Hymns

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet, Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness, And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!

1911 version of the text by Katharine Lee Bates.

927 reads

Dealing With Loss: A Hero Named Larry

I have always appreciated the old hymn “It is Well With My Soul.” The melody is hauntingly beautiful. The words are especially touching, as they were written while Spafford was crossing the Atlantic when he was near the place where his four daughters died after the vessel in which they were traveling was involved in a collision at sea.

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

I can barely sing these words without tears welling up. Imagine the faith Spafford must have had to pen these words—especially in that place and at that time. Imagine how he must have suffered and agonized on his journey to being able to speak like that. He must have known God’s word well, to be able to lean on God’s promises like he seemed to do.

2649 reads

My Favorite Christmas Carol

Years ago when our kids were very young, we lived in South Florida. Even though I hadn’t grown up with an annual white Christmas (snow in our part of Tennessee was a pretty rare event) I found it very difficult to get into the Christmas spirit when it was 75 degrees outside. You can only turn the air conditioning down so far, and there’s just something wrong with Christmas lights strung on palm trees.

In fairness, the people who lived there tried to get into the spirit of the season. One year a car dealership announced that they were bringing a truckload of snow to dump in their lot so that kids could come and play. There were a lot of kids there, including ours, to play in the “snow.” But what they ended up with looked more like something that came out of a snow cone machine than out of clouds in the sky.

Christmas has always been important to me. When we were very young, our parents had us memorize the Christmas story from Luke 2. We would quote it from memory on Christmas morning before opening the presents. When the only thing standing between you and presents is twenty verses from Luke, you can talk pretty fast.

Many of the traditions we set then when I was child carried forward into our family. Some of them, including Luke 2, we still do today. Although as long as my parents don’t read this, I’ll admit that these days somebody usually has a Bible handy in case we get stuck. I never can remember whether “and the shepherds returned” comes before or after “and Mary kept all these things.”

683 reads

Singin' about Dyin'

When my dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer a few years ago, quite a few changes occurred in my perspective on life and death. The brevity and fragility of life were no longer abstractions. I truly felt them. One result of this new awareness was that I began to notice all the hymns and songs with stanzas about dying.

I recall selecting some songs for Sunday school one day. As I glanced down the list of songs in our database—those we hadn’t sung in a long time, I came to a title I’d passed over many, many times. This time it gripped my attention. A song that had seemed frivolous and silly to me before now moved me deeply as words and music played involuntarily through my mind.

Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away
To a home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away.

The congregation sang it in Sunday school. It’s providential that I was at the piano because I don’t think I could have sung it. Though it had never been more than a light, peppy trifle to me before, it was now too strong to sing.

For a while, quite a few songs were hitting me like that.

4268 reads