STLT#271, Come Down, O Love Divine

Gentle readers, I have a confession to make: I am not ready for Pentecost hymns.

I mean, it seems silly, right? Here I was complaining about how many centuries I was spending in our Christmas section, so you’d think a short Easter section would suit me just fine. But no, I am not ready to leave Easter yet. I think part of it’s that this afternoon I’ll be digging in to some thoughts on Easter with Michael Tino (I’ll post a Hymn by Hymn Extra when I get the video edited either late today or sometime tomorrow), but part of it is that while Easter is just one Sunday, I feel like I want more options for Easter songs so we’re not singing the same three tunes every single year.

But no, cruel fate has me turning the page and jumping right into Pentecost. And I feel unprepared.

Now for the few readers I have who don’t know what this season is, here’s a quick and dirty description, from Wikipedia:

The Christian holiday of Pentecost, celebrated on the fiftieth day after Easter, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks, as described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1–31). Some Christians believe this event represents the birth of the Church, while others maintain that the Church already existed prior to Pentecost.

For Christian clergy friends, this is a big deal – red shoes, red vestments, balloons and streamers. It’s a celebration. It’s joyful, spirited music and dancing and all kinds of joy.

And this hymn isn’t that.

It isn’t to say this isn’t a good hymn that (a) remains largely untouched from the original and (b) isn’t lush, thanks to a Ralph Vaughan Williams tune. It’s also no Every Time I Feel the Spirit, which to me is the ultimate Pentecost hymn (which appears in a completely different section, of course).

Here are our lyrics, a translation of the words by 15th century monk Bianco da Sienna:

Come down, O Love divine, seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let its glorious light shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

And so the glory strong, for which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess its grace, till we become the place
wherein the holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

By and large, the lyrics remain in tact from Frederick Littledale’s translation. We change “yearning strong” to “glory strong” and we are the place wherein the holy Spirit makes a dwelling, not he (which is awkward theology anyway). And… we omit this rather contrite, confessional verse:

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

I don’t think I mind its omission at all; not that I think we shouldn’t have confessional moments in our liturgies, but this verse isn’t in our theologies, so I’m glad it’s gone. Still worth noting it exists somewhere, though.

I like the hymn a lot. I love the musical turn in the third phrase. I love the idea that the Spirit lives in us, that the divine spark glows from within.

I just wish it were as joyful as my Christian friends insist the holy day really is.

Image: Pentecost Sunday at St. Mary’s Basilica in Minneapolis.

One response to “STLT#271, Come Down, O Love Divine”

  1. I always remember the German word for Pentecost (Pfingsten) before I remember the English word, because I grew up Unitarian and hadn’t a clue about this holiday. It’s a holiday in Germany (people actually get time off from work), where I lived for a year when I was 20.

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