I wrote a new post for Wineskins.org this week entitled “The Sacrament of Singing.”
I’d invite you not only to visit and read it, but keep up with the great things being done and written over at Wineskins.org.
Here’s another piece I wrote last year (or year before?) on a lyric that oft gets “sung over” without allowing the power to sink in. Think about it when you sing “O Holy Night” this year!
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 to 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 unconditional love for all of our brothers and sisters…
“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!
COME EMMANUEL #2, the second in a short series about the season of Advent, Christmas, and the powerful music we love to hear this time of year.
As the anticipation, the “Watching and waiting, looking above” continues, we move (backward) to the first verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Perhaps, this is the most poignant of this hymns litany of verses, with its begging and pleading for Messiah to come…little did they know just what that Messiah would look like.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
As I stated in last week’s blog, each verses gives us a glimpse into a different prophecy, a different Name identified in scripture. “Emmanuel” meaning “God is With Us” (or even better translated “God is With us Now”, we know well from the prophecy of Isaiah which is reiterated in Matthew & Luke’s account of the birth narrative. (Is. 7:14, Mt 1:23)
Musically speaking, this hymn…
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Each year, I share some posts I wrote a few years ago about some Christmas hymns. Here’s part one of that installment.
No sooner had the thanksgiving dressing been put away to become a late-afternoon football snack than the Christmas decor began to make its grand entrance from almost a years worth of being stored away!
Isn’t this story so true in many of our homes? Seems like some folks
have been ready to unleash Burl Ives, Ray Conniff, Mitch Miller and Jose Feliciano since mid-August…but alas, we can hold them off no longer. For the season of anticipating Christmas is finally here…the Advent of Christ is upon us according to the Christian Calendar.
Maybe it is the weather of the last few days (both at home and in Chicago), but I’ve been thinking about the lyrics of one of my favorite Christmas hymns which guides us through the advent story so well…and does so with such a potent lyrical connection for us today that I really can’t wait to start singing…
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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
St. 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, 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.
All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing:
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
thou silver moon with softer gleam,
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:
Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
make music for thy Lord to hear,
Thou fire so masterful and bright
that givest us both warmth and light,
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,
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,
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…
Hymns and History, F.M. McCann, ACU Press, 1997.
Psalter Hymnal Handbook, E. Brink, B. Polman, Faith Alive: 1998.