Saturday, August 27, 2011

Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee – Henry Van Dyke

May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
   may the LORD rejoice in his works—(Psalm 104:31)

Henry Van Dyke was inspired when he was 59 years old, although what caused his inspiration was probably not unlike what he had probably seen many times before. The hymn’s genesis was over 100 years old already, a timespan that the timeless God might call young, really. Three artists contributed to the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” over the 125 years of its birth, development, and complete fruition. There was a fourth – he was actually the first -- whose original imagination connected in a unique way with the last of these artists.

Henry Van Dyke apparently saw something in the Berkshire Mountains (see picture) in western Massachusetts that year of 1911, something that motivated him in an artistic way, similar to his two German predecessors who wrote about their emotions in a compelling way. Friedrich Schiller wrote “Ode to Joy” in 1785, nearly 40 years before his compatriot Ludwig Van Beethoven borrowed its theme and many of its words to compose his choral-orchestral Ninth Symphony in 1824. Some 87 years later on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Van Dyke was visiting a college to preach a message, and wrote the poem that called out to the same sensation that had motivated his ancestors. It’s said he immediately directed the college’s president to use Beethoven’s music in concert with the poem. So, could that have been the hymn’s premier?  What were Van Dyke’s sermons like during that visit? Perhaps someone remembers and has recorded them, but nevertheless this joyful hymn is a sermon all by itself, and one that is well-known both inside and outside of the church. One wonders if Van Dyke insisted on the Schiller/Beethoven connection with his poem in order to appeal to the secular world, as well as to those of Godly faith.  To whom was Van Dyke writing in his hymn?     

The easy answer, looking at his own words, is that he’s addressing God. ‘Thou’ and ‘thee’, the poetic equivalents of ‘you’, are used liberally by Van Dyke as he lauds Him. Consider the first few words he composed. Is ‘Joyful’ a name for God, according to Van Dyke? ‘Joyful, joyful, we adore thee’ – it sounds like an address. If that’s what Van Dyke intended, he indeed created something unique, for God is not addressed this way biblically, at least not directly. Did the composer see something in the Berkshire Mountains that drew him nearer to God’s creative genius? Undoubtedly. Genesis tells us that God saw it was good to create, so He must have felt some emotion, a divine satisfaction. Is it joy when a mood takes me to another plane, next to Him, even? That’s what He does for me, especially those days when I’ve had enough of the ‘here below’. The Creator-Joyful’s mountains communicate volumes, lifting the human spirit. Schiller and Beethoven, though most often considered gifted secularists, also reflect Him. Look at Schiller’s Ode to Joy. He knew joy’s author. Maybe a more perfect joy was what the stone deaf Beethoven – by the time he wrote his Ninth Symphony – was reaching for too, when he composed. Joy. It’s Him, and it’s our way to Him.   

Information on the song was obtained from the books  “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 websites for information on the hymn’s tune, which was set to music by Beethoven in ‘Ode to Joy’. Ode to Joy was also a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785…see the link to it here:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

More Than Anything – Chris Christensen

If you had lived all over the world, traveled and seen a dozen cultures in your childhood and early adult years, what would be your anchor, your home?  Perhaps a home, although you might not live in it for long before being uprooted? How about friends you could be with for a few years, before once again moving? Your livelihood? Your family? Don’t be surprised if meeting Chris Christensen gives you the answer he found for himself, a discovery his song words in “More Than Anything” suggest he made and recorded for the rest of us. See what he says. Where do you think his mind goes when he thinks of ‘Home’ (see the picture of where he might, if you know his story) ?

It was 1989, and Chris Christensen at 32 years old had already probably grown used to radical changes in scenery. He was born in Philadelphia, but raised in South Africa by missionary parents and grandparents, a missionary-life, even while still in diapers, that imparted to him a lifestyle that he has carried into adulthood. He went back to the U.S. to study at Wheaton College in Illinois, and then moved with his wife Laura and family to Belgium in 1987. Along the way, he learned guitar and developed his gift for music, a global language that in tandem with his missionary background he eventually put to use. You get a hint of what he felt two years after arriving in Belgium in “More Than Anything”, something very simply stated, but a message that probably resonated with the people who he’d known up until that time. Africa  – what would be important there? Maybe one hears a little bit of his missionary parents’ and grandparents’ experience – as well as his own -- in the song’s lyrics. Nothing matters more than the love of Jesus, a theme that speaks to a Third World. Not wealth, not even life matters the way Jesus’ care for me does. Chris and Laura have been all over the world with the message, on four different continents with a ministry they call ‘Exo’, reaching French-speaking peoples with its straightforward, genuine truth. It doesn’t matter if you’re in North America, Africa, Asia, or Europe, the south Pacific, or the Caribbean basin.  Jesus is a rock, a stable foundation. He works in any culture.

God’s value must become apparent the more of His creation we see.  A missionary has this advantage over the rest of us. Everywhere there’s someone who needs to overcome life, whether it be Third World poverty, decadent wealth and selfishness in the West, or disease that afflicts everyone despite socioeconomic status. All of us can see Him.  Christensen’s missionary reminder communicates all over, but also even if I’ve never set foot outside of my hometown. Where does your mind go when you think of ‘home’? Where does a missionary’s mind go? Does it matter? One day, we’ll all be in the same home.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Crown Him with Many Crowns – Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Thring

It was (and should still be) a popular hymn, if knowing its history is any indication. It was written by not one, but two composers, a generation apart. Something well-loved is something to keep fresh, to renew its meaning and appreciation by those who use it. Matthew Bridges started it in 1851 and Godfrey Thring continued its development 23 years later in 1874. “Crown Him with Many Crowns”…perhaps that was a call these composers took to heart as they cultivated and produced more verses, musical crowns, to enthrone Him.

