This is the thirty-ninth, and final planned post, in this series on the hymns I've sung during my lifetime.
When I began this series in early May, I did not expect to write so much or for it to be such a rich topic of exploration. But as I wrote, other stories and ideas came to mind. This has been an opportunity to examine my own faith development, enter into theological reflection, and share some of my favourite stories about worship, the church, and spiritual experience.
To draw this series to a close, I have saved some of the God hymns that have become common in my hymnody in recent years. These reflect an appreciation for the myriad names and aspects of the divine, a greater focus on the Spirit, and an appreciation for God working through the created world in a way that is in tune with science.
But first, a mention of a hymn that appeared in the Southern Baptist hymnal of my childhood, but which we may have never sung, as it was already an artefact of a different age. But it was one that always stimulated my interest when I read it.
God of earth and outer space,
God of love and God of grace,
Bless the astronauts who fly
As they soar beyond the sky.
God who flung the stars in space,
God who set the sun ablaze,
Fling the spacecraft thro' the air,
Let man know your presence there.
I did quote that hymn in my pastoral prayer the Sunday closest to the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first manned space flight. But the third verse is even more interesting:
God of man's exploring mind,
God of wisdom, God of time,
Launch us from complacency
To a world in need of thee.
God of power, God of might,
God of rockets firing bright.
Hearts ignite and thrust within,
Love for Christ to share with men.
I'm drawn to the exploring mind (and fascinated by the strangely erotic imagery in the final lines). The exploring mind connects well with hymns in our New Century Hymnal, such as:
We limit not the truth of God to our poor reach of mind,
to notions of our day and place, crude, partial, and confined;
No, let a new and better hope within our hearts be stirred:
O God, grant yet more light and truth to break forth from your Word.
This lyric (from 1853 no less) is based upon the 1620 sermon of John Robinson to the Pilgrims as they departed Holland for America in which he told them to expect that there was "yet more light and truth to break forth from God's holy word." Listen to these words from the second verse of "Come, Teach Us, Spirit of Our God:"
Excite our minds to follow you,
to trace new truths in store,
new flight paths for our spirit space,
new marvels to explore:
new marvels to explore.
This spirit of the Stillspeaking God is central to the faith and worship of the United Church of Christ. Thus, one of our favourite hymns is this:
Praise to the living God, the God of love and light,
Whose word brought forth the myriad suns and set the worlds in flight.
Whose infinite design, which we but dimly see,
Pervades all nature, making all a cosmic unity.
But it is the second verse which still startles me for its inclusion of a word and a concept that would have never appeared in the hymnody of my youth:
Praise to the living God, from whom all things derive,
Whose Spirit formed upon this sphere the first faint seeds of life;
Who caused them to evolve, unwitting, toward God's goal,
Till humankind stood on the earth, as living, thinking souls.
Not only does it still startle me every time, it excites and inspires me.
There is this emphasis upon God's Spirit working within us and within creation, in hymns such as "God the Spirit, Guide and Guardian" (which is such a great name). Here is the fourth verse:
Triune God, mysterious being, undivided and diverse,
Deeper than our minds can fathom, greater than our creeds rehearse:
Help us in our varied callings your full image to proclaim,
That our ministries uniting may give glory to your name.
While serving at CoH-OKC I gained a greater appreciation for Pentecost, and the celebration of the Spirit. This was partially because of the influence of CoH-Dallas where Pentecost is one of the biggest Sundays of the year, usually involving fun pyrotechnics during the opening hymn. I haven't been able to convey that joy in Pentecost here at First Central, but they have adopted the tradition of wearing the colours of the flame--red, pink, orange, and yellow.
Come, O Spirit, dwell among us,
come with Pentecostal power;
give the church a stronger vision,
help us face each crucial hour.
Wind who makes all winds that blow--
gusts that bend the saplings low,
Gales that heave the sea in waves,
stirrings in the mind's deep caves--
Aim your breath with steady power
on your church, this day, this hour.
Raise, renew the life we've lost,
Spirit God of Pentecost.
Spirit, spirit of gentleness,
blow through the wilderness, calling and free,
Spirit, spirit of restlessness,
stir me from placidness, wind, wind on the sea.
You moved on the waters,
you called to the deep,
then you coaxed up the mountains
from the valleys of sleep;
And over the eons you
called to each thing,
"Awake from your slumbers
and rise on your wings."
Again, this concept of God's Spirit working within us and within creation, and it is the diversity of nature that reveals the myriad forms of God. This is clear in one of the most unusal hymns in our hymnal, which is also a favourite here at First Central:
God of the sparrow
God of the whale
God of the swirling stars
How does the creature say Awe
How does the creature say Praise
The note in the hymnal says, "Jaroslav Vajda wrote this text to provoke answers to how and why we serve God. By creating new poetic forms and adapting ageless ideas and expressions, Vajda speaks in the language of his time."
And this diversity within the divine is made most explicit by a hymn that I only learned here at First Central, which is one of their favourites. We sang it two Sundays ago, and I could feel how it worked within this congregation, inviting their imaginations to engage with the divine in play and praise.
Bring many names,
beautiful and good,
celebrate, in parable and story,
holiness in glory,
living, loving God.
Hail and Hosanna!
bring many names.
Strong mother God,
working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation,
setting each equation,
genius at play:
Hail and Hosana,
strong mother God!
The next three verses celebrate "Warm father God," "Old, aching God," and "Young, growing God." What delight in imagining God as old and aching and young and growing! Of course many religious folk would somehow view these images and concepts as contrary to divinity, thereby strangely limiting their concept of God. Thus, there is a great divide in what and who it is we are worshipping.
The final verse expresses the great mysteries and paradoxes of our faith:
Great, living God,
never fully known,
joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
closer yet than breathing,
Hail and Hosanna,
great, living God!