Updated: Apr 18, 2021
German: So nimm denn meine Hände
Norwegian: Så ta da mine hender
Text: Julie Hausmann (1825-1901) Friedrich Silcher (1789-1860)
1. Lord, take my hand and lead me Upon life’s way; Direct, protect, and feed me From day to day. Without your grace and favor I go astray: So take my hands, O Savior, And lead the way.
2. Lord, when the tempest rages, I need not fear; For you, the Rock of Ages, Are always near. Close by your side abiding, I fear no foe, For when your hand is guiding, In peace I go.
3. Lord, when the shadows lengthen And nigh has come, I know that you will strengthen My steps toward home, And nothing can impede me, O Blessed Friend! So, take my hand and lead me Unto the end. Tr. LBW version, 1978
“If a hymn can help you survive a concentration camp, it is probably worth something!” said Helmut Thielecke (1908-1986) in retort to those who found the theology of this hymn shallow. Many prisoners on their release testified to the comfort it gave them in that most terrible of circumstances.
If I remember rightly he said this when he came to Augsburg College in October 1963, a few weeks before John Kennedy was killed. He had come to Augsburg for a Reformation Day celebration. The place was packed, over 900 attended. His reflections on being a pastor and theologian during and after WWII in Germany were revelatory to those of us who still had fathers, brothers, and uncles, friends, who had died in or served in the war.
Death occupied much of his thought. He had almost died several times. The first time was after an operation for a goiter. It had not been successful. His pain and suffering grew desperate. On Good Friday, 1933, he saw on the bottle of medicine he was taking that it was poisonous in large doses. He looked at the crucifix in his hospital room and “bid farewell to my life.” He drank it all. To his surprise, he awoke the next morning “astonished at the mere fact of being alive and felt happy in a way I cannot explain. I had the feeling I had been saved.” (Ernstfall, 150)
For Thielecke, it was his confrontation with death that gave him life. Later he would say he spoke to the Savior that night as a brother and friend. “At that moment I had committed [my life] into another hand and let myself go. This was my first encounter with Christ.” (Ernstfall, 150)
He would recognize through the rest of his life that it was in the face of suffering and death that we see our need for Christ. Thus he loved great hymnody because “hymnbooks have always been thought and versified in the face of death. There is no terror out of which God could not create a spring of mercy.” (Man in God's World, 141.)
Although I accompanied the singing at that event, I cannot remember if we sang this hymn, but it would have been perfect. Young and unacquainted with grief, I knew this was a moment not to forget. We were hearing the truth being spoken eloquently and passionately from a man who had once stood by a bombed out church building preaching to those who had just suffered the deaths of beloved family and friends. He wanted to preach because he had to. He had learned that to face death was to learn to relish life today. And that could only be done by giving himself over to Christ. Take courage. God is working to create a spring of mercy! Even in our captivity, there are beauties we should not miss. Relish them. These times of strange suffering could make believers out of us all!
Born in Riga, Latvia, Julie Hausmann wrote this hymn. Like many women of her day, she
suffered ill health and lack of opportunity. She tried to work as a governess, but had to return home to care for her blind father. After his death, she lived with her sisters in Germany, Southern France, and St. Petersburg. She died in Estonia while on a vacation with her family. Some say she wrote the hymn after traveling to meet her fiancé on the mission field where he was serving. She arrived to find he had died while she was en route. We do not know whether that is true, but one hears in the text the writer’s sense of devastation and hopelessness that could only be relieved by giving herself over to Christ, her Friend. The tune by Silcher had originally been for a secular text, but since being connected with this text it has been wedded forever to it. The hymn is commonly used throughout Lutheran lands as a funeral hymn.
John Cavicchio/Sing along, the words are there
Stimmen der Berge
Iver Kleive and Knut Reiersrud--wild