HYMN 160 It still is bright summer
Danish: Endnu er det sommer
Text: Lisbeth Smedegaard Andersen (1934--). Tune: René A. Jensen
1. It still is bright summer, breezes
Brush soft on skin in the light
The indigo skies of late August
With luminous starry nights.
2. The mornings are feeling chilly
In autumn we understand
All flesh is like grass, our days ending
Like wind cov’ring tracks in sand.
3. But Jesus’ Word is the truth and
The faith that we do believe.
We live all our days in God’s presence
It’s just like eternity.
4. He sends us out on a journey
And know where all of it leads
Perhaps it is time you should reach out
With hope for someone in need.
5. Forgive an old foe a blunder
And set your old hurts aside
And quietly live with a friendship
So firm it will long abide.
6. And see in each other’s faces
Eternity in your sight.
Above heaven’s indigo evening
And luminous starry night.
Tr. Gracia Grindal
The Danes love to sing together. In 2014, my sister and I traveled to Denmark to the 80th birthday of my good friend, Pastor Lisbeth Smedegaard Andersen. Her home community in Herning, Jutland, had prepared a weekend celebration of her birthday with all the "hygge" that Danes can muster, which is, as everyone knows, considerable.
We were struck by how well the people could sing. They were able to take on new hymns by Lisbeth and sing them with all their hearts. It was wonderful.
Danish hymnody is filled with images of nature, roses commonly appear in the hymns of the three great Danes, Kingo, Brorson, and Grundtvig, and also Lisbeth whom I count their equal. Pentecost hymns, especially, are filled with images of fresh springtime flowers, brooks and trees. These images are not unique to Denmark, but the use of them in hymns is. I have been told that the Swedish hymnal committee in the last go around had a session about whether they could use Danish hymns with their images of nature because they were so Danish. I thought that was very funny since southern Sweden is rather like Denmark in climate, fauna and flora.
Of late, Danish hymn writers have been commissioned to write hymns on the times of day and year. Lisbeth has written a couple of collections of hymns on the months and some on the time of day. Today’s hymn is for late August. What she does so well is see in the natural world around her images that can speak of the spiritual world. I envy the way she does that.
This hymn surprised me when I was first working with it. Living in God's presence makes us take account of our lives. Images of late summer give us vivid reminders of passing time. Summer is soon ended, and we are on our journey toward winter. As fall brings us to times of cleaning or harvesting in nature, spiritually we can see it as a time to prepare for an ending, to evaluate how we are doing. What in our daily lives have we neglected? Helping others, or making things right with those we have offended or hurt, or tending to the good relationships we have? Time for reflection.
A hymn that asks how we are doing, urging us in the light of eternity to seek to make things right is not unusual, but this sneaks up on one. The surprise sends us into reflection. Whom do I need to attend to in my journey? Those who need hope? My friendships? My neighbors? Endings make us face up to these things. We want to wrap up the year, our lives, with a clean slate. With Jesus living in us, eternity in our eyes, he gives us the courage both to see our failings clearly and do something about them "in luminous starry night."
This hymn is a part of a collection of twelve hymns Himlens lys I dine hænder Lisbeth wrote some time ago. René A. Jensen set them some years ago. Look at the album cover and see the work of one of Denmark’s most well known artists today, Maja Lisa Engelhardt. Lisbeth has written many books on art in Danish churches and two on the great artists who have pictured Christ and Mary over the millennia. Lisbeth was pastor of Holmen Church in downtown Copenhagen. Since her retirement she has written many books on art, several of hymns and poetry, and novelistic books on the story of her family in Denmark. She puts them in the context of the cultural settings, art, theology and hymnody of Denmark and the times. I wish they were translated into English!