So we find ourselves in a new year. A good time to review the past, think about the future and embrace the present.   A few people recommended this hymn to me, and I found it in the section of my hymnbook categorized Faith Journey: Suffering/Joy. To me that probably sums up what many of us consider at the start of a new year – regardless of the specifics of our faith or spiritual leanings. I like that it is about both suffering and joy as it often seems we focus too much one way or the other; losing sight of the reality that we are rarely bereft of one in the company of the other.

When I asked for favourites, a friend included this note.  She wrote, “This hymn was sung at the funeral of each of my parents.  They were people who were so conscious of the guidance of God whether in the smallest aspects of life or in the big decisions and crises.” The lovely poetic text reflects this beautifully.

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but thou art mighty; hold me with thy pow’rful 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 waters flow.
Let the fiery, cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliv’rer, strong Deliv’rer,
I will ever give to thee, I will ever give to thee.

When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside.
Death of death 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.

This has been a popular hymn since 1907 when John Hughes reworked his 1905 tune for the inauguration of the organ in Capel Rhondda in Wales. This chapel celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2003 with the playing and singing of this hymn tune known as Cwm Rhondda. It has apparently also become the unofficial anthem of Welsh Rugby! Stories of its singing at celebrations abound, including the most recent Royal wedding. But again, we are reminded of the duality of life’s experiences as it was also sung at Prince William’s mother Diana’s funeral. This ability to encompass both joy and sorrow is why I love hymns. For me, they sometimes arouse mixed feelings. Music that stirs emotions despite words that I grapple with; or perhaps, words that inspire and music that doesn’t. And, of course, they are filled with memories of people, places and experiences.

As we move into and through the new year and begin to create new memories, I hope for you more joy than sorrow. But if that is not what life brings, I hope you find your Bread of Heaven. Something that helps carry, sustain and guide you. Something that allows you to surround yourself with Songs of Praises.