One of the reasons for doing this project, is to consider hymns I don’t know. There are many. This is one of them. The words are based on Psalms 103 and 104, and were written by James Montgomery in 1819 (this particular version was revised in the 1990s by Jean Janzen). They are well-known. The tune, however, I didn’t know – although it felt familiar. With a bit of searching, I found that it was actually written by Giovani Paiesello for his 1787 opera, La Molinara. Interestingly, Beethoven also wrote variations for the piano using this tune. Somewhere along the way, someone decided to use it as a hymn, and it shows up in the St. Alban’s Tune Book in 1865.
The story of this tune travelling through time in various forms, for various purposes, reminds me of how little we can predict what our contributions to this world can become. Perhaps our endeavours will not have quite as illustrious associations and long lasting impact as this, but what we contribute – good or bad – has a tendency to spread. To ripple through our immediate circles and out into the world, in small and big ways.
Thinking about this, and reading these words, I can’t help feeling that, once again, I am being guided to behave in ways that will result in ripples of good; in a legacy that is about kindness and truth.
O bless the Lord, my soul!
God’s grace to you proclaim,
And all that is within me join
to bless God’s holy name.
God clothes you with great love,
Upholds you with the truth,
And like the eagle God renews
The vigor of your youth.
Love’s mercy bear in mind
When you are plagued with wrong.
God’s anger will be slow to rise;
Love’s patience stretches long.
God pardons all your sin,
Prolongs your feeble breath,
Heals all your sickness, ev’ry pain,
And saves you from your death.
Then bless God’s holy name,
Whose grace has made you whole,
Whose lovingkindness crowns your days;
O bless the Lord, my soul.
If I think about these words in terms of an example to follow, I’m drawn to the words grace, love, truth, vigor, mercy, patience, pardon, healing and lovingkindness. That’s a tall order. For those who adhere to a belief in God, it is pretty easy to assign these characteristics to a divine being. But if we start to consider what adopting these characteristics means for each of us, the effort seems monumental. I like these ideals. But following them can be enormously challenging – particularly when faced with the behaviours and attitudes of others that seem to require more aggressive responses.
There are times when my instinct is to fight against what I disagree with, what I find repulsive, what seems to be wrong. It is a good instinct, but I find myself thinking more and more about what the fight looks like. I see and hear a lot of resentment and negativity in this easily accessible world we live in. A lot of divisiveness. Much of it justified. But some of it is more about the image than the progress; more about being right than creating change; more about winning than gentle guidance and real leadership. It is so hard to consider the humanity of the other side … when they are always on the other side.
As I think about the ideals expressed in these words, I am conscious that how I choose to behave will have some impact on the world. I don’t know, nor do I really care, whether that is great or small. But I do care that it is good. I do care that it doesn’t damage, betray or bring pain to another beautiful soul. There are times when I have failed at this and times when I have succeeded. The depth of what it means to choose to wear a crown of lovingkindness requires us to stand up for truth and be vigorous in our actions and patience. It is neither passive nor weak, it is strong beyond our immediate understanding. History has had far too few that have adhered to this philosophy wholeheartedly, but there have been those who remain inspirational and to whom we can look as examples. Find them – those we only read about, those we know personally.
Choose to create a legacy made up of what you truly believe, admire and value. Doing so will guide your path in ways that you won’t always understand and that won’t always be easy. But these paths take us where we need to go, and leave a trail for others to follow. They will sing your operas, create beautiful variations and offer hymns. And souls will be blessed.