Source: O Little Children, Gather Near
It’s been several months since I’ve arranged a hymn, and a month since I last posted anything. I know my year of song is over, but it seems there are still many hymns on my list. And so, bear with me if I occasionally send another one out into the world. These hymns just keep calling to me – and I continue to listen.
Over the past little while, the world has been inundated with horrific stories about the plight of refugees. Our news outlets and social media are full of pictures, tragedies and questions. These stories are not new, and, unfortunately, are not rare. They have, however, given many of us cause to think about this issue in a more critical way, and with greater urgency than we have in the past. How do we fit into these stories?
This hymn was written by Christopher Dock around 1770. He was a Mennonite teacher who emigrated to Pennsylvania around 1710, where he opened two schools. It is said he was completely devoted to the children he taught – staying after school every day to pray for each one individually. A man who cared deeply in both a practical and spiritual way. The tune is sometimes known as The Philharmonia (1875), but in my hymnbook it is also given the tune name of Beautiful Flower. Appropriate because it speaks about gathering little children together to be taught and to be cared for. Beautiful flowers indeed.
Like many, I have been struggling with the images of refugees seen around the world. Those of children are especially haunting. Beautiful flowers left hungry, homeless, afraid, alone and sometimes dead. These children have not always been gathered into the arms of those of us who have much to spare. Instead, we seem to have a bizarre need to justify our ability to offer care. Are their needs real? Will they harm us? How will they impact our countries? My memory of many, many Sunday School lessons doesn’t recall stories of Christ asking these kinds of questions.
I am also conscious as we approach Thanksgiving, that we have much to be thankful for. I enjoy time with about thirty children each week as a piano teacher. Every child I see is clothed, fed and has a place to sleep at night. This is a joy not to be taken for granted. The things we have allow our flowers to grow and show their beauty. It is an accident of birth that my thirty children can exhibit their beauty so easily, while millions of others struggle to break through the soil on which they find themselves.
There are few easy answers to the questions we’re faced with. But when we have much, choosing to place obstacles in the way of sharing is sad. It is heartbreaking. Why not gather the little children near – the ones you know and the ones you don’t? A field of flowers of all varieties is a beautiful thing. To view it will never diminish your experience. To view it will carry you through whatever hardship comes. To view it will bring, and spread, joy.