Updated: Jun 11, 2020
Finnish: Koskete, minua tua
Norwegian: Grip du meg, Heilage Ande
Swedish: Grip du mig, helige Ande
Text: Pia Perkiö (1944-) Ull-Britt Gustafsson-Pensar (1931- ). Tune: Ilkka Kuusisto (1933-)
1. Hold me, O Spirit most holy,
Touch me with flames of light.
Answer me as I wonder:
Which way is good and right?
2. Come, stir my heart, Holy Spirit,
Down to my very core.
Help me trust that Jesus
Will lead me safely forth.
3. Spur me on, Spirit most holy,
Make me secure and free,
Show me how to care for
Those who depend on me.
4. Send me your light, Holy Spirit,
So I can come to know:
How our Lord is working
As he did long ago.
5. I have been given a calling
I have some work to do!
Therefore, Holy Spirit,
Hear me sing thanks to you!
Tr. Gracia Grindal (2011)
My friend, John Ylvisaker, had a wonderful song he sang often, "Mamas, don't let your children to grow up to be hymnologists!" We are, admittedly, an odd collection of characters. Often they are scholars who have to support their habit by teaching something else, and working on their first love on the side. (Few universities can afford a scholar dedicated to this subject.) They love to collect hymns and are fly traps for trivia about hymns and hymn writers. The trumpeter who played taps at John Kennedy's funeral (and made a mistake) was one--I once visited his basement full of rows on rows of shelves with hymnals of every kind, from every land, from every tradition. He never lived down his mistake, unfortunately, but his library lives on somewhere.
Writers and composers of hymns get out more. One of the things that strikes me as I work with Nordic hymn writers and musicians is the high quality of their texts and music. During the Hymn Explosion of new hymns in Sweden and Norway in the late 60s and forward, both Nordic poets and musicians wanted to use music and language that could speak to their people in the languages of the day. Because these countries are small, their work will be considered part of the artistic treasuries of each country. Many of you may have been surprised to hear that almost all of the hymns I have referenced have jazz or pop accompaniments, even the most traditional. That fits with Ylvisaker’s comment that harmonies are chronological. That is, one can tell when it was harmonized by listening to the song.
This hymn tune by the Finnish jazz player and prolific opera composer, Ilkka Kuusisto (b. 1933), is a good example of my point. The tune which sounds like an old chorale in some respects, is also jazzy. If one searches on Youtube for either the Finnish or Swedish version of this song, one will find hundreds of recordings of it, almost all with the sound of jazz in the performance.
It is popular not simply because of the melody, which becomes an ear worm after a bit, but for the words by one of Finland’s contemporary poets, Pia Perkiö, a deacon in the Finnish church, who writes hymns and poetry for the church. Her hymn was translated into Swedish by an eminent literary scholar