We all dwell on the earth. This seems important. Not so much for the obvious reason that we don’t, currently, have any other options, but because it is something we share. As I’ve been thinking about these hymns over the past few years, I suppose that is something that has become precious to me. The idea that we share a great deal.
This hymn uses a tune by Louis Bourgeois from the Genevan Psalter of 1551, and it just may be one of the best known tunes in any modern hymnal. It is sometimes sung with different words, but these are pretty close to the original, based on Psalm 100, written by William Kethe in 1561. People have been singing this for a really long time. It started in Geneva, moved to England and spread from there.
All people that on earth do dwell,
sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Serve him with joy, his praises tell,
come now before him and rejoice!
Know that the Lord is God indeed;
he formed us all without our aid.
We are the flock he surely feeds,
the sheep who by his hand were made.
O enter then his gates with joy,
within his courts his praise proclaim!
Let thankful songs your tongues employ.
O bless and magnify his name!
Because the Lord our God is good,
his mercy is forever sure.
His faithfulness at all times stood
and shall from age to age endure.
I like this tune – it is so familiar. In my own family and church tradition, we sang it with the words of the common English doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” before special meals as grace. We sang it together, in four-part harmony. All of us. We knew it, we joined our voices.
In this version, we are reminded of the need to praise with a cheerful voice. Reminded of the source of life, mercy and faithfulness. It is powerful to look beyond oneself to something bigger, something shared. Certainly we all define this differently – for some it is God, as in these words, for others it is the earth itself, in all its beauty, majesty and power. For me, I’m not convinced these kinds of differences matter very much, but I am convinced that when we join our voices to praise that which is truly good, and that which we share, we are likely to move together.
Perhaps it is this act of sharing the earth that struck me, in the wake of last week’s Earth Day. We all look with wonder at the same stars, whether we practice the same religion or not. We all need clean air and water. We live our lives celebrating in good weather, worrying in bad. We notice our neighbour’s flooding and mourn their losses – we attempt to help; we ask ourselves what more can we do? We share the experiences of this world, for better or worse, amongst the ages and across our borders. No matter how much we try to divide ourselves, the earth shows us over and over that we are one. What I do here, impacts how you are able to live there.
For some reason, this hymn spoke to me about our connectedness. The details of our praises may vary. The importance of knowing we are small and need to look far beyond our own spaces, is clear. When we see only our own space, we miss not only the needs of the other, but the very definition of the Divine. And we miss the beauty and joy to be found; to be treasured; to be protected.
All people that on earth do dwell.