Sunday, July 23, 2017

Hymns That Move Me (Week 1)

A number of weeks ago I started thinking about the great hymns of the Christian faith. I ended up making a list of the hymns that have deeply moved me over the years. I did not include any of the hymns from my own Moravian tradition since they alone would have taken up the Top 10 and left out the others. So I made a list of hymns that are deeply embedded in my tradition that many others may have never heard of. Finally I made a third list of the Gospel-type hymns and songs that may not fit the great hymns of the Church title, but are just as important.

This week I start a series looking at all thirty of these amazing hymns and songs. I am doing it alphabetically to be fair to all the songs. I hope you are both inspired by these words and learn a little about my own denomination's rich musical heritage.

Moravian Hymns
Angels from the Realms of Glory- James Montgomery (1816)
James Montgomery was the son of a Moravian minister from Scotland. Author of over 400 hymns, about a quarter of which are still in use, he is often considered along with Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley among the great British hymn writers. This Christmas hymn is a poetic vision of the birth of Jesus. Angels, shepherds, Wise Men, saints, sinners, and finally we, ourselves, coming to the birth of the Savior.
Angels from the realms of glory...
Shepherds, in the field abiding...
Wise men, leave your contemplation...
Saints, before the altar bending...
Sinners, wrung with true repentance...

Lord of Heaven, we adore Thee,
God the Father, God the Son,
God the Spirit, One in glory,
On the same eternal throne.

Great Hymns of the Church
Amazing Grace- John Newton (1779)
Yes, it may have become so common that it seems schmaltzy. But it is a truly personal hymn, as so many of the great ones are. These are the words of a former slave-ship captain turned minister. He was converted to faith in the midst of a storm, was eventually ordained and become a strong voice for the abolition of slavery. He realized there was something wrong about what he had done and changed course. The amazement at God's grace is at the heart of the song.
I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind but now I see

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ'd!
It is just as powerful and spiritual in its instrumental versions. Yes, they can get to be syrupy sweet, but we can often hear the grace whether it is a country, jazz, orchestral, or choral arrangement.

Here is one of my all-time favorite versions by flutist Hubert Laws:

Gospel-type Hymns and Songs
Abide With Me- Henry Lyte (1847)
Clearly a song about approaching death, which is, in fact, its source. According to Wikipedia, Scottish Anglican Henry Lyte composed the poem and set it to music while he was dying of tuberculosis. He only lived another three weeks. Again, as with Amazing Grace, the power of the personal becomes universal. He ends the first verse and moves on:
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

No comments: