Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Old Hymns

Riding the Storm

william-cowper-quote-i-seem-forsaken

Following President Trump’s inaugural address yesterday, I toyed with the idea of writing a letter and posting it. It would have gone something like this:

Dear World,
The new President of the USA does not speak for me. Please don’t judge me or my neighbors harshly because we’re from the USA. You and I have gotten along quite well so far. In fact, I wouldn’t be who I am today without you. I’d like to think I’ve contributed a bit to your life, as well.

If you’re reading this, I know you won’t treat me poorly because I’m from the USA. Still, a cold chill went up my spine when I heard President Trump’s angry determination to put America first. And last, it seems, since there weren’t any other countries that came in second or even third.

Thank you for your friendship and hospitality. I sincerely trust this ‘new’ approach to the rest of the world won’t stop us from welcoming each other and working together on things that matter for all of us.

Sincerely,
Elouise

So I didn’t post this letter. Instead, I’m thinking about the storm of uncertainty, confusion, disillusionment, anger and fear that surround Trump’s presidency. Where do I stand? How do I keep my footing? Especially since I don’t know where the storm is going.

Ever since the presidential election results were announced, I’ve thought about William Cowper (‘Cooper’). He was a poet and hymn writer from Britain. Born in 1731; died in 1800. His life was filled with hard times such as the death of his mother and most of his siblings, bullying at school, and his father’s refusal to allow him to marry his sweetheart who happened to be his cousin.

As an adult Cowper struggled with deep depression and manic episodes. He attempted suicide on several occasions, was put in an institution and declared insane. He was also a prolific writer of hymns, poetry and occasional prose.

Two stanzas of one of his hymns, possibly the last he wrote, keep going through my mind. In the hymn a fierce storm rages. Surprisingly, God doesn’t calm the storm; God uses it to do something else. Something mysterious.

In order to do this, God steps smack into the middle of the storm and rides it like a chariot. This could be Cowper’s personal storm or our personal storms. It could also be our current political storm, with its global implications.

Cowper’s words help focus me. They’re also calming, reassuring and challenging. We haven’t been left to our own devices.

Here are the stanzas I’ve been thinking about and singing to myself. You’ll find all stanzas here.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm. . . .

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

c 1770

William Cowper, published by John Newton in Twenty-six Letters on Religious Subjects, 1774

Without ignoring the storm, Cowper’s hymn invites me to focus on what God is going to do. Not without, but by way of the storm. Blessings will fall. Not on a calm sea, but in the midst of stormy adversity. A sweet flower will bloom from what seems to be a bitter bud.

My part is to keep the faith so that I can recognize and celebrate the work of our Creator in the midst of what seems a chaotic mess.

Thanks for reading and listening.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 January 2017
Quotation found at QuoteHD.com

Abide with me

From the moment I saw the daily prompt, I couldn’t get it out of my mind: Abide.   One of those old-fashioned words I learned early in life. Not in school, but from singing a beloved old hymn over and over, “Abide with me.”

Stay with me. Dwell with me. Don’t leave me alone. I need your presence, especially now.

Is it my age? Possibly. But it’s more than that.

It’s Advent. I can’t get out of my mind the image of Jesus coming to abide then and now with us as human beings. Especially in times of distress, change and upheaval. A baby comes to abide with a family he didn’t choose and never met before birth. As a young man he gathers a group of children, women and men, perhaps hoping they’ll abide with him until he meets his end. Indeed, one of them promises never to leave him. And yet….

It isn’t just that I feel better when someone abides with me. It’s that I don’t want to be abandoned in this life. At any point along the way, and especially at the end. Anyone will do. Anyone who will abide with me, even for a little while. Jesus understands this longing, this need for other people willing to be present, to remind us physically that we’re not alone. Especially, but not only during hard times.

And so this old hymn resonates for me. There’s One who is already there for me up to and beyond my farewell to this earth. My head knows this. My heart yearns to see what I cannot see. Touch what I cannot touch. And so I sing….

Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day,
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away,
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour;
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee:
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Amen.

Words: H. F. Lyte, 1847
Music (Eventide): W. H. Monk, 1861

Text copied from The Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of American, published by The Church Pension Fund 1940, 1943

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 December 2016
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Abide

They fly, forgotten

…as a dream dies at the close of day.

This line from Isaac Watts’ well-known hymn popped into my head when I saw the prompt for today.

When I looked up all stanzas of “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past,” I was surprised to see several that aren’t included in most hymnals today. Without them, Watts’ meaning is changed ever so slightly.

To illustrate, here’s a lightening-quick look at one of the omitted stanzas, sandwiched between the last two familiar stanzas of the hymn.  First, a familiar stanza.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

I hear this as primarily a reference to those who serve gallantly and die in loyal service to their countries, daughters as well as sons.

Yet the very next [now omitted] stanza catches my eye. Watts had something bigger on his mind. Imagine singing this in your church or other place of meeting.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

I hear an invitation to check false national pride at the door. False pride that believes my/our nation is intrinsically superior to other nations and thus more enduring. Some call this exceptionalism.

Isaac Watts reminds us that all nations, like human beings, are flowers of the field that wither and die. Sooner, rather than later. Hence, the comforting and sobering truth of the last familiar stanza:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

~~~

As for us, our life is like grass,
We grow and flourish like a wild flower;
then the wind blows on it, and it is gone –
No one sees it again.
Psalm 103:16 (The Good News Translation)

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 December 2016
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Vanish

King of glory, King of peace

george-herbert-cd_cover

For over two months I’ve listened to and sung along with the old hymn below. I’m a teary person. It doesn’t take much to open the floodgates. Even so, I’m taken aback by how deeply this particular old hymn moves me.

Here are the lyrics. My comments follow.

King of glory, King of peace,
I will love thee;
and, that love may never cease,
I will move thee.
Thou has granted my request,
thou has heard me;
thou didst note my working breast,
thou hast spared me. Read the rest of this entry »

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