This is one of those mornings when the to-do list seems more important than this practice. In fact, I did several things before sitting down to sing, which is not typical. Usually, I feed the cat, put on the coffee, and open the hymnal to sing while the holy liquid of all existence brews in order to bring me life. Then I sit at the computer and reflect.
This morning, I also did some dishes, wrapped my office manager’s Christmas present, and prepared for a weekly spiritual offering I do at the local hospital. And I gazed at the next items on the list before thinking, oh, I should get to the hymn before I forget.
So here I am, having finally gotten to the hymn. And I admit, I was pretty distracted as I began – grateful to Small Church Music for a lovely organ rendition of this piece by Haydn, so I wasn’t working hard to learn it. I was about half with the hymn, half still thinking about what’s next on the list.
And then somewhere around the end of the second verse, I began to notice the lyrics – “our hearts soar high up on the breeze of songs the spirit longs to sing.”
Wow. I mean, just read these lyrics:
The wordless mountains bravely still,
the ground below us firm and free,
the gentle quilt of field and hill,
shall grant us solid dignity.
With breathless wind through leafless trees,
and gasp of currents on the wing,
our hearts soar high up on the breeze
of songs the spirit longs to sing.
The crimson flame of summer sun,
the glow of hearth on winter’s eve,
refining fire shines through the One
whose passions lead us to believe.
The slow and gracious ocean deep,
and raindrops gathering one by one,
feed well-springs in our souls to keep
for times when tears like rivers run.
The earth and water, fire and air,
the elements of wondrous grace,
the glory of creation rare
encircles us in its embrace.
I know I have previously complained about all the ‘yay nature, but it doesn’t go anywhere’ hymns. But this one – while in some respects a litany, really moves. It isn’t just a “look, nature’s cool, and we should be moved by it/in awe of it/shamed by it” (I still growl about that one). Rather, this one gives us something deeper. I am not sure what that something is – maybe it’s more of that theology that invites us in to be a part of creation, not just observers of it – “the glory of creation rare encircles us in its embrace.” We see ourselves not only reflected but also a part of nature.
The tune – it’s Haydn. Eighteenth century pomp and majesty is pretty compelling for symphonies, concertos, cantatas, and hymns – and this is no exception. When I first listened, I thought “this is too Episcopalian for us” (sorry, Episco–Pals) – but once the marriage of tune and lyric woke me up so I would take notice, I realize how perfect it is. These lyrics want both quiet contemplation and a bit of majesty and awe.
This one works for me today. I’m glad I finally paid attention.