Friday, February 10, 2006

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

I have no real story here, I am just feeling nostalgic for the congregation where I used to lead singing. We learned this song together and I always get slightly choked up singing it (just slightly nowadays, but still. . .)
It was written by Henry F. Lyte, a Scotsman who moved to Ireland as a lad, attended Trinity College and was assigned to pastor in Taghmon. His friendship with fellow pastor Abraham Swanne during the latter's critical illness -- and their study of Scripture together during long talks -- is supposed to have been the inspiration for this hymn. I know of two tunes to go with it, though I've only ever sung it with the first:
  1. Ellesdie - long attributed to Mozart, sources list it in Joshua Leavitt's Christian Lyre (1831). The familiar four-part arrangment is by Hubert Main, 1872.
  2. Hyfrodol - best known with "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus," by Rowland Prichard, 1830.

That's all for this week. Take care of each other. Go in peace.

And RIP Glen Shoemaker, you sweet, sweet man.

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition, all I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition! God and heaven are still mine own.

Let the world despise and leave me, they have left my Savior, too.
Human hearts and looks deceive me; Thou art not, like them, untrue.
And while Thou shalt smile upon me, God of wisdom, love and might,
Foes may hate and friends disown me, show Thy face and all is bright.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure! Come, disaster, scorn and pain!
In Thy service, pain is pleasure; with Thy favor, loss is gain.
I have called Thee, “Abba, Father”; I have set my heart on Thee:
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather, all must work for good to me.

Man may trouble and distress me, ’twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me; heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, ’tis not in grief to harm me while Thy love is left to me;
Oh, ’twere not in joy to charm me, were that joy unmixed with Thee.

Take, my soul, thy full salvation; rise o’er sin, and fear, and care;
Joy to find in every station something still to do or bear:
Think what Spirit dwells within thee; what a Father’s smile is thine;
What a Savior died to win thee, child of heaven, shouldst thou repine?

Haste then on from grace to glory, armed by faith, and winged by prayer,
Heaven’s eternal day’s before thee, God’s own hand shall guide thee there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission, swift shall pass thy pilgrim days;
Hope soon change to glad fruition, faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The earliest hymn?

I could not find a good scan of the original, so I will try to post a modern score when I get a chance. In the meantime, hear a MIDI of the tune here. The file was taken from the Ancient Greek Music site at the Austrian Academy of Science. Go check them out and listen to all the other goodies they have there. And then, go buy this.

The following is taken from a manuscript fragment known as Parchment Oxyrhyncus 15.1786 (or more commonly as POxy 1786) and dates from the late 3rd century. It is significant for two reasons:
  1. It is the latest in date of the extant compositions using ancient Greek music notation and thus marks the end of that era.
  2. It is the earliest extant example of Christian hymnody. There are a few other hymns that are arguably older, including "Hail, Gladdening Light" and some passages of the New Testament (though there's some disagreement there if they are hymns or merely poetic flights.)

In this space, you will here me tell many more times how I feel about our musical heritage, both of Christendom as well as the larger heritage of Western Civilization. Christians discuss the communion of believers often, and how our bond connects us to each other across boundaries of geography and race and culture. I believe the importance of hymnody, of all of our worship traditions, is that they allow us to commune with believers across the boundaries of time. To sing "Amazing Grace" is to share in an experience common to untold brothers and sisters of the last two centuries. To sing Palestrina's "Sicut Cervus" is to breathe the same breath of a believer an ocean and half a millenium away. To hear this hymn -- to read the text, to sing it from your own tongue -- is to have a physical experience here, in 2006, in common with a bishop in Egypt in 290. We stretch across this span of space and years and we touch something that is so very, very close to the beginning of it all. We feel our kindred spirit and recognize more fully the gravity of the responsibility we have to bear faithful witness. To be a worthy disciple.

When we commune, through our worship and our song, with our future brethren, we can only hope to be so honored.

Translated by M.L. West, from Ancient Greek Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

. . . Let it be silent,

Let the luminous stars not shine,

let the winds and all the noisy rivers die down;

and as we hymn the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

let all the powers add 'Amen, amen.'

Empire, praise always, and glory to God,

the sole giver of all good things.

Amen, amen.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Alexander Hamilton -- The Soul Ascending into Bliss

We're going to kick this off with a hymn from an unexpected source -- Alexander Hamilton.
Yes, the first Secretary of the Treasury and co-author of the Federalist Papers was a hymnist, albeit of very limited experience. There are only two hymns he is known to have written: the following was submitted for publication in the Royal Danish American Gazette in 1772, in imitation of Jonathan Pope. The other was penned in his last letter to his wife the night before his infamous death in a duel with Aaron Burr. A copy of the earlier hymn, "The Soul Ascending into Bliss," was kept and cherished by his wife in her widowhood.

Hamilton's faith, like that of many of the founding fathers', is a matter of some dispute, but it seems to follow an arc familiar to many. In his youth he was seriously and sincerely devout. The rigors of war and the personal costs of realpolitik appear to have chipped away at his devotion and left a measure of cynicism, if not full-fledged doubt. In the few years before his untimely end he, by all accounts, embraced his faith anew. As he lay dying from his duelling wounds, he earnestedly sought last rites -- even though he was not Episcopalian -- and debated with a minister friend who politely refused the office on the grounds of the sin of duelling. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, one of his last acts on earth was one of hymnody, the text of which I hope to find in my research and make available here soon.

The earlier hymn, which was kept as a sort of 'sacred scripture' (Ron Chernow's term, from his excellent biography of AH) by Eliza Hamilton as proof of her hero's devotion, has not been mated to a suitable tune, to the best of my knowledge. I hope to rectify that soon. If you wish to send me candidate tunes, just remember the meter is 6 lines of 8's. In the meantime, enjoy the text.

The Soul Ascending Into Bliss

Ah! Whither, whither I am flown,
A wandering guest in worlds unknown?
What is that I see and hear?
What heav'nly music fill mine ear?
Eternal glories shine around;
more than Arabia's sweets abound.

Hark! Hark! a voice from yonder sky,
methinks I hear my Saviour cry;
Come, gentle spirit, come away,
come to the Lord without delay;
For thee the gates of bliss unbar'd
thy constant virtue to reward.

I come, oh Lord! I mount, I fly,
on rapid wings I cleave the sky;
Stretch out thine arm and aid my flight;
For oh! I long to gain that height,
where all celestial beings sing
eternal praises to their king.

O Lamb of God! Thrice gracious Lord,
now, now I feel how true thy word;
Translated to this happy place,
this blessed vision of thy face;
My soul shall all thy steps attend
in songs of triumph without end.