Christmas Eve

It is always difficult to know what to put on here on Christmas Eve. Chances are that no one will read it anyway.

By now, if you have hung around churches, schools, village halls etc for any length of time over the past few weeks, you will be all carolled out. I like carols, but confess that I struggle with many of the words: the 19th century ones that dominate tend to be mawkish & serve only to inoculate people from considering whether the Christmas story has any relation to life now.

Mind you, much worship music does the same (it’s my blog and I am allowed to make sweeping statements).

For my last school assembly, I went to a village school and they sang this as a Christmas song. I liked it immensely. Maybe that was because I/we face big changes in the new year and the way is not yet clear. However, I also think it was because it was ‘real’: it held together Hope/despair/longing and life as it is lived in a way that is rare.

I would love to sing it again…. it has that kind of wistful longing that is close to the longing that the Biblical Prophets had.

 

When the winter day is dying,

And the wind is blowing wild,

Listen for a lonely crying,

It may be a wand’ring child.

Light a candle in the darkness,

Let the night know that you care,

Light a candle in the window,

It may guide the Christ child there.

When at times you fear to follow,

On the track that you must tread,

Friendly promises are hollow,

For the tests that lie ahead.

Light a candle in the darkness,

When your final hope is gone,

Light a candle in the window,

And the child will lead you on.

When the world outside is waiting,

But you can’t give any more,

There’s no end to war and hating,

And you long to close the door.

Light a candle in the darkness,

Let it shine beyond your pain,

Light a candle in the darkness,

And the Child will come again

(A.E.Scholey)

Sunday Hymns

Two old hymns…. I’m a needing guidance.

I love the poetry of the old language and also how there is mystery. On top of that there is acknowledgement that things are not always clear or straightforward. I long ago grew tired of Christian hymns/songs that pretended otherwise.

Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
pilgrim though this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand;
Bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore.

Open now the crystal fountain,
whence the healing stream doth flow;
let the fiery cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through;
strong Deliverer,
be thou still my Strength and Shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
bear me through the swelling current,
land me safe on Canaan’s side;
songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee.

————————————————-

  1. Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
    Lead thou me on!
    The night is dark, and I am far from home;
    Lead thou me on!
    Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
    The distant scene–one step enough for me.
  2. 2. I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that thou
    Shouldst lead me on.
    I loved to choose and see my path; but now,
    Lead thou me on!
    I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
    Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years.
  3. 3. So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still
    Will lead me on
    O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
    The night is gone.
    And with the morn those angel faces smile,
    Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!


Sunday Hymn

(For those who know me, but never come to church, this is what I look like when I am singing hymns)

I am sure I have featured this before: it is one of my favourite hymns.

The language is dated, archaic even. But the sentiment is real: it is rare to find a song about following Jesus that is so honest. Two verses, no flab & refreshingly open about mixed motives and missed opportunities. One of the few I can sing completely with honesty.

Dear Master, in whose life I see
All that I would, but fail to be,
Let thy clear light for ever shine,
To shame and guide this life of mine.

Though what I dream and what I do
In my weak days are always two,
Help me, oppressed by things undone,
O thou, whose deeds and dreams were one!

(John Hunter 1848-1917)

Sunday hymn

I was looking for a hymn for today and I found this one. I am not using it, but I like the words. It is an African- American traditional song. I had never some across it but I like the words. Having spent 2 nights at ‘The Cornshed’, I may be rather fragile….

Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer

Not the preacher, not the sinner, but it’s me oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
Not the preacher, not the sinner, but it’s me oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer

Not my mother, not my father, but it’s me oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
Not my mother, not my father, but it’s me oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer

It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer
It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord
Standing in the need of prayer

Singing old hymns

This morning, I will be doing something that I rarely do: using almost exclusively ‘old’ hymns. Normally I don’t do this: I like a mix of styles/meters/ages.

I am doing this as the church I am talking to is contemplating extreme change. I reckoned that when doing that, it would be good to use some really old hymns that many regard as ‘traditional’ and therefore ‘safe’. The irony is that most of them- once you decode the language and culture- are not. Many of the best talk of movement, change and a restless God who is always searching, looking…… and a church that is not about us and our needs.

Human nature is, after a while, to close up: ‘this is mine, I like it: please don’t change it. If anyone else wants to be a part of it: we are here; just be like us.’ Churches can follow this pattern & part of the role of a minister is sometimes to say ‘Hey- it was never meant to be like this.’

This is one of the hymns: archaic wording, but the sentiments excite me….

Come, let us sing of a wonderful love,
Tender and true, tender and true,
Out of the heart of the Father above,
Streaming to me and to you:
Wonderful love, wonderful love,
Dwells in the heart of the Father above.

Jesus the Saviour this Gospel to tell
Joyfully came, joyfully came,
Came with the helpless and hopeless to dwell,
Sharing their sorrow and shame:
Seeking the lost, seeking the lost,
Saving, redeeming at measureless cost.

