Norwegian: Å at jeg kunne min Jesus Prise
Psalm 13, Psalm 42
Text: Lars Oftedal (1838—1900) Tune: Swedish/Norwegian folk tune
1. My heart is longing to praise my Savior,
And glorify his name in song and prayer;
For he has shown me his wondrous favor
And offered me all heav'n with him to share.
2. I walked in blindness, my soul was dying,
The prince of darkness held me in his pow’r.
In pain I turned to my Father crying;
He broke my chains and saved me in that hour.
3. O blessed Jesus, what you have given,
Through dying on the cross in bitter pain,
Has filled my heart with the peace of heaven;
My winter's gone and spring is mine again.
4. O Christian friends, let our song ascending
Give honor, praise to him who set us free!
Our tribulations may seem unending;
But soon with him we shall forever be.
5. When we are home and we stand before him;
What matter then what we have suffered here?
Then he shall crown us, while we adore him;
So death and all our pain will disappear.
6. To thee, O Savior, our adoration
Shall rise forever for thy precious blood
Which blotted out all the accusation
Of sin and guilt which once against us stood.
7. What blessed joy overflows my spirit,
Because thy wondrous grace was granted me.
Thy work complete, that I may inherit
At last eternal life with thee.
Tr. P. A. Sveegen (1881-1959)
It was summer 1984 in a college auditorium somewhere. I had been teaching at a conference for Lutheran campus ministers. The year before I had worked on translating South African songs by a group from Sweden. They would be used at the Lutheran World Federation Assembly in Budapest that year. That group, Fjedur, had spent a year in South Africa learning the music of South Africans and had prepared a recording and book, Freedom is Coming. It had swept Lutheran lands. What they translated into Swedish, I translated into English. (More on this later)
To my surprise and delight, they appeared on stage and began singing jazzy versions of Swedish folk and African protest songs. Then they sang a tune I knew. They told the story. While working on their project in South Africa, they had come upon a Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW). Looking through it, they found the hymn, "My Heart is Longing to Praise my Savior." With some work they restored it back to what they thought would be an approximate version of it as a Swedish folk song they all knew.
Amazing! I had spent good chunks of time on the Hymn Text Committee of the LBW arguing that it be included. It was my father’s favorite. Swedes, they had found an English version of a Norwegian song in an American Lutheran hymnal in South Africa!
The story does start in Sweden. A contemporary of Lina Sandell, Fredrik Engelke (1848-1906) had used the tune for a text he had written and included in a book of spiritual songs. Lars Oftedal, a star pastor in Stavanger, and older brother of Sven Oftedal, professor at Augsburg Seminary, had written his text somewhat influenced by Engelke's text, to the folk tune. He published it in a best selling song book, Basunrøst og Harpetoner (1870). In 1875 he came to Minneapolis to celebrate the dedication of the new main building at Augsburg Seminary. After the dedication he and his two brothers, Ommund and Sven, took a tour around southern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and northern Iowa, a trio, singing from his songbook, and preaching, gathering money for the school.
An eloquent preacher, Oftedal, was an active leader and reformer in Stavanger, founding an orphanage, a home for unwed mothers, a prayer house, becoming the editor of a newspaper, Vestlandsposten, and serving in the Norwegian Parliament. It all came crashing down in 1891 when he confessed he had had an inappropriate relationship with a woman not his wife. He resigned his position as editor, and politician, but did continue some ministry activities, building a new prayer house in Stavanger.
When I was still in grade school, during the summer months, to give mother some respite, we would go with our father on his calls to members who were homebound. We would drive out on the endless North Dakota prairies on roads that were just two tracks with the ever present wind whipping the silver green grasses in the ditches and between the ruts. I remember hearing my father talking to his flock, most of whom were from the Sognefjord region, in their rich Sogne dialect, which he had learned from his foster father. He would close with prayer and then sing this hymn to them. Their lives had been tough, both in Norway and in North Dakota which many loved "because it had been good to them, and you can't eat scenery," one old pioneer told me. I can still see the tears spilling from their rheumy eyes, their sighing as they longed for a better place. Now we may be joining with them in understanding that this world is not heaven, and one day the release into “eternal life with” the Lord will be an improvement! “When we are home and we stand before him;/What matter then what we have suffered here?”
The editors of the Concordia, (1932) which included this hymn in translation, helped the hymn cross into the American Lutheran scene. They had gotten P. A. Sveegen, English professor at Augsburg, to translate it. They attributed the text to Princess Eugenie, the artistically accomplished sister of Swedish King Oscar II. A pious woman, well known for her support of Christian causes, she could well have written it, but did not. I think the editors, knowing that many still remembered the Oftedal scandal, as many still do in Norway, attributed it to her, giving it extra attraction. The tune is now known as Princess Eugenie. The choral arrangement by Leland B. Sateren has become part of the American choral repertoire. Unfortunately, it did not make it into the Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal of the ELCA. It remains a favorite in Norway in folk, jazz, choral and solo arrangements which I link to below.
Instrumental with choir
Augsburg Choir 1972-1973 Sateren's arrangement directed by him
Saxophon/piano jazz version
Carl Petter Opsahl
I am oddly partial to this home produced version, maybe the voice sounds like my dad's