STLT#215, Praise to the Living God

Confession time: I did not actually sing this today.

It’s not that I don’t like this hymn – I do. It’s that I have laryngitis and I physically can’t. That laryngitis – and the accompanying cold – is also why this is so late: I turned off the alarm so I could sleep. The good news is I am not preaching this weekend; the bad news is I am singing and doing a blessing of hands at Diana McLean’s installation – so I have to find the voice by Sunday afternoon. Fingers crossed!

Anyway, I said I like this hymn, and I do. First, it’s got a wonderful tune to sing – as Jacqui James notes in Between the Lines, it is one of seven traditional tunes for this text and “has been the accepted Friday evening tune in England for two centuries.”

The text is pretty wonderful too – without any context, this is a fantastic view into the transcendent God upon high that we find now and then in our hymnal. This is the God Luther sings to in A Mighty Fortress Is Our God and whom we see in Immortal Invisible and Immortal Love. A loving, strong, god-outside-of-us. A solid, Psalm 23 god. Very much an Old Testament god.  And…one that seems somehow present and connected to our more theistic theologies.

Praise to the living God! All praised be The Name,
which was, and is, and is to be, for aye the same.
The one eternal God ere aught that now appears:
the first, the last, beyond all thought or timeless years.

Unformed all lovely forms declare God’s loveliness;
no holiness on earth can e’er The Name express
whose love enfolds us all; whose laud the earth displays.
Yea, everywhere, above, below, is perfect praise.

The spirit floweth free, high surging where it will;
in prophet’s word did speak of old, and speaketh still.
The Torah rests secure, and changeless it shall stand,
deep writ upon the human heart, on sea and land.

Eternal life hath God implanted in the soul;
such love shall be our strength and stay while ages roll.
Praise to the living God! All praised be The Name
which was, and is, and is to be, for aye the same.

In context, however, it’s even more wonderful. I will quote James here, as her explanation of the hymn text is pretty awesome:

This text, originally named “The Yigdal” fo its first Hebrew word, is sun antiphonally by cantor and congregation at the close of Jewish worship on the eve of the Sabbath and other festivals. probably written by Daniel ben Judah Dayyan between 1396 and 1404, it is a versification of the thirteen articles of Jewish faith drawn up by Maimonides. A Christian hymn based on “The Yigdal,” written ca. 1770 by Thomas Olivers, and English Methodist preacher, was used in England and the United States. In the 1880s, Rabbi Max Landsberg of Temple Berith Kodesh in Rochester, NY, asked Newton Mann, minister of the Unitarian church there, to make a more exact translation. later, Rabbi Landsberg asked Mann’s successor, William Channing Gannett, to recast Mann’s version in traditional meter. That version, omitting one stanza, appears here in revised form.

Now I’m not sure what was omitted – and yes, the revisions are largely about gender – but I am both surprised and not that a rabbi and a Unitarian minister worked together on this. It feels both appropriate and connected.

I’m a fan. I just wish I’d had a voice to sing it today.

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