O God of stars and sunlight, whose wind lifts up a bird,
in marching wave and leaf-fall we hear thy patient word.
The color of thy seasons goes gold across the land:
by green upon the treetops we know thy moving hand.
O God of cloud and mountain, whose rain on rock is art,
thy plan and care and meaning renew the head and heart.
Thy word and color spoken, thy summer noons and showers —
by these and by thy dayshine, we know thy world is ours.
O God of root and shading of boughs above our head,
we breathe in thy long breathing, our spirit spirited.
We walk beneath thy blessing, thy seasons, and thy way,
O God of stars and sunlight, O God of night and day.
Another day, another unfamiliar hymn. This time, the tune (Bremen) is, if not actually a song I have sung, at least a song like many other songs I have sung; it’s of that early 18th century German formulaic, rather easily anticipated with one brief surprise hymn tune. Which of course, makes it easy to sing.
I think sometimes we forget the value of easy, seemingly familiar tunes, because they’re not wildly interesting. And I think it’s why some of the more modern hymns might fail – they are looking for interest, not easy singability. Musical interest is important – we don’t want to fall asleep while singing; but familiar musical patterns are easier for non-musicians to get the hang of. It’s why zipper songs like Come and Go With Me and There Is More Love Somewhere work so well – the pattern, both of tune and lyric, are familiar to our Western bones and are easy to pick up. Anyway – a long way to go to say this isn’t a spectacular tune but a serviceable one for this lyric, if not the most inspired match. (I’d have gone for Lancaster myself – the tune of O Day of Light and Gladness. But that’s me.)
This is a soaring lyric – by poet John Holmes (who, by the way, was a teacher of Ann Sexton). It is a beautiful paean to the Immanent God, the God in all things, in and above all the earth. “O God of cloud and mountain, whose rain on rock is art” – wow. How can we not want to sing praises to this God, even if we don’t believe in God? To sing to the poetry and awesomeness of the planet – to sing praise to stars and sunlight, night and day – is to sing about ourselves and all that is beyond ourselves.
A celebration of life, indeed. And one we need, in these tumultuous, trying days. It’s easy for us to read the news and think about the possibilities and become forlorn, full of world weariness and ennui. This hymn – this glorious, soaring praise for this glorious planet – is a balm to our souls.