Hymn of the Month: Hymns for June, July, and August
Go Now in Peace
June is often a month of partings. Children finish another school year, families leave on vacations, and many young couples get married, leaving their parents' homes to begin new homes. This little parting song of blessing would be appropriate in a number of these settings.
"Go Now in Peace" also makes an appropriate sung blessing at the end of our worship services. We conclude our worship services each week with a blessing from the Lord. (For some reason, most of our churches have still hung on to the old Latin word benediction, which simply means "blessing.") This hymn could be used in place of a spoken blessing, but my preference would be to hear a spoken blessing from the Lord, with everyone responding by singing this song as our parting blessing to each other.
This song brings yet another parting to mind. Natalie Sleeth died this past year, and I chose this song as a small tribute to her wonderful contributions to new children's songs for worship. Natalie Sleeth (1930-1992) began writing when her teenage daughter complained about the dull choir anthems she was singing. Natalie was convinced she could write better music than that. At the time she was auditing a course in choral music at Southern Methodist University, where her husband was a professor of preaching in the Perkins School of Theology. She gave John Kemp, a guest lecturer in the class, one of her compositions to look at, and he called her back in a week to tell her the Choristers Guild wanted to publish it. That first anthem ("Canon of Praise," 1969) started her off on a new career that lasted the rest of her life.
Natalie always wrote her own texts, and they were always closely related to Scripture. John Kemp, in writing a tribute to her, described her music well:
From her first compositions her music was direct and natural, interesting rhythmically and attractive melodically. In writing the texts she was careful about theological implications.
After many years of suffering from multiple sclerosis, Sleeth succumbed to cancer—the same type that took her husband in 1985. But she died triumphantly, as her final letter to her grandchildren reveals (see box).
The most joyful way to sing "Go Now in Peace" is with children playing Orff instruments, perhaps supplemented by other instruments. The first week or two sing it twice in a row in unison. Then try it as a round. To ensure a smooth transition to the singing, a song leader may want to introduce the round with a variation of the following announcement:
We will sing it twice, first all together. and then as a three-part round, dividing the congregation as pllows: [with arms extended, delineate three sections based on aisles or sections from left to right, not from front to back] part one, two, and three. Each group should start when the first group gets to your circled number.
Then repeat the extended-arm motions as the congregation sings. If the round is going well, signal to the first group to repeat it one (or two) more times. You may even use this song as a recessional, singing as you leave.
Lord, I Pray
"Lord, I Pray" is a prayer in which we ask God to help us live like forgiven people should live. It is not a prayer of confession, since it does not ask for forgiveness for what we have done. Rather, it is a prayer from the forgiven child of God, offered in simple, childlike trust. The prayer deals with the issues that all Christians, young and old, face daily. We pray for help in being kind (st. 1), thankful (st. 2), and obedient when we are faced with difficult and fearful times (st. 3).
This song would be fitting to sing after we have confessed our sins. Historic Christian liturgy placed the Kyrie (Lord, have mercy upon us) after a prayer of confession. Whereas the Kyrie pleads for mercy, this prayer is more like a child asking a parent to help him or her, with the assurance that our loving God will "hear my prayer for Jesus' sake."
The text was written by Jean C. Keegstra-De Boer (1922-1982), who wrote children's books, worked for a time as an editor at Zondervan Publishing Company, and taught church school at the Ked-vale Christian Reformed Church in Illinois. She chose a Dutch children's folk song as the tune for her text. The original text reads:
Klokje klinkt, vogel zingt,
(The bell rings, the bird sings,)
iedereen op zijne wijs;
(each in its own way;)
kind, ook gij, zingt daarbij
(child, you too sing along)
tot des Heeren lof en prijs.
(to the Lord's glory and praise.)
Here is my attempt at a rhymed translation:
Bells do ring, birds do sing,
praising God in their own ways;
children you, singing too,
bring to God your joyful praise.
Grace Schwanda, a music teacher and children's music director in Ada, Michigan, enjoyed this song and prepared the accompaniment offered here. It's possible that Schwanda had the tune name and the original text in mind when she chose a line so well suited for a chiming instrument.
There are many ways to sing this song, especially with a group of children. Take the month of July to learn the hymn congregationally, and then encourage the children to prepare an anthem for singing in the fall. Or teach the children the song first, and let them teach the congregation this simple and trusting prayer for God's guidance. Here is one way to make a lovely children's anthem out of this song:
St. 1: Children in unison, with piano (or organ, guitar, or autoharp)
St. 2: Children in unison, with the descant sung by a few older children or played on a melody instrument (flute, recorder, or violin).
