, especially in Orlando, I’m reposting it here today.

There has been a lot of swirling conversation going on around me, both physically and virtually, about what has gone on in the world around us these last few weeks…Syria, San Bernardino, Jerry Falwell…and on and on.  It was so much that today, I’d had enough and I needed a moment to just sit, be, listen and be quiet…in the quiet, I was overcome by the lyrics of one of the world’s most beloved Christmas Carols…and I had to write a bit about it.  I’ll come back to the other verses and the backstory of this wonderful Adolphe Adam carol, Cantique de Noel, on another day.

[And I will return to my series of posts on “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” later this week.  But for a moment today, amidst the hatred, vitriolic speech, harsh judgment and language found in my Facebook feed and in other social and news media, I paused today just to breathe in and claim the lyrics of a Christmas Carol that so many love…but I’m afraid have sung too glibly over the years.]

The third verse of “Oh Holy Night” speaks of a world in which those who claim to follow Jesus are living out he calls all of his followers to in his subversive Gospel.

That Gospel is deeply rooted in Love of God and Love of Others…and so many claim the first part of that Call…the part about loving God.  But the back half…well, I’m afraid some have given Christ a bad name in how we’ve lived that out in recent days, weeks and months…that love of “others” is not one we can or should place provisions or privileges on…it’s an unconditional love for all of our brothers and sisters…Cantique-002

 

“Truly He taught us
to love one another;
His law is Love
and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break,
for the slave is our brother,
And in his name
all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy
in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise
his Holy name!”

 

Come, Lord Jesus!