I have a sense that many of us are unsure of our value right now. We feel enormous pressure to be productive, to accomplish our usual tasks, to be loyal to our employers and reassuring to our employees. We want to be of service, of use, of worth. We really want to keep our world afloat. It is both honourable and very challenging – especially in those moments when concentration is difficult to find and worry threatens to overcome. This hymn offers a moment of respite. There are a multitude of tiny things in our world that can encourage us. These add up to something great. There are times when we ourselves are one of these tiny little joys, and others when we must seek them out in the sky, the breeze and the bird’s song. In moments when you feel like you are simply not achieving all that you should, allow yourself to be part of the whole, rather than its entirety. Our greatness comes from us all and its strength lies in our ability to share both the highs and the lows.
And then, let your soul sing. All songs are welcome. We hear. We value. We join in with whatever voices we have.
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.
Powerful imagery. The singing of this hymn always brings to mind a vision of the natural world in all its majesty; all its beauty; all its peacefulness. Such diversity. I love that. Partly because I am a believer in the value of beauty and savouring our experiences of it. Taking things in and allowing them to inspire. Easy to do when we’re in a spectacular natural environment – or a grand cathedral, at a concert or in an art gallery. Not always so easy as we carry out the day to day requirements of our lives.
There are two stories about the words to this hymn. One about the original Swedish version, written by Carl G. Boberg in 1885. The other about the English translator, Stuart K. Hine in the early 1920s. They have more than a few similarities in that they both tell of experiences involving storms and the calm following that inspired the authors to write their texts. It is unclear whether either version is true. Did the same things happen to both? Or maybe it’s just a common story to find the Divine in the beauty of nature as it is experienced in a variety of ways. Choosing to be awed by the power and magnitude of the earth, of creation and its greatness as we walk through it. Recognizing how small we and our daily tasks are in comparison to the universe and all contained therein.
I don’t think this means what we do each day is unimportant. Quite the opposite. The birds singing sweetly in the trees are small and yet bring so much to the whole picture. As does the gentle breeze and the rolling thunder. The whole is made up of so many parts. So much that is beautiful is like this. It contains what we fear, what we value, what we contribute, our mistakes and what we create. I find that reassuring. It makes everything I see and experience so much more valuable. It makes looking at the world through my single lens alone kind of empty, and trying to see it with broader eyes so rewarding. It ensures that I look for the real beauty in our world and it makes my soul want to sing.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!