Sunday, February 05, 2017

One other thing

One the hymns we sang today was "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind," by John Greenleaf Whittier:

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways!
Re-clothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence, praise;
in deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard,
beside the Syrian sea,
the gracious calling of the Lord,
let us, like them, without a word,
rise up and follow thee;
rise up and follow thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity
interpreted by love!
interpreted by love!

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace;
the beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm;
O still, small voice of calm. 

We only sang the first two verses but I've always liked the full poem (and yes, I am pretty sure it started as a poem.). I have a biography of Whittier on my shelf and I need to start it some time - I always wanted to learn more about his life.

Whittier was a Quaker and an abolitionist, and was one of that group of New England poets called the "Fireside Poets." (Longfellow and James Russell Lowell were others of this group - and interestingly, two other old favorites of mine, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and "Once to Every Man and Nation" are by those poets, respectively. Hm. Maybe there's something in my psychological make-up that responds to the sentiments they tend to express - what I love about "Dear Lord and Father..." is the whole idea of "forgive our foolish ways" and seeking that "still, small voice of calm" - the idea that humans have gone wrong, but perhaps if they stop and listen, they can get back on the right track. And I like the seriousness of the other hymns, the idea that there are weighty choices out there or that what is going on in the outside world affects us and how we should respond).

I was looking around for a video of this - I usually default to the British choral music because I like it so much, but apparently when it's done in the UK, it's done with a different tune than I know:

That's from a choir in Dallas and that's the tune I know.

And, for what it's worth, here's Lowell's "Once to Every Man and Nation" using the tune I know it from. It was written as a protest against the US' war with Mexico but it still speaks to me - that fundamentally-heroic idea of choosing what is right rather than what is popular, and, as the poem says, sharing with Truth her wretched crust, if it comes to that.

I suspect if I were not so fond of comfort as I am I could become quite stern and ascetic. I like the high ideals of the poem, yet I am not sure, if push came to shove, if I could live them out.

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