There’s a Hymnbook in My Head

There is, indeed, a hymnbook in my head. It’s an odd, patchy old thing covered in bits of dark green and faded burgundy and a bright lapis-ish blue with purple around the edges.

It doesn’t get much use these days for I can usually summon the words and tunes I need on demand, rather like YouTube music videos. I’ve been thumbing through it for several days, now, searching for an Easter hymn that feels real in these days of Compassionate Distancing and lunatic autocrats. Days when I’m missing my girls hunting eggs. Days when something ancient, deep inside me, wants desperately to smear lamb’s blood on our door frame.

Last night — well, actually very early this morning — my hymn found me. Perhaps you know it too. It begins like this:

God of grace and God of glory,
on thy people pour thy power;
crown thine ancient church’s story;
bring her bud to glorious flower,
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour.

Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn the Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

The triumphant organ music is missing. Oh, I could summon it if I chose, but it doesn’t feel right, somehow. This year, my hymn is sung a’cappella, probably with the help of cell phones and some sort of mystical space/time editing I don’t need to figure out in order to hear the music in my heart. And the singing goes on:

Cure your children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to your control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal.

Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore;
let the gift of your salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving you whom we adore,
serving you whom we adore.

I’ve known this hymn for ages. I needed to know, in this moment, its writer and its context. Here’s what I learned…

Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote these words in 1930 for the dedication of the Riverside Church in New York City. In the middle of the Great Depression, between two World Wars, “Fosdick was a champion of the social gospel, a movement that recognized the plight of the poor, especially in the urban Northeast during the Industrial Revolution.”

In an article on the history of the hymn, a professor of sacred music named Dr. Hawn goes on to say that, “Under Fosdick’s leadership Riverside Church was interdenominational, interracial, without a creed, and, astonishingly for Baptists, required no specific mode of baptism. At the center of Fosdick’s ministry was urban social ministry.”

All of which sheds light on the reason that it is this hymn which found me now.

In this moment, I must close my hymnbook and go back to my homework, some of which includes a thing called Sacred Scribing. Ideally, I would have done it before, but it somehow seems appropriate to this day. Perhaps I’ll scribe “my” hymn.

First, though, the blessings of this season be with you and yours.

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May you know grace and glory, wisdom and courage, in your own way and may we, each of us who are paying attention, do what we can so that as many of us as humanly possible might be passed over.

Amen. Amen. Selah.

 

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Sue Boardman, Certified Intentional Creativity®
Color of Woman Teacher & Coach

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