Text: John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) Frederick Charles Maker (1844-1927) C. Hubert H. Parry (1848-1918)
1. 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. 2. 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. 3. O Sabbath rest by Galilee! O calm of hills above, Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee The silence of eternity Interpreted by love! 4. 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. 5. 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. 6. 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.
Once, while at a meeting in Philadelphia, a colleague and I attended a Quaker meeting for our Sunday worship. We went to the old historic Arch Street meeting house, the oldest in Philadelphia and largest in the world.. I had never been to such a meeting before. Everything was quiet. People walked in silently. Then the hour began. As was the practice, people could speak if so moved, but silence was the order of the day.
As the hour went on, I could feel the differences in the stillness. Almost like the stages of sleep, one sensed that after a bit, the rustling of people getting settled stopped and an intense quiet settled over the group. That lasted for some time, and then everyone shifted with a bit more rustling and settling in. Then a woman got up and spoke briefly. We sank back into silence, but not so deep. Then the meeting was over and we stood up to leave, smiling at the others, walking into a brilliant winter Sunday afternoon, refreshed and eager for a bit of sightseeing.
One can read in our hymn for today that love of quietness and calm. This hymn is on the list of favorites everywhere English hymns are sung. It comes from a poem by Whittier, "The Brewing of Soma" in which he describes the brewing of an inebriating drink by the Hindu priests so their followers would be filled with loud ecstatic worship. Whittier’s poem contrasts that noise to what he sees as the Quaker way, of being in touch with the divine as opposed even to the wild revivals among Christians in his time. Raised in the Quaker faith, Whittier preferred the quietness of its worship and traditions.
Whittier did not write this as a hymn. He said he never wrote hymns because he did not understand music. However, several of his poems have become hymns. As one of America’s most beloved poets of the 19th century, he was widely read. Most famous, probably, is his long nostalgic poem “Snowbound.” Raised on a farm in Massachusetts, Whittier was a sickly child who had no future in farming. He, however, did have a future as a journalist and poet. With little formal training, he began reading poetry, introduced to it by his sister. His first publication was a poem and while he taught in a small school, he began working on his poetry.
Early on he became a fierce opponent of slavery and joined with the Abolitionist, William Garrison, to fight it in the press. In the 1830s he helped found the Anti-Slavery Society and worked tirelessly against the institution, writing editorials, supporting candidates for political office that opposed slavery. He was a strong supporter of Charles Sumner, the senator whose fierce attacks on slavery caused a Representaitve from South Carolina, Preston Brooks, to viciously assault Sumner with his cane on the Senate floor. The attack further polarized the nation and led to fears of Civil War.
Whittier wrote a poem, "Ichabod," against Daniel Webster, disappointed that he had voted for the Compromise Act of 1850--which included five separate bills, among them adding California as a free state, letting Utah and New Mexico vote on whether to be slave or free and the Fugitive Slave Act, Even though it is credited with delaying the Civil War, the costs to the cause of abolition--and Webster's reputation, were steep.
Whittier’s poor health kept him homebound for his entire life. He continued writing poetry after the Civil War and became what was called A Fireside Poet, among the group of patriotic American poets whose works were read around the fireside in American homes until the birth of radio.
The hymn has remained on the top list of hymns probably because of the call for silence and reflection. Its final line refers to the experience of the prophet Elijah being instructed by God in the mountain, when the voice of God appears not in the earthquake, wind, or fire, but in the still small voice. One can see in the faces of those singing how they long for that still small voice of calm!
This first was used as a hymn in 1884 when Garret Horder included it in his book Congregational Hymns. From there it spread around the world to become one of the most popular hymns in the canon. It has two favorite tunes, one, Rest by Frederick Charles Maker, and the other, Repton, by C. Huber H. Parry, preferred in England. Parry, the writer of the popular tune "Jerusalem," died in the 1918 flu epidemic. For more on Parry see https://www.hymnfortheday.com/post/hymn-173-and-did-those-feet-in-ancient-time-jerusalem
Repton/ Winchester Cathedral Songs of Praises
Katherine Jenkins during Songs of Praise
Rest/Presbyterian Church of Marion/vocal group, lovely arrangement
Rest/Dallas Adult Christ Choir
NB: Lent is less than a month away. A wonderful Lenten discipline is reading the Passion hymns, one for every day of Lent. Follow the link to buy it and receive it in time.