“Amen” at the end of hymns

Now that’s interesting. I’ve seen many, many hymns that end with an “Amen” — and I’ve seen the same hymns end with an “Amen” in some instances, but not when printed elsewhere. I’ve never thought about where that practice originated. Tonight, I came across a brief article by David Eicher which succinctly traces the practice and is well worth reading:

David Eicher, “Why Don’t Hymns End with ‘Amen’?”

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“In Thy arms I rest me; Foes who would…”

Johann Franck published “Jesu, meine Freude” in 1653; Catherine Winkworth served the English-speaking world by translating it as “Jesu, priceless treasure” in her 1863 The Chorale Book for EnglandIn this translation, she rendered the second verse as:

In Thine arm I rest me,
Foes who would molest me
Cannot reach me here;
Though the earth be shaking,
Every heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear;
Sin and hell in conflict fell
With their bitter storms assail me,
Jesus will not fail me.

Over the century and a half since Winkworth’s translation was published, the word “molest” has shifted from communicating something general along the lines of “to trouble, to disturb; to render uneasy” (Webster, 1828) to its more specialized contemporary meaning of “to make indecent sexual advances to.” I don’t mind using archaic language in hymns, but in this case, I fear that the present denotation of “molest” might distract or misinform the singer.

Others have apparently had similar thoughts. Hymnary.org reports the following variation:

“Let your arms enfold me:
those who try to wound me
cannot reach me here.”
The New Century Hymnal (1995)

My friend David Barnhart is familiar with this variation:

In Your arms I’m resting,
all my foes are fleeing-
None can touch me here.”

Neither of these versions commends itself to me. However, hymnary.org also attests to the following rendering from the Presbyterian Hymnal (1990):

“In Thine arms I rest me;
Foes who would oppress me
Cannot reach me here.”

The happy substitution of “oppress” for “molest” is simple, elegant, and satisfactory. The rhyme is only approximate, but is sufficient; the meaning is not appreciably different from the original denotation of “molest”; and the minimum possible alteration is achieved. But what about its correspondence with Franck’s original text? Are we shortchanging Franck in some way by altering Winkworth’s translation?

As it turns out, no. As is so common in translated poetry, Catherine Winkworth maintained the thrust of the poetry while using imagery which is somewhat different. Franck’s original German for these three lines is:

Unter deinem Schirmen
Bin ich für dem Sturmen
Aller Feinde frei.

My friend David Barnhart tells me that this would run rather literally in translation as: “Under your protection I am safe from the storms of all enemies.” While Winkworth has in these lines added the imagery of God’s protective “arm”, she has removed the “storm” imagery (which is revisited later in the original German stanza with “Ob es itzt gleich kracht und blitzt” [“Even if there is thunder and lightning”]). So even in Winkworth’s original translation, the memorable storm imagery Franck used in conjunction with the Christian’s enemies is made less vivid with the idea of “foes molesting me.” Substituting “oppress” for “molest,” then, is at least not any farther away from Franck’s original imagery than Winkworth’s original translation.

Thus, if and when I teach “Jesus, Priceless Treasure” to my congregation, I plan to make that simple substitution: “oppress” for “molest”.


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McCracken, “Why the medium of cool isn’t a neutral vehicle for the gospel”

I recently picked up Brett McCracken’s Hipster Christianity (2010) to see what he had to say about the notion of “cool” in conjunction with following Christ. I’ve never been able to join those two together, myself (as I understand “cool”). I’m still working through the book and must reserve judgment at this point, but I found a followup post that McCracken put up a couple of years back that engages the categories of media ecology in connection with his topic, and he gets a lot of things right. Some excerpts:

 I think it’s naive for Christians to suggest that medium is something separate from message; they are intertwined. The architects of the great cathedrals in Christian history understood it; composers of sacred music like Handel and Berlioz and Tavener understood it. And yet contemporary evangelical Christians seem to have lost the inextricable connection between form and content.

Because most Protestant evangelicals don’t recognize a meaningful connection between form and content (e.g. “the medium may change but the message remains the same!”), the church can only throw up its hands in surrender to the postmodern standard of “individual preference” or “whatever works” pragmatism.

How can we simultaneously embrace a sacred view of time, and a valuing of tradition, when we’re so compelled by the ever-changing contours of cool and disposability of trendiness?

