Songs Celebrating the Arts

When considering the visual arts theme of this issue, I contacted Carl Daw—hymn writer, executive director of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, and a good friend—to seek recommendations for hymn texts that deal with the creative process. He responded with several helpful suggestions. Each of the four songs presented here is a fresh offering by living authors and composers. They bring both prayer and praise to God. The first two acknowledge God as the great Creator; the second two speak of the various artists in our midst.

God the Sculptor of the Mountains

Many hymns include powerful visual imagery, but few talk about God as an artist. Given the “Potter’s House” service in this issue (p. 26), “God the Sculptor of the Mountains” is an obvious choice. The first stanza includes not only the word “sculptor” but also “potter of the land.”

This hymn stands in the “catalog” tradition of hymns, providing a list of many unusual and striking images of God. Each stanza begins with a focus on one aspect of God’s work and ends with a petition.

God is praised

  • as creative artist: “shape us now” (st. 1)
  • as deliverer: “lead us now” (st. 2)
  • as provider: “feed us now” (st. 3)
  • as the Christ: “meet us now” (st. 4)

John Thornburg, senior pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas, wrote this hymn text when he began to dream about taking a trip to Alaska. Amanda Husberg, long-time musician for a small multiracial congregation in Brooklyn, New York, composed the music. The tune swings in a way reminiscent of the Black gospel style, and indeed, the tune helps this text soar in almost rollicking joy.

I met both of them last year at the Hymn Society Conference; we rejoiced together that this hymn is being picked up in many hymnals. To save space, it is presented here in melody only; the accompaniment (organ or piano) is available in the Leader’s Edition of Sing! A New Creation, available from

Faith Alive Christian Resources (1-800-333-8300; www.FaithAliveResources.org). The Leader’s Edition also includes some excellent suggestions for placing this song in the worship service—

  • as a call to worship on a hot summer day.
  • as a prayer for illumination.
  • as a response to the sermon when appropriate.
  • just prior to serving the Lord’s Supper.
  • just before or after congregational prayer.
You Are God’s Work of Art

Click to listen  [ melody | full ]

This next hymn picks up on a theme in Ephesians, that we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Here again, God is the artist, this time the creator of those set apart for a new life in Christ.

This hymn would be most appropriate for baptism, when we celebrate being made a new creation in Jesus Christ. It would also be very fitting for profession of faith or for any commissioning service. In the first two stanzas, the Christian community addresses those set apart (st. 1-2). Then we praise God for choosing them and us in Christ (st. 3).

The refrain is short enough to be learned by heart and sung from memory. The congregation could sing the stanzas as well, but at first it would be better for a soloist or ensemble to sing the stanzas. Keyboard and/or guitar would be appropriate for accompaniment; keep the accompaniment under the stanzas very simple and subdued so the concentration is on the text; add more support to give confidence to the congregation on the refrain.

David Haas is one of the most gifted liturgical composers in North America; his work is communal and deeply scriptural. Many of his songs have become favorites; including several in Sing! A New Creation: “Blest Are They” (122), “Send Us Your Spirit” (163), and “The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation” (206). Haas is director of the Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer, and Ministry in Egan, Minnesota, and founder and director of Music Ministry Alive!, a national liturgical music formation program for high school and college students. He is also campus minister/artist-in-residence at Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School. He has produced more than thirty collections of liturgical music; for more information on his activities, check the GIA website: www.giamusic.com.

Colorful Creator

Click to listen  [ melody | full ]

In this next hymn, we thank God for giving creative gifts to artists (st. 1), composers (st. 2), and those who work with words and in drama (st. 3). The final stanza is a prayer for all artists to be stirred by the Spirit of God, open to God’s presence in order to become “vessels of the holy coursing through our life.”

This text will not have frequent use in worship, but there are times when it would be very appropriate to give thanks for those with creative gifts in our midst. This song might be an encouragement to those increasing numbers of people who are involved in helping our worship spaces become places of beauty—both visually and aurally.

The melody is not difficult, but there is little repetition, and the texture is rich, with very interesting harmonies and a surprise chromatic note in the last measure. So it would be best to introduce this song with choir women on stanza 1, choir men on stanza 2, both choir men and women on stanza 3, and the whole congregation on stanza 4. Organ or piano would be good for accompaniment; on organ try to also be a “colorful creator” by changing registrations on the different stanzas.

The text was written in 1992 by Ruth Duck for the installation of Linda Clark as Houghton (hence the tune name) Scholar of Sacred Music at Boston University; Duck also studied at Boston University. She is currently assistant professor of worship at Garrett-Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. Duck is a passionate advocate of language that is fair and just. Several collections of her hymn texts are available, most recently Circles of Care (1998), a collection of forty-eight texts addressing issues of healing and reconciliation, and Dancing in the Universe, fifty-eight texts, of which seven are also set in octavo form. For more information on Duck, see www.giamusic.com.

Composer Carlton Young was editor of the last two editions of the United Methodist Hymnal as well as the Companion to it. Many of his books, articles, choral works, and hymn tunes have been published. Now retired, “Sam” Young is active in writing, composing, teaching, and consulting.

Come to Us, Creative Spirit

Click to listen  [ melody | full ]

Finally, we turn to a beautiful prayer song from England, a prayer for the Holy Spirit to fill the lives of all who have talents that are offered in service of the worshiping community (st. 1). Many different artists are named in stanza 2. Stanza 3 speaks of the central place of the Word in calling for both vision and integrity. Stanza 4 is a trinitarian doxology that ends with a plea: “in our worship and our living keep us striving for the best.”

The text was written by David Mowbray, vicar of All Saints Church in Hertfordshire, England, since 1984. Mowbray was a member of the Jubilate Group—pas tors and musicians involved in a renewal of psalm and hymn singing in England in the last generation.

The first stanza speaks of “temple” in Old Testament terms; for theological reasons I would prefer the next to last line to read “that among your gathered people.”

This text has been set to several different tunes. The one here by Thomas Savoy comes from Gather (GIA, 1994); it is set for unison singing but also can be sung in canon. Save the canon for the last stanza, played by instruments and/or sung with voices.

Repetition will make this song easy to learn, but here again, since this song will not be sung often and the melody is unfamiliar, have at least the first stanza sung by a soloist or group.

Emily R. Brink (embrink@calvin.edu) is Senior Research Fellow for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and former editor of Reformed Worship.