Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Shepherd Will Supply My Need

One of the most wonderful things in life is stumbling upon something inexpressibly beautiful and uplifting, that you didn't know before was there. This happened to me today at work while listening to some instrumental music on my MP3 player, from a CD collection of old English hymns set to strings and woodwinds. A selection came up entitled My Shepherd Shall Supply My Need, with which I wasn't familiar. Struck by the quiet, lilting melody, I went looking online for a choral rendition, and found a breathtaking one by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I was moved to tears by the beautiful singing and video, the latter featuring lovely artwork depicting the Savior's life among us as well as the words to this incomparable hymn. Based on the Psalm 23, the text was written by the "Father of English Hymnody," Isaac Watts (1674-1748), and set to music in 1863 by William B. Bradbury (1816-1868) (composer of such popular old hymns as He Leadeth Me, Just As I Am, Without One Plea, and Sweet Hour of Prayer). This hymn expresses for me, perhaps better than any other, the confidence and joy of knowing who our Father is, that he loves us infinitely and without condition, and that He guards, guides, and sustains us throughout this life and in the eternal life to come.

So relax, close your eyes (well, after you've watched the video), and let the comfort and hope of this precious work flow over you! (text appear beneath the video)

My Shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His Name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
And leads me, for His mercy's sake,
In paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death
Thy presence is my stay;
One word of Thy supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
Thine oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

How Can I Keep From Singing?

It's so easy to become frustrated and discouraged with our lives day-to-day. Some of us have terrible crosses to bear; most of us, on an average day, have mere annoyances--bad weather, bills to pay, onerous chores, petty disappointments, and not having enough time to do the things we like to do. Great or small, our troubles bear so much less upon us when we remember how much harder others' are than our own, and how abundantly we have been blessed. One needs to think of but one thing to be thankful for, and then a second, and a third, and . . . before you know it, your sky is lightening and so are your burdens. There's no better armor against despair than humility, faith, and remembrance of the infinite Love that bought our souls with pains far greater than we could ever comprehend.

I think that the beautiful hymn How Can I Keep From Singing? perfectly expresses the attitude of heart that we should strive to maintain all day, every day. The words and music were composed in 1860 by American Baptist minister and hymn writer Robert Wadsworth Lowry (1826-1899), and are performed in the video below by the outstanding Welsh singer Aled Jones. The lyrics he sings are only slightly different from Lowery's original, which are reproduced below the video (you may have heard a version of this hymn by Enya, but I believe her lyrics are, unfortunately, scrubbed of all references to Christ). I first heard this hymn several years ago when it was performed by the Brockport, NY High School Choir, in which my son Colin sang. It was rendered so beautifully, and filled my heart with joy! This also happens to be one of my mother's favorite hymns, and I dedicate it to her with much love.

So, whenever you're feeling blue, march right on over to Songs of Praises and look up this hymn in the Titles List to listen to this and other gems of sacred music inspiration!

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round!
Songs in the night He giveth:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it:
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah (Cwm Rhondda)

Rhondda Valley (Cwm Rhondda), Wales, early 20th century

What else would I feature in the first post on this blog but Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah (in some traditions, "Redeemer" is substituted for "Jehovah"), from whence comes the title of this blog: Songs of Praises. Few other Christian hymns are as rousing, exultant, and full of praise for our Savior and Lord as this one.

The text was written in the Welsh language in 1745 by William Williams Pantycelyn (1717 – 1791), Wales' most prolific and influential hymn writer. It was translated into English in 1771, and ultimately put to the tune Cwm Rhondda (the Welsh name for the Rhondda Valley, pronounced coom rontha) in 1907 by John Hughes (1873–1932), organist of Capel Rhondda in Hopkinstown, who had been asked to write a tune for the inauguration of the chapel and its new organ. The hymn has since been translated into scores of languages, and has come to be so closely associated with the Welsh people--who prize great singing above almost all--that it is now an unofficial "national" anthem sung at rugby matches as well as in church. The hymn has been described, quite rightly, as "a belter of a hymn that defies one to sing it quietly."

William Williams (left) and John Hughes (right)

Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah alludes to the Israelites' journey through the wilderness from from bondage in Egypt to their deliverance into the land of Canaan, their needs on the way being supplied by our Heavenly Father (for example, through manna or "bread of Heaven," and the pillars of fire and cloud). The hymn likens this journey and the relationship between God and His children to that of the Christian's pilgrimage on earth and on to Heaven, the "verge of Jordan":
Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah [or, Redeemer]
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield;
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.

Lord, I trust Thy mighty power,
Wondrous are Thy works of old;
Thou deliver’st Thine from thralldom,
Who for naught themselves had sold:
Thou didst conquer, Thou didst conquer,
Sin, and Satan and the grave,
Sin, and Satan and the grave.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to Thee;
I will ever give to Thee.

Musing on my habitation,
Musing on my heav’nly home,
Fills my soul with holy longings:
Come, my Jesus, quickly come;
Vanity is all I see;
Lord, I long to be with Thee!
Lord, I long to be with Thee!
So eloquently this hymns speaks of our dependence on the Lord for spiritual sustenance, guidance, protection, and ultimate victory over Satan, sin, and death. He is indeed the "Bread of Heaven," and our "Strong Deliverer." How helpless and hopeless we are without Him, how unconquerable we are with Him!

Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah has long been a great favorite in the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, especially in Wales. It has been said that in the trenches of Flanders during World War I, it was sung so melodiously by the Welsh soldiers that nearby German soldiers also took it up. The hymn was sung, in Welsh, in the Academy Award winning film How Green Was My Valley (1941), It was sung in English at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, on September 6, 1997, and again at the wedding of her son Prince William, Duke of Cambridge to Catherine ("Kate") Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, on April 29, 2011.

Here is a magnificent rendition (of the best-known three stanzas) by the congregation and choir of the Morriston Tabernacle Chapel in Swansea, Wales. How they make the rafters ring!

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee;
and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee:
when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned;
neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
~ Isaiah 43:2