STLT#278, Praise Be to God, the Almighty

I suspect there are three types of Unitarian Universalist congregations:

The first sing this all the time because they are deeply grounded in Unitarian Christianity – I’m thinking of congregations like King’s Chapel in Boston.

The second wouldn’t touch this with a ten-foot pole, because their humanists and even many of their theists would rise up in revolt over the idea of praising anything that might be construed as supernatural.

The third would use this with a lot of context, like maybe in talking about how there are many theologies in our hymnals and many theologies in our pews and maybe we shouldn’t be so judgy when we use a hymn that doesn’t perfectly reflect your theology because it might reflect someone else’s.

You see, when you get past “praise be to God” (which was originally “praise to the Lord”) you get lots of wonderful stuff that many who look beyond themselves for comfort, strength, understanding, etc. are looking for. This is, in many ways, the thank you to Carolyn McDade’s ask in Spirit of Life. At least that’s how I read it – this never says which god we’re praising, and anyway, if the word “god” is shorthand for an individual’s understanding of the Divine (see Nancy Shaffer’s excellent poem for all the names we might use), then this hymn could be praising just about anything we deem praiseworthy – even creation itself.

Praise be to God, the Almighty, who rules all creation!
O my soul, praise the Love who is our health and salvation.
Join the great throng, wake harp and psaltery and song,
sound forth your glad adoration.

Praise be to God, who is o’er all things wondrously reigning,
who, as on eagle wings, lifts us, so gently sustaining.
Have you not seen, all that is needful has been
set by God’s gracious ordaining?

Praise be to God, who will prosper your work and defend you;
surely God’s goodness and mercy here daily attend you.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
who with great love does befriend you.

Praise be to God, O forget not God’s manifold graces;
all that has life and breath one song of gratitude raises.
Let the Amen sound from the people again;
gladly forever sing praises.

And if some of the language still feels uncomfortable, with all its reigns and rules, know that the Hymnal Commission changed some of the language from Catherine Winkworth’s 19th century translation of a 17th century song by Joachim Neander, which is based on Psalms 103 and 150. Winkworth’s translation includes phrases like ” the King of creation” and “Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore him” and thus I suspect you’re already more comfortable with the Commission’s changes that advocate Love all over the place.

(By the way, we’ve seen Winkworth’s translations from the German before, in Now Thank We All Our God. She was apparently a prolific translator of German [read: Lutheran] hymns into English, and was highly praised for her work.)

Now while the hymnal isn’t explicit in this case about which Psalms this comes from, Between the Lines is – thus, here are the NRSV translations. First, Psalm 103:1-6:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live*
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.

And Psalm 150:

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!*
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

I like this hymn a lot. It’s joyful and strong, it reminds me of who I am – not an isolated being but a part of this whole creation, it reminds me to be thankful for the gifts of life and love. And yeah, I love the very German feel. As I mentioned when writing about Now Thank We All Our God, hymns like this activate my Lutheran DNA.

Sure, it’s not a hymn for everybody, but it is a good hymn of celebration and thanksgiving.


5 responses to “STLT#278, Praise Be to God, the Almighty”

  1. … or “Universalist Christianity” surely. I love this hymn, not so fond of revisions which force the “you” rhymes.

    1. I was so caught up in the “who wouldn’t sing this hymn” thought, I didn’t even go on my ‘these words don’t rhyme’ rant on this one. The pair I hate is “prove” and “love.”

      1. I think we should have kept thou-thee-thine. What was the harm in using the old informal/familiar form of you to address (the hypothetical) God, the way people do in Spanish etc? There’s something nice about realizing that even in very hierarchical societies Christians talked to God like a close friend or relative, in spite of also calling God Lord and King and so on.

  2. Kimberley, you described my first congregation pretty well (First Church in Jamaica Plain, Mass., UU). We sang this one a lot; we also had one Bible and one non-Bible reading most Sundays, and our bond of fellowship was “In the love of Truth and the spirit of Jesus, we unite for the worship of God and the service of Humanity.”

  3. Thank you so much for mentioning the poem by Nancy Shaffer. I knew her, and hers was a beautiful soul. Reading it never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

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