Saturday, April 30, 2011

Come Christians Join to Sing -- Christian Henry Bateman


Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. (Psalm 33:3)

Children become adults, but all adults are still children. Perhaps that’s the best way to sum up the hymn “Come, Christians, Join to Sing” written by Christian Henry Bateman in the 19th Century, which was first published in 1843. And, with his own adaptation of Bateman’s hymn, Randy Gill in 2003 echoed Bateman’s effort with “Come Worship Christ the King”. One might say that Gill’s composition is the offspring -- the child -- of Bateman’s original hymn. Let’s travel back to Bateman’s era, and see what he was doing, thinking, and saying with his hymn that we sing today with renewed vigor. The year was 1843, and Bateman had taken an assignment with a Congregational church in Edinburgh, Scotland. What else was going on?

Christian Bateman’s hymn was originally pitched toward children: “Come, Children, Join to Sing” was included in the collected works that he edited and entitled Sacred Melodies for Sabbath Schools and Families. This collection was also known as the The Children’s Hymnal and Christian Year, and another alternate title indicates it contained 200 songs. The song’s straight, uncomplicated melodic rhythm is easily grasped, allowing me, the worshipper, to focus on its simple theme. Christ is my forever Lord, and I can rejoice, with abandon, in that basic truth. Nothing too difficult to communicate there, but it’s so often far removed from the minds of adults distracted by daily life. Not so for kids, perhaps. As a kid, I didn’t think about work, paying bills, traffic headaches, or other such intrusions. I thought about play, things that I wanted to enjoy – softball games, band practice, watching cats frolic. Perhaps Bateman wanted to tap into that well of joy that kids so easily gravitate toward, reminding us what joy we adults have, even as life threatens to drag us down. Whoever changed the original title from ‘Children’ to ‘Christians’ must have thought we adults need this joyful song as much, or even more than kids.

Randy Gill changed a few words and a few notes in 2003 with his composition. The child still celebrates inside me as I sing, but Gill helps me capture in the music a new energy with an offbeat syncopation, versus the straightforward beat that Bateman originally used. ‘It’s jazz’, my spirit exults. It’s a head-bobbing, jumpy celebration – it’s a party! – that I cannot ignore, if I want to sing in the spirit. Perhaps Randy Gill didn’t realize it, but the joyful spirit of the song he helped further may have originated in the faith background of the hymn’s composer. Although Christian Henry Bateman ministered in several Congregational churches in England and Scotland as an Anglican, he actually studied as part of the Moravian Church (one of many Protestant offshoots, initiated by Jan Hus in 14th Century Bohemia and Moravia [present-day Czech Republic]) early in his life. Moravians’ basic tenets are said to include happiness. Bateman wouldn’t have recognized the jazz (a 20th Century invention) that Randy Gill employs to underscore the message in the hymn, but he would have appreciated its compelling nature. Worshipping Him makes one happy. Now who -- children and adults, alike -- wouldn’t want that!

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.
More biographic information on composer: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/b/a/t/bateman_ch.htm
See also the following site, for background on Moravians: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moravian_Church

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Love Divine -- Charles Wesley


Here’s a tough question: What could one say about a single composition that would be unique among the more than 6,000 hymns written by Charles Wesley? What was Wesley saying or feeling when he wrote “Love Divine” in 1747? Answer: Love, perfection-style, to put it briefly. That much is obvious from the hymn’s title and the words this great hymnist penned, including the words ‘pure’ or ‘perfect’ (four times) that Wesley uses to characterize His affection for me. What else was happening in Wesley’s heart and mind as he wrote? Wesley was in his 40th year when he composed “Love Divine”, making one wonder what episodes in the life of the composer might have affected him by this time.

Commentators have speculated that Wesley’s hymn words are in fact a reworking of a secular song “Fairest Isle” that is sung by the goddess Venus in the play King Arthur by John Dryden. Also, some of Wesley’s words may have been based on Joseph Addison’s “Hymn of Gratitude to the Deity”. OK, that doesn’t diminish Wesley’s effort. He just shows that he was aware of his surroundings, and appreciated other artists of his day and their efforts. We may gather that Wesley probably attended plays, therefore, and listened to other composers’ music, borrowing what his contemporaries had said on the ‘Love’ subject, and astutely adapting for his audience what would have been familiar words they might have heard elsewhere already. Clever, huh? Much more could be said about the hymn’s genesis, but you may read all about it at one of the links below (a Wikipedia entry on this hymn).