Bridges and Thring came from similar backgrounds and contributed to His kingdom in many similar ways in 19th Century England. Matthew Bridges was an Anglican who converted to Roman Catholicism in 1848. Three years later he composed the hymn’s original verses, at least four of the eventual nine verses, although some believe that the hymn actually had as many as 12 verses, with Bridges writing six of them and Thring another six some two or three decades later. Bridges’ verses, as one might think, had some meaning for him as a Catholic, while Thring’s verses emphasized themes that Protestants could appreciate more. It’s thought that Thring wrote additional verses for this very reason, at the request of an associate who did not approve of the reference to the virgin Mary in one Bridges’ verse as the ‘mystic rose’. Both men were 51 years old when they composed their works, and produced either many hymnals or other works both before and after “Crown Him with Many Crowns”. Crowning Him wasn’t just words of theory with either believer, then, but a lifelong endeavor. Some circumstances at age 51 moved both Bridges and Thring to honor Him. Are there clues in the themes of the verses for you and me, things that might resonate with someone at the half-century mark, or elsewhere along life’s path in the 21st Century?    

To be sure, both Bridges and Thring must have been familiar with Revelation 19:12, and the awe-inspiring scene there. The Lord wears many crowns, John tells me. So, perhaps it’s fitting that there are as many as twelve crowns to consider in this time-tested composition. Nine of the twelve verses are known, with evidence that some mixing of the verses’ words has also been a feature of this hymn over time, making its exposition challenging. But, the themes, and the message that He can be praised for the many facets of Him and His kingdom, are not confusing. Crown Him, because He’s the perfect Lamb; the Peace; the sum of Life; the Son of Man; Love itself; Lord-King over what’s above and below; the Redeemer, whose infancy fulfilled prophecy; heaven’s preparer and caretaker; and time-ruler. No other being has all these qualities, or even one of them. How does He wear all these crowns at once? One of His mysteries, and something more to discover up there. Don’t you love a mystery?    

The source for the song story are the books  Amazing Grace, 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions”, by Kenneth Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; and also “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006. 

See also the following site for nine of the song’s verses:

See also this link for further history on the songs verses:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Master the Tempest Is Raging – Mary Ann Baker

Mary Ann Baker had a story incubating deep inside her as she struggled emotionally and spiritually. Why had tragedy happened? How could a loving God do such a thing? It’s not fair! Why must I hurt this way? These were the vocalized feelings one might have heard her shout in 1874 in the wake, a literal wake, of her heartbreak. It’s probably not unfamiliar to you if you’ve lost someone whose life wasn’t supposed to be over yet. If that is so – and who hasn’t gone through this? – then listen to how Mary Ann Baker dealt with this body blow, this storm (see painting by Rembrandt).

When Mary was 42 she suffered the loss of her brother – her only brother – to a disease that had also stolen her mother and father from her. She had grown up in Illinois and lived in Chicago, giving of herself in the temperance (alcohol prohibition) movement. So, it can be assumed that she rated purity, trying to live a ‘right life’ before God, high on her personal to-do list. So, when she was sick and could not go to be with him as his health became critical, one can imagine her heart searching for meaning. Her dear brother, a man she felt was precious and unique in character and potential, was gone. It was then that she rebelled in spirit, denying that the God she had obeyed since childhood was compassionate.  But, in that period of angst, she says that He responded, becoming the God of peace. In her recovery, Baker recalls that her associate, Horatio Palmer, asked her to compose the words for songs that would address the theme of “Christ Stilling the Tempest”, which was the subject of Sunday school lessons being taught in the church. The rest, as they say, is history. Her personal trial, a tempest, did have meaning after all. In fact, this trial added depth and purity to her faith, she declares.     

Mary Ann Baker must have gone through stages in her storm, according to the three verses she recorded for her fellow believers. And, perhaps they are words for others too, for those who want answers but have no one to ask. Baker’s verses tell me that it’s normal to question Him (verse 1), to remind Him that I have the capacity to doubt when I’m buffeted by events that grimly taunt me. Perhaps that’s what I need, really, to grip His hand even tighter. I could give in and sink outta sight (verse 2), but even then it’s not too late to call out to Him. Verse 3 tells me that endurance will be rewarded. I’m glad she used the familiar example of the Apostles – those closest to the Master – on the Sea of Galilee to tell me how a storm might catch me unawares. It won’t matter how much I’ve done to curry His favor, or how much I think I’ve served Him. I’ll likely go through these phases when something punches me in the gut. Those sucker punches are the only ones the Enemy throws, although he might begin with gentle, pleasant caresses. Isn’t it strange how the Devil and the Lord seem to operate from different ends of the pain spectrum? One might stroke me to win my confidence, and then later knock me flat.  Conversely, hurts that seize me ultimately chase me toward Him, the Comforter. Now, where do you think He’s waiting…on the comfy couch, or in the life raft?        

The source for Baker’s song story is: