There are times in all of our lives where we just need to take a moment and find some calm.  Times when we need to allow ourselves to find peace – even if momentary – in amongst the stresses and challenges of our lives. Times when we give ourselves permission to spend time nurturing our souls so we can regain even a tiny bit of strength to carry on.  Because, life can be hard, and facing all it entails can be draining and debilitating.  For some this is about meditation or prayer. For some it is about exercise or going for a walk.  For some it is about taking a nap or listening to music.  Whatever it is, these times are necessary tools of rejuvenation.

The words of this hymn were written around 1845 by William Walford.  He was an uneducated wood carver who happened to be blind.  Apparently, he was a deeply religious man who spent a great deal of time memorizing Bible passages and eventually became the minister of a rural church in England. He wrote poetry, but relied on others to write it down as he could not.  This one was relayed to an acquaintance and, sometime later, was published by The New York Observer.  It was subsequently set to music by William Bradbury and has remained a popular hymn ever since.

Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer, 
that calls me from a world of care, 
and bids me at my Father’s throne 
make all my wants and wishes known. 
In seasons of distress and grief, 
my soul has often found relief, 
and oft escaped the tempter’s snare,
by thy return, sweet hour of prayer! 

Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
the joys I feel, the bliss I share, 
of those whose anxious spirits burn 
with strong desires for thy return! 
With such I hasten to the place 
where God my Savior shows his face, 
and gladly take my station there, 
and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer! 

Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer, 
thy wings shall my petition bear 
to him whose truth and faithfulness 
engage the waiting soul to bless. 
And since he bids me seek his face, 
believe his word, and trust his grace, 
I’ll cast on him my every care, 
and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

I’m pretty sure I’ve never spent an hour in prayer or meditation.  In fact, the times I feel closest to that kind of communing with my own spirit and my own understanding of the Divine are usually when singing. Sometimes this communion is found when I experience some kind of beauty – be it natural or human made.  I have known many who take this kind of time to consider their concerns and joys – I remember hearing that my grandmother would get up at around 4:00 a.m. every day to pray for a long list of people, myself included.   I know these words speak to this kind of prayer.

There are a few words in this hymn that strike me.  First, the idea that we are anxious spirits.  The second is that we are souls waiting to be blessed.  There is something powerful in the combination of these two ideas.  Yes, we are anxious and yet we can be blessed. I’ve been thinking about this a fair amount recently.  The notion that our anxiety may well be permanent, but this doesn’t rule out our capacity to find blessings in this life.  There are a multitude of reasons for our anxiety – some with solutions, others without.  There are long lists of justifiable reasons to be dissatisfied, frustrated, disappointed and unhappy.   Is it possible to find peace in a mere moment of calm?  I think maybe it is.

When we take time to breathe only for ourselves, we can access our essence.  That part of us that came before the circumstances, the illnesses, the stresses, the pain.  It is not easy to find this place.  There are so many layers between reality and this deepness.  I suspect my grandmother’s daily practice of prayer didn’t come naturally but was a skill developed over many years – and there were probably days she could have used more sleep instead.  I suspect there are times in our lives when laying aside our struggles is a monumental task, sometimes impossible without assistance.  This hour of prayer practice is one that requires immense commitment.  But, perhaps it is worth it.

Spending time rejuvenating one’s soul is a valuable act.  It allows us to live.  How we choose to do this is very personal and will vary for each of us.  In this hymn, the sweet hour of prayer results in wings that bear our petitions.  What an idea. The act of taking this time to be calm within ourselves, can result in something that then carries us forward. Not with solutions, or even answers, but with wings that help us bear the weight.  It is a beautiful image.  It is the flight of the heavy ladened made a tiny bit less burdened.  Take an hour, a few minutes, a moment to find these wings.  And then, fly.