A personal evolution in Wesley’s life, two years after “Love Divine’s” publication in Hymns for Those that Seek and Have Redemption (1747), also might suggest the song’s subject was especially personal for him. Wesley was married in April 1749 (to Sarah [Sally] Gwynne), a reportedly happy union that endured throughout Wesley’s remaining life; so, assuming his relationship with Sally developed and culminated in marriage over a period of several months or perhaps a few years, was his own experience with love tuning his heart and mind for this great work?

Try this exercise, one that really brought home how my imperfect attempts (and resulting confirmed bachelorhood, at least as of April 2011) at love contrast with God’s. I pondered how many names I could remember of the opposite gender that I have tried to ‘love’ (tried to, or at least thought about dating, OK?) in the last 30+ years. It was more than I thought it would be when I first began. And, with some alarm, some of the names I discovered I could not even recall – not even a first name, ouch! Wesley probably had no problem remembering Sally’s name, right? But, like me, he may have had other failed ‘love’ attempts whose names he couldn’t recollect…or probably wisely chose not to mention to Sally! What of God’s love, the kind that knows every hair on everyone’s head, not to mention names? And, also the kind that knows the heartache of rejection. God knows all, and has felt from one extreme to another on the love spectrum, too. Think He might be the one to talk to if I feel a little pouty over my ‘love’ deficit here?

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.
More biographic information on composer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Wesley
Link to all four verses that the composer originally wrote: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/l/d/ldalexcl.htm

Saturday, April 16, 2011

In Heavenly Love Abiding -- Anna L. Waring


She was 27 when she wrote “In Heavenly Love Abiding” in 1850, and she must have felt her life had been somewhat bumpy already, if her writing was a snapshot of her autobiography. But, she found a therapy. It was her writing, one might surmise, that was an extension of her meditation upon the blessing of having God. Maybe it was her best way to communicate, since she was reportedly shy, the owner of a placid personality. Her introspection offers you and me the chance to relate to Him personally, even as we sing this song among many others.

Anna Laetitia Waring was something of a prodigy and writer-in-waiting, probably from the moment she was conceived in Wales in 1823. Her father Elijah and an uncle Samuel were writers, who no doubt influenced Anna from a young age. Her sharp mind lent her the ability to grasp Hebrew as a youngster, so that she could read daily the Old Testament in its original language. You think maybe she picked up something about God consequently, in the same way that the people of Israel learned of Him? She had evidently seriously examined her faith, not blindly accepting her own family’s Quaker predilection, and as an adult being baptized into the Anglican Church of England. She published two works that contained dozens of her hymns, Hymns and Meditations in 1850 (in which “In Heavenly Love Abiding” appears) and Additional Hymns in 1858. She wasn’t content to be a mere intellect and writer, however. She also philanthropically engaged in prison ministry. Her hymn texts, particularly for “In Heavenly Love Abiding”, show she was a struggler with unnamed challenges. Nevertheless, she reached out to those less fortunate through the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society. Her hymns likewise reached out.

Waring may have been a shy, at times lonesome figure (she died never having been married), yet she knew what to do to combat those traits. Could they have been the source of her struggles, the ‘fear’, ‘storm’, ‘darkest clouds’, and missing ‘green pastures’ of which she wrote? If they were, she’s not alone in history – many people have struggled with loneliness, whatever the cause. Indeed, the Lord described Himself as ‘meek and lowly’ (Matthew 11:29) – sounds kinda like Anna Waring, doesn’t it? Anna drew strength from writing songs. She also examined herself, her characteristics, in hymn-writing, as one can sense if you read between the lines. ‘Don’t dwell on those dark feelings’ she says with her words, but rest in your future. That attitude, too, became a recognizable Anna Waring attribute. Now, just where do you suppose that part of her came from?

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. The following link is for a book of poetry “Hymns and Meditations” written by the composer, in which the hymn text appears:
More biographic information on composer:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hallelujah to the Lamb – Don Moen and Debbye Graafsma


Don Moen has many friends and collaborators -- not just a vague impression you might gather from watching and hearing him, but a certainty when you read his biography. And, his life’s purpose – to be part of a community larger than himself - comes through in his music, including in the song “Hallelujah to the Lamb” that he produced in 1997. It’s appropriate that this song was in fact a collaboration with one of his friends, Debbye Graafsma. Though she is professionally a counselor, you might say they both minister to lots of people, bringing many to the divine Counselor. Their aim – how about the entire globe?