Jesus is seeking the wanderers yet;
Why do they roam? Why do they roam?
Love only waits to forgive and forget;
Home, weary wanderers, home!
Wonderful love, wonderful love,
Dwells in the heart of the Father above.

Come to my heart, O thou wonderful love!
Come and abide, come and abide,
Lifting my life till it rises above
Envy and falsehood and pride:
Seeking to be, seeking to be,
Lowly and humble, a learner of thee.

 

Sunday Hymn

Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
Hold me with thy powerful hand:
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more.
Feed me till I want no more.

Open thou the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream shall flow;
Let the fiery, cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through:
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer
Be thou still my strength and shield.
Be thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side:
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever give to thee.
I will ever give to thee.

 

I remember reading a review of U2s ‘Achtung Baby’ in a rock magazine over 20 years ago. The reviewer said that it was impossible to understand the album without a background knowledge of the Bible & lamented that many wouldn’t have that knowledge so wouldn’t fully appreciate the album. It is the same with this hymn: the words, although in older English have that same allusions to scripture & not always in an obvious way. I like the way that the tune locks in with the words and the sense of ‘hiraeth’ that it imparts. I believe that ‘hiraeth’ is almost untranslatable into English: one of the nearest words we have is ‘longing’, but it is more intense that that.

I am having this hymn today in one of the services I am leading. As I have got older, I have found that I can sing fewer and fewer songs with integrity. What is left tends to be the older hymns whose form I once thought archaic and remote. Once you have got used to the form and the words I have found them to be much more realistic about joy, pain, God and human nature. This is one of them: it’s sense of wistful yearning in the midst of uncertainty resonates with me more than 100s of worship songs that exhort me to ‘rise up’ or similar.

When it all goes awol:4

Last Sunday I used the following hymn: it is beautiful. I find it really helpful when everything is up in the air.

If you go to where the trolls hang out (aka ‘Guardian Religion and Belief’) that statement would be read as something like- ‘he has no intelligence and doesn’t use his brain, instead ceding control to an imaginary deity’. You have to read this in nonconformist context- God gave us a brain, we use it, God also called us into communities- we work for justice/healing/hope and try and build community. Yes, and we talk about what it is to follow Jesus. But we also recognise that we are limited and finite, so we sing stuff like this together and Hope for guidance and a way through the storm….

…and this is almost impossible to understand without a rich steeping in the Christian story. And even Polly Toynbee, who self describes as an atheist, was in the Guardian a few days back lamenting that Biblical/Christian literacy is declining.

1:Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land. 
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand. 
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me till I want no more;
feed me till I want no more.

2. Open now the crystal fountain,
whence the healing stream doth flow;
let the fire and cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through. 
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer,
be thou still my strength and shield;
be thou still my strength and shield.

3. When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
death of death and hell’s destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’s side. 
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee;
I will ever give to thee.

Oh let’s have a hymn then…

I am not sure what I think of this ‘hymn’; it doesn’t even appear in the Methodist hymn book, so it must be highly suspect (hmm; I forgot to take my irony pills again). It is more an English cultural icon and I guess that William Blake wrote it whilst he was completely out of his tree on something stronger than tea. However, it was used at a funeral that I took this week. Being English I find it oddly moving and I did not realise, until now, it’s left wing credentials.

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land

Hymn

I sometimes think that the most profound prayer is ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.’ I know that everyone is made in the image of God (no Calvinist ‘total depravity’ here) but we do mess up don’t we? The older I get, the more aware I am of my own limitations and errors: often painfully so.

I have had this hymn for two weeks in a row. Ignore the dated masculine imagery; it is a child of its time, but it expresses something that I feel deeply. Amidst the vast ocean of Christian hymnody, it is part of the diminishing puddle that I can sing easily.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

 

In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow Thee.

 

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!

 

With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

 

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

 

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

Palm Sunday

I really like this hymn; old though it is. I am only using the first 3 verses today. I love the poetry and the explicit statement of missionary intent: ‘Love to the loveless shown’.

We ain’t there yet. A couple of weeks back I heard report of a presumably regular church attender who sai of their church ‘If ‘they’ take the pews out I am not going again’. We have truly come a long way since Jesus of Nazareth gave his life for love. I am not sure where ‘keeping things like we like it’ came in that… 

  • My song is love unknown,
    My Savior’s love to me;
    Love to the loveless shown,
    That they might lovely be.
    O who am I,
    That for my sake
    My Lord should take
    Frail flesh, and die?

 

  • He came from His blest throne
    Salvation to bestow;
    But men made strange, and none
    The longed-for Christ would know:
    But oh, my Friend,
    My Friend indeed,
    Who at my need
    His life did spend.

 

  • Sometimes they strew His way,
    And His sweet praises sing;
    Resounding all the day
    Hosannas to their King:
    Then “Crucify!“
    Is all their breath,
    And for His death
    They thirst and cry.