The perpetuation of strict separation between form and content will only exacerbate evangelical Christianity’s current identity crisis.

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Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

It’s tough to nail down a “favorite hymn” — but always toward the top of my list is “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” invariably sung to LOBE DEN HERREN. For some odd reason, though, I had always thought it only had four verses (as it has been presented in every hymnal in which I can recall seeing it!). But, lo and behold, there are more. From hymnary.org:

1. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.

2. Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

3. Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee;
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.

4. Praise to the Lord, who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
Who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
Biddeth them cease, turneth their fury to peace,
Whirlwinds and waters assuaging.

5. Praise to the Lord, who, when darkness of sin is abounding,
Who, when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
Sheddeth His light, chaseth the horrors of night,
Saints with His mercy surrounding.

6. Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him;
Let the Amen sound from His people again,
Gladly for aye we adore Him.

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DeYoung on Singing Psalms

We are not convinced by the arguments for exclusive psalmody. But in 95% of our churches the problem is not that we are keeping out good non-Psalms. It’s strange, even though we are commanded to sing Psalms and even though Psalms have been at the center of the Church’s singing for centuries, still we easily ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the middle of our Bibles.

Jesus sang the Psalms (Matt. 26:30). The early church sang the Psalms. The Reformers, especially in the tradition of Calvin, loved to sing the Psalms and labored mightily to restore them to the church. The Bay Psalm Book was the first book printed in America. The Psalms— 150 God-breathed songs—have been the staple of Protestant (and especially Reformed) worship 14 for 500 years. And yet how many of our churches sing a Psalm even once a month? There are exceptions, but by and large the evangelical church is bereft of Psalm singing. We might unknowingly stumble into one every now and again through Isaac Watts, but for the most part we don’t think about singing Psalms; we don’t plan to sing Psalms; and we don’t sing Psalms.

Is there a command of Scripture we disobey more frequently, and with so little shame, as the injunction to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)? The exegetical debate is not about whether these three terms refer to something other than biblical psalms, but whether they might all refer to different kinds of biblical psalms. Either way, God wants us to sing psalms.

From “A Brief Theology and Philosophy of Worship,” University Reformed Church.

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Sing Psalms

I’m increasingly burdened to incorporate psalmody into my church’s services. I’ve had vague inclinations in that direction before–but to my shame, those inclinations never bore any significant fruit.

So. I’ve purchased some resources to help me on my way, and am looking forward to using them. The Trinity Psalter looks like a helpful compilation, and I anticipate mining its riches.

A thought-provoking analogy from the Trinity Psalter‘s forward (p. 4):

Should one’s reading priority be good Christian literature or the Bible? “Oh, that’s easy to answer,” you say. While the reading of good Christian literature is profitable and good and should be encouraged, it should never be allowed to replace the greater good of Bible reading, the ultimate source material upon which good Christian books are based. Case is closed. Yet this is precisely what has happened in the area of the church’s songs.

What should be the priority in singing? Isn’t it self-evident that even the best hymns are nevertheless of human composition and should never be allowed to replace the greater good of psalm-singing? That this obvious truth has nearly completely “slipped the mind” of the modern church is yet another sign that things are seriously amiss in the worship of our churches.

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Athanasius on the Psalms: being helped to do what we are commanded to do

The unique element in the book of Psalms is that it allows the reader to get inside the personalities and events of the Old Testament as a participant; or, perhaps better said, it allows these personalities and events to get inside the reader as an emotive factor in shaping his or her life in accordance with the teachings found there. “In addition to the other matters in which the book of Psalms is related to the other books,” Athanasius says, “it also possesses the unique and marvelous feature that the emotions of each soul have been recorded there. The changes and corrections of these emotions are described and portrayed in the book. Consequently, someone who desires to receive and learn from it without limit, as it were, shapes himself in this way” (Letter to Marcellinus 10). What Athanasius means, as he proceeds to explain, is that in the book of Psalms we are not only told what we should do, as we are in the law, for example, but we are actually helped to do it. We are not only instructed to repent, we are also given the emotions and the words of repentance. We are not only told we should praise or petition God, we are also led into the emotions of praise and petition and given the words to use in expressing them (Letter to Marcellinus 10).

Quoted from Ronald E. Heine, Reading the Old Testament with the Ancient Church: Exploring the Formation of Early Christian Thought (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 149.

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