St. 3: For an interlude before starting to sing stanza 3, begin the Orff patterns, the top part on bells (glockenspiel), and the bottom part on bass xylophone (or perhaps on keyboard, or on cello pizza-cato). Once the pattern is going well, bring in the children in a two-part round. After the children are through singing, the Orff players should continue their patterns one or two more times and then, on signal from the director, play the final ending.
Psalm 27 is a favorite of many people, probably because of its powerful opening line: "The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?" Although this psalm is often associated with Epiphany the time when we celebrate Christ as the light of the world, it is certainly appropriate at any time of year, even during the long days of summer. There is, after all, more than one kind of darkness, and it becomes clear rather quickly that the psalmist is singing on a very dark day.
Psalm 27 is a bit like whistling in the dark, trying hard to keep up courage by remembering that the current darkness can be overcome by the power of God's light. In that sense it is a protest psalm, denouncing and challenging the power of evil by proclaiming with confidence that God's power is stronger than any evil power, and that "in the day of trouble he will keep me safe."
Christians in Eastern Europe have learned in tragic ways over the past couple of years the power of evil. Singing Psalm 27 must take on a more urgent meaning for them than it does for those of us who do not know war or hunger. One way that Christians can pray in intercession for those living in fear and deprivation is to sing this psalm, using a melody, like this one, from that part of the world.
This traditional Czechoslovakian melody comes from the Evangelicky Zpelsnik hymnbook of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren. It was included in Many and Great, one of the collections of world songs gathered by John Bell of the Iona Community (see p. 23). It may be sung as a hymn, or turned into a responsorial psalm, singing the first stanza as a refrain and reading the psalm. Then sing the refrain at the beginning and after verses 3,6,9,12, and 14.
One of the advantages of responsorial psalm singing is the short refrain, which can quickly be memorized. Singing this psalm refrain over and over again during the month will help to sink the truth of this Scripture into the hearts of all who sing, so that it will be there to comfort us in whatever days of trouble might come our way.
For the Grandchildren from Natalie
Once upon a time—long, long ago—everything was dark and had no shape or form. And God looked around and said: "I want to make a world," and so the world was made. God made day and night and earth and sky and land and sea and trees and mountains and all sorts of creatures that could walk or run or swim or fly. But something was missing, and God sat down on a cloud to think. "I know what my world needs!" God said, "People!" So God created a man and a woman and gave them the power to make more people, and through the years the world became a busy place with all sorts of men and women and children everywhere! And God said: "I will give each of my people special gifts, and I will help them use these gifts to make the world the best place it can be!" And God looked down and smiled and said: "That's good! That's good!"
Now one of the people on God's earth was a child named Natalie, and God gave her the gift of music. As she grew, she learned to use this gift in many ways, and she gave thanks that she could share it with others. And Natalie had a family—a husband and children and grandchildren, too, and each one was special, and she loved them all. And God looked down and saw Natalie and smiled and said: "That's good! That's good!"
But one day Natalie began to realize that she was getting older and that her body was beginning to wear out. And she talked to God about it and asked for help. God heard her and said: "My child, when I made the world and filled it with people, I had a plan. I wanted my people to have life for as long as they could, but not forever, because then my world would be too full with no room for anybody. I planned it so that when it was time to leave the earth, my people would come and live with me in heaven, where there is no pain or sickness or sadness or anything bad." And Natalie said softly to God: "Is my time to come and live with you getting near?" And God said: "Yes, but be not afraid, for I will always be with you and take care of you." And Natalie said to God: "But I will miss my family and my friends, and they will miss me!" And God said: "I will comfort them and turn their tears to joy and they will remember you with happiness and be glad for your life among them."
So slowly Natalie began the journey to heaven, and day by day drew nearer to God. In the distance she could see light and hear music and feel happiness she had never known before. And as she moved toward the gates and into the household of God, she said to herself, with joy in her heart: "That's good! That's good!"
Natalie Sleeth, 1992
Reprinted by permission from Choristers Guild LETTERS, August, 1992.
UPCOMING HYMNS OF THE MONTH
September: "Holy, Holy, Holy"/"Santo, Santo, Santo" MERENGUE
October: "There Is a Balm in Gilead" BALM IN GILEAD
November: "Praise Is Your Right" (Psalm 65) GENEVAN 65