2 Corinthians 12:5-10
Text: Brendan Graham (1945-) Tune: Rolf Løvland (1955-)
1. When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary, When troubles come, and my heart burdened be, Then, I am still and wait here in the silence Until you come and sit awhile with me.
R/You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains, You raise me up to walk on stormy seas, I am strong when I am on your shoulders, You raise me up to more than I can be.
2. There is no life, no life without its hunger;
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly;
But when you come and I am filled with wonder
Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.
For the most part we have emerged from the worship wars. They began in the 1960s when hootenannies became the rage and were brought into the church in what was called contemporary music, over against traditional. All kinds of nasty volleys were cast across this divide, all more heat than light. I could never get into it with much conviction since what was known as “contemporary” was really old folk with a beat. “Traditional” was the new hymnals of the main line. They usually contained some newly composed modern tunes that sounded of the concert hall and Schoenberg. Some composers who sat on the Lutheran Book of Worship tune committee argued strongly that any effort to produce a hymnal for the late twentieth century should use music that was in line with the music of contemporary classical composers. Frankly, that music was not filling concert halls.
The young folk composers, like John Ylvisaker, noticed this and, moved by the folk revival of Pete Seeger, began writing spiritual songs, “Praise songs” on the whole, paraphrases of the Psalms, the old Calvinist tradition. Most of them wrote their own texts to go with their tunes, partly because they didn’t have to share copyright monies, but also with songs, the tunes come first. Usually with hymns, the texts are prepared and written and then given to musicians who set the texts to appropriate tunes, either well known ones, or newly composed tunes.
The Lutheran Book of Worship 1978 eschewed all songs, except for a couple, “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace.” Meanwhile, the explosion of contemporary music started separating congregations into those who preferred traditional or contemporary worship. Bitter stuff.
For me it was a question of style. My late friend John Ylvisaker and I would muse on these fights as we drove from performance to performance for a couple years—he would play music, I would read poetry and tell stories—and on these trips we talked about these issues. Our conversations were intense. Once, because John had neglected to look at the fuel gage, we ran out of gas on a hill outside of Eau Claire and had to push the car over the hill so it would roll down the hill where he knew there was a gas station. Laughter all the way!
A genius, he would come up with fascinating observations, like: tunes are universal, harmonies chronological, and rhythms geographical. A tune could be sung anywhere; you would know when it was harmonized by the harmony—thirds were very 19th century; the rhythms of Africa, for example, could change a tune so musicologists could puzzle over it for a long time before hearing an old gospel song in it.
In 1995 the ELCA published With One Voice, a song book which featured the best songs of Sunday evening now deemed appropriate for Sunday mornings. Many people complained about the quality of contemporary texts and music. It is difficult to tell what will last from one's own time; there is a lot that will not. But some will. That sifting is continuing now. The best songs from that movement have made it into current hymnals like the Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 2008.
Which brings us to the hymn for today. “You Raise Me Up.” When Løvland's mother died, in 2002, he asked Brendan Graham to write a text for a tune he had written before. He wanted to sing it at her funeral. "You Raise me Up" was the result. Graham is an Irish poet and novelist, whose book The Whitest Flower, Løvland had admired.
Løvland, trained at the music conservatories in Kristiansand, Norway, and in Oslo, blended his classical training and the tradition of using Norwegian folk tunes and instruments in his compositions. (His music has won the Eurovision prize twice.) This was how the contemporary movement blossomed in Scandinavian churches. The composers/singers sang old folk hymns to folk tunes, harmonized them with jazz sounds over a beat, keeping the young connected to the tradition.
Now the question: is this a Christian song? Singing to Jesus as one might sing to a beloved goes way back into the Christian tradition—The Song of Solomon was used to describe Jesus early on as the Rose of Sharon. Medieval poets related to Jesus as their Bridegroom. Charles Wesley wrote “Jesus Lover of My Soul.” This song echoes with Scripture. It doesn’t, however, name the name of Jesus. Neither does “Amazing Grace.” It can be a worry, but when you look at how Christian groups have used it, how overwhelmingly popular it has become—millions and millions of viewers—they know to whom they are singing. But for the others, it is possible to think that God is using it to give people who have no language for praise maybe a way to praise that unknown God that we can name for them, as Paul did on the Aeropagus in Athens. (Acts 17:16-34) A mission? Indeed. At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow!
This must be the most popular praise song in the world today. Løvland and Sherry of Secret Garden, wrote the music. It was first released as a tune called “Silent Story.” Since its writing, there have been hundreds of recordings of the song. Josh Groban’s recording was #1 on the adult contemporary list. He sang it at Superbowl XXXVIII to commemorate the Columbia Space disaster. It was sung by Sissel at the Nobel ceremony in 2004; it was performed by Westlife at the Peace Prize ceremony for Obama in 2009. It has been top or near the top of the charts in many countries, for example, South Korea, Russia, Ireland, the UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, and China, and has been used around the world for moments of celebration and national mourning, like the tsunami in 2004.
Men of the Mormon Tabernacle Chorus