Here’s what Debbye relayed to this blogger about the song’s development: The song originally came as a Song of the Lord during a congregational prayer time. It was a simple AB chorus. My husband and I were pastoring a small rural church in Hamilton, Indiana. A ministry we were involved in called Cleansing Stream picked it up. Don heard it through a mutual friend, Pastor Jack Hayford. He wanted to expand it to be more of a choir anthem, so he changed the chorus, and wrote the bridge. I added the second verse to help him achieve his goal. I am amazed at how God takes the simplest things and uses them. He is so good to us... He gives us gifts and then blesses us when we give those gifts back to him. Thanks for sharing Debbye! Read some more below on Don’s and Debbye’s backgrounds.




In 1997 Don Moen had already been engaged in Christian music production for two decades, including since 1986 when he first began to produce his own works. He was 47 years old, and wrote this scoop’s song subject among 15 other compositions that appeared on the album Let Your Glory Fall . His co-writer Debbye Graafsma (40 years old at the time), was the daughter of missionaries, and like Moen, had been involved with music for the previous two decades. So, it doesn’t really seem accidental that the words of the music they co-wrote would seem to be inspired by their experiences and dreams about ministry. Moen’s official website (Don Moen and Friends) promotes this desire for outreach, to ‘connect worshippers worldwide’. And, it’s in the song, having the worshipper bond with others across the globe with words about ‘multitudes’ from ‘every tribe and tongue’. Graafsma’s missionary background must have called out to her as well through the song’s words. All of His people are one, can call upon Him in harmony, and rejoice in His Spirit moving in and among us. It’s a global movement that Moen and Graafsma remind us He inspires. The composers’ witness among believers, in their homes in Tennessee (Moen) and North Carolina (Graafsma), and far abroad (including most recently in Vietnam, where Moen was in April 2011), make the words of their joint endeavor come off the page – they live them.

Remembering some of the song’s key words – ‘You are Lord of all’ – is now made easier for me, knowing the background and focus of the composers. God wants to lift everyone to Himself, for no one to be left behind. No one needs to feel disadvantaged in this effort, the song reminds us. My praise on the American east coast is no more valuable than someone’s in Africa or Vietnam. We’re all covered by the same blood, and need to humble ourselves the same way to approach Him. ‘All the nations will see’, the song has me say. It makes a chill go up the spine, thinking about that future, certain, moment. It must have been something of which Moen and Graafsma had seen glimpses, perhaps when they sang with others around the globe, or maybe as they thought about the lyrics of their composition. One day, I’ll see more than a glimpse and have more than a moment’s inspiring thought. Halleluuuuu-jah!
Biographic information on the composers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Moen_(singer)
Don Moen’s official website: http://www.donmoenandfriends.org/
Information about the album on which the song appears: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Let_Your_Glory_Fall

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Love of God – Frederick Lehman

Only rarely does one find a song that has a 900-year history. Maybe that’s what got Frederick Lehman’s attention when he wrote – or, better it’s said that he finished - the hymn “The Love of God” in 1917. Listen to the story, and you might imagine that it was pretty lucky that it survived. But, look at the theme running through it, and instead you get a sense that Providence was at work. Could it be that God willed that this hymn about His nature be reborn, centuries after one line of it was written? Love among humans is difficult to explain, scientifically (see the picture), so how does one characterize His love? It’s rarefied air, in which someone extra special – God himself – requires a vehicle capable of the journey.
Frederick Lehman was the third in a line of preservers of “The Love of God”. A Jewish hymn writer in the 11th Century, Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai, is said to have written the original words of the third verse (as part of a larger poem known as “Hadamut”) in 1096 in the city of Worms, in what is now Germany. Meir’s intent was to compose a pre-festival praise that would be followed by a recitation of the 10 Commandments. So Meir was also looking backward, into Jewish history, to rejuvenate something of God for believers to appreciate. Later, a second and most unexpected preserver was an insane asylum resident, whose scrawled words on a wall echoed the verse from “Hadamut” that Meir had written. That’s right, in blunt terms, a nut was part of the hymn’s preservation story. Even he was reached by God, if only in a moment of clarity. Indeed, the deep truth of the poem’s words – that God’s love can overwhelm anything or anyone – apparently is what motivated Lehman as he sat years later to compose two other verses and the chorus.
God is timeless. That’s Him saying ‘no problem’, when a song seems to come almost out of thin air, or in the case of “The Love of God” after centuries of dormancy. Consider the hymn’s message – Love. Not just any variety, but Divine. Never quite dead, is this love, matching its owner. Lehman and Meir try to use lots of adjectives and phrases to describe the extent of His affection, but one phrase stands out for the writer. ‘…greater …than pen can ever tell…’. What more needs to be said? In fact, God set the standard for how to express it – in action, through the Son. He’s love, and that’s just who He is, who’s He’s always been, and who He will always be.
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 website for information on Lehman and the song’s background: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/l/o/loveofgo.htm