A couple of years ago I arranged this hymn as a gift for my mother-in-law’s birthday. When it was suggested for my list of hymns for this year, I debated whether I should re-arrange it or just use the one I had already done. It felt strange to change something that I had given as a gift, so this is the lone repeat for this year of song! It also happens to be her birthday this week, so I once again give this gift.
This is a hymn that, in my Mennonite heritage, is often associated with the long journey of those who left the Ukraine in the early 1900s and came to Canada and the United States. A story of hardship, persecution, escape and arrival in a new land with new opportunities. It is a history steeped in the idea that faith carries one through difficult times, and this hymn’s words reflect this.
In the rifted rock I’m resting,
Safely sheltered I abide;
There no foes nor storms molest me,
While within the cleft I hide.
Refrain: Now I’m resting, sweetly resting,
In the cleft once made for me;
Jesus, blessed Rock of Ages,
I will hide myself in Thee.
Long pursued by sin and Satan,
Weary, sad, I longed for rest;
Then I found this heav’nly shelter
Opened in my Savior’s breast.
Peace which passeth understanding,
Joy the world can never give,
Now in Jesus I am finding,
In His smiles of love I live.
In the rifted rock I’ll hide me,
Till the storms of life are past;
All secure in this blest refuge,
Heeding not the fiercest blast.
This week’s hymn is quite simply a song of praise. Praise. I had to give that some thought. It’s a word used often in church settings. It’s a word that describes a kind of gift we can bestow upon someone or something we really admire. Something we endorse. Something we find to be great.
In this case, the poet Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847) was trying to capture the spirit of Psalm 103 in song; a spirit of whole hearted praise of God.
Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven;
To His feet thy tribute bring.
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Who like me His praise should sing?
Praise the everlasting King.
Praise Him for His grace and favour
To all people in distress.
Praise Him still the same as ever,
Slow to chide, and swift to bless.
Glorious in His faithfulness.
Particularly suitable as we celebrate Fathers’ Day this week, is the third verse that describes the care and gentle nature a father exhibits. God as father can sometimes overwhelm – both as a standard to live up to, and as a singularly overused metaphor. But in this case, it is a beautiful reminder of the traits that are worthy of praise. Fatherlike equals gentle, knowing care.
Fatherlike He tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame He knows.
In His hands He gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes.
Widely yet His mercy flows.
As I thought more about these words, it occurred to me that the characteristics inspiring praise might well be a guide for all of us. Grace and favour towards those in distress, slow to chide, swift to bless, tending and gently bearing. I think these are indeed characteristics worthy of praise, although I sometimes wonder if they are the characteristics we actually value. It seems words like ‘successful’, ‘popular’, ‘accomplished’ and ‘powerful’ engender more praise in our culture. Yet, for hundreds of years images of the Divine have been crafted through words, music and art inspiring praise of tenderness, joy, care and grace. Perhaps we should pay heed to this history. Praise that which is worthy. Live lives worthy of praise.
Angels, help us to adore Him;
Ye behold Him face to face;
Sun and moon, bow down before Him,
Dwellers all in time and space.
Praise with us the God of grace.
Heilig, heilig, heilig, heilig ist derr Herr!
Heilig, heilig, heilig, heilig ist nur Er!
Holy, holy, holy, holy is the Lord!
Holy, holy, holy, holy God alone!
It is a beautiful spring day as I begin to ponder this hymn. I don’t know why I chose to place it this week, but as I listen to the breeze rustling through the leaves outside my window, I think maybe it was meant to remind me of the value of holiness. As I looked for a definition of the word holy, I found that it is sort of difficult to pin down. It can mean sacred and worthy of devotion; it can mean spiritual or religious. It can be about spaces, behaviours, people and the Divine. It’s a little bit mysterious – and something I suspect we don’t contemplate very often in our modern world.
This hymn comes from Schubert’s Deutsche Messe (German Mass; 1827). It is the Sanctus portion of the mass, which is a prayer of thanks to God – sung with the angels, who are said to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” unceasingly. Apparently this element of the liturgy is one of the oldest we have evidence of, dating back to St. Clement of Rome who died around 104. So the church has been honouring this holiness with song for almost two thousand years, probably longer. Interesting.
God, who, uncreated, God who always was,
endlessly exalted, reign for evermore.
Mighty, wondrous, loving, circled round with awe:
holy, holy, holy, holy is the Lord.
There is something peaceful about this music. The words are simple. The description of God is powerful. God is not created. No matter how we try to craft the Divine in our image, that simply isn’t the nature of this holiness. And I think we do that often. It seems we desperately want to understand this thing that is beyond us. We want a God that makes sense. We want a God to back our ideas and justify our actions. We want a God that looks like us. But the Divine will not be diminished to fit into our ideas and spaces.
In a world where everything has been reduced to the easily grasped and the familiar, finding holiness becomes our challenge. Because we need mystery and we need awe. Wonder reminds us of our smallness in the universe while it gifts us an understanding of our worth. And we are worthy of holiness.
Like the sound of the breeze in the trees, there is a peaceful mystery to the holy. Listen.
All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing,
O brother sun with golden beam,
O sister moon with silver gleam!
O sing ye! O sing ye!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
I love this hymn. It is so joyful. If you take the time to consider all seven verses, it simply exhorts the whole planet to sing. What a great idea. Sun, moon, wind, air, clouds, water, fire and light. Sorrow, pain, tender hearts and death. Lifting voices; singing together.
We can thank Francis of Assisi for these exuberant words. He wrote them around 1225, and they are considered to be one of the oldest hymn texts still in use. Francis of Assisi was a radical in his time. He abandoned luxury at a time of extreme decadence within the church, and encouraged a life of poverty and peace. It is no surprise, reading these words, that he has also become the patron saint of ecologists. Clearly he loved and valued creation.
Dear mother earth, who day by day
unfoldest blessings on our way,
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
let them God’s glory also show!
O sing ye! O sing ye!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
So sing. Look around and see the world in its beauty. Treasure it – this place where we live, breathe and die. This place we share. This place worth singing about. Sing! And let it prompt a life worthy of the song.