Monday, November 23, 2009

I Sing the Mighty Power of God – Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts was a father to many. In fact, you might say he was prodigious in producing offspring, and was a father to two different types of progeny. Yet, biologically speaking, he had no children of his own, no one to inherit the Watts name. If you think this is an unsolvable puzzle, then perhaps you haven’t been in a hymn-singing church in a while.

The ‘father of English hymns’, as Watts came to be known, lived three centuries ago, and many of his 750 poems are still sung today. “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” is still a standard in churches today, and its history tells us how Watts might have been considered a father in a second way. In 1715 Watts put together a songbook, which doesn’t really sound that unusual, right? Except that this was a songbook for children, gospel songs, in which “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” appears. Kids are usually heard singing fairy tale rhymes, or some other ditties us grown-ups think of as cute, but not especially instructive for adults. The Divine Songs for Children is thought to be the first-ever hymnal published for children, a testimony of Watts’ care for children that is so well-known that it is memorialized on a statue of him in Southampton, England. Through his compositions, Watts put into action Jesus’ directive to allow children to approach the Lord, rather than ignoring or ‘shushing’ or ‘shooing’ them away. One can imagine him guiding personally small minds with his songs, and so endearing himself to kids -- although not his own -- as a father-like figure, or perhaps a gentlemanly uncle.

The song’s text is pretty simple, with few words to confuse or bewilder the mind. It seems to come straight out of Genesis, with plain words that all humans can fathom – our mighty God made everything in the universe. It’s not a time for theological, hair-splitting debate, just worship. Look on God with awe. Honor Him. Trust Him. Just like a little child, which is, by the way, how God seems to want me to regard my relationship with Him (Matthew 19:14). I think I’ll sing Watts’ song with a newfound appreciation for what he was thinking when he wrote for someone about three or four feet tall. Maybe the position on my knees would be about right the next time I sing these words.

Information on the song was obtained from the books “101 Hymn Stories”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1982; “Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990; and “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006. Also see the following website for information about Isaac Watts.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Praise the Lord – John Kempthorne and Edward Osler

From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. (Psalm 8:2) It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a birth, in fact many births, were observed in a hospital in England in 1796. The Foundling Hospital, as its name indicates, was indeed for orphaned children. It was established in the 18th Century Holborn section of London by seaman and philanthropist Thomas Coram. Yet, the children who were at this hospital (in fact, it really was only an orphanage) generally had already been born elsewhere. Instead, it may be said that many songs were born there, or at least became more well-known because of their association with the Foundling Hospital. Maybe it was the verse from Psalm 8 (see it above) and this child-care institution’s reputation that gave the composer his method for circulating the song “Praise the Lord”… There is still debate regarding the composer’s identity. Some people have assumed it was the English hymnist John Kempthorne who composed the original song’s first verses in 1796. Some have said that its composer is still unknown, although a final verse (or two verses, depending on which tune the song employs) was written by Edward Osler in the 19th Century. Most agree that the song first appeared in Hymns for the Foundling Hospital, the orphanage that became well-known as a music venue, not just for the children there, but also for the eminent musicians who visited there to further the children’s well-being. George Friedrich Handel often sponsored Messiah performances at Foundling Hospital in High Holborn in the mid-1700’s. One wonders if the original composer, whoever he is, was inspired by the songs of the orphans, and so brought to life “Praise the Lord”, and gave it to the children as part of their repertoire. The song seems to be a paraphrase of Psalm 148 and perhaps Psalm 150, what we as believers and children of the great Creator and Redeemer sing to Him. Here’s the additional words composed by Edward Osler: Worship, honor, glory, blessing, Lord, we offer unto Thee. Young and old, Thy praise expressing, In glad homage bend the knee. All the saints in heaven adore Thee; We would bow before Thy throne. As Thine angels serve before Thee, So on earth Thy will be done. Information on the song story is in “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006. Information on John Kempthorne is at: Also see the below website, referring to the book “English Hymns: Their Authors and History” by Samuel Willoughby Duffield, published by Funk and Wagnalls, 1886 New York and London. (the book is part of public domain in the United States) Some background on the song, and the playing of the song as a completely different tune (FABEN, by John H. Wilcox) than the traditional one (PEREZ, by Lowell Mason) in Songs of Faith and Praise – 1994, is at the following website:

Friday, November 6, 2009

He Is Exalted - Twila Paris

Little Twila Paris. That’s what she came to be called when she started out singing as a four-year old, and that was the name of her first record, cut when she was just six. So, it wasn’t hard to think of her as ‘little’ then, although she might have been thought of as small the way Shirley Temple was. Some 45 years later, no one probably calls her that anymore, not if they want to thank her and applaud her career, to recognize her for all the wonderful music she has contributed to Christendom. But, it could probably be said that Paris still thinks of herself as ‘Little Twila’, at least when she thinks about her calling and the song, “He Is Exalted”, that she wrote in 1985. In fact, she’d probably not want us to think too much about her, but instead about the one she exalts in this song. Paris thought a long time as a teenager and then as a young woman before she decided music was her mission in life, but she knew that it had to be about Him ultimately. She started producing albums by 1980, and when she composed “He Is Exalted” in 1985 she obviously had not forgotten that God’s praise was still the primary focus of her music. Look at the rest of her song library and one can see that that divine hub remains firmly in place. In fact, she’s returned to this song to re-emphasize its point to an international audience, when she recorded it in Portuguese for Brazilian churches in 1992 (It’s on the album Sanctuary.). Wouldn’t it be something to hear God exalted in every language spoken around the globe? I think, in my corner of the world, that I need to begin with that attitude in my neighborhood and my workplace, how about you? When I think about His exaltation, I couldn’t help addressing that this week, in a way I need to more frequently. I had to summon my courage with someone I work with every day, to remind him of my feelings. I was a bit apprehensive, I admit, although I am convicted that God is indeed worthy of my praise, and of my actions flowing from that conviction. Sensitively, but firmly, I broached this with my co-worker, and guess what? It was OK that I felt God’s name should be held in respect. None of us are perfect, for I too have been frustrated and overwhelmed in the office, with spleen-venting vocal tirades still occupying my memory. But, this episode reminded me that my God hasn’t moved, and He still occupies a position that I can applaud with renewed commitment. I don’t have to go being a world-class evangelist on Broadway to exalt Him. I did that, at least a little bit this week, in my 50 X 50 foot area in a pretty ordinary-looking building in Glen Echo, Maryland. I just need to keep singing “He Is Exalted”, wherever I am. Some information on Twila Paris is from the following website: Information on Twila Paris ia also available at the following website: Information on the song story is in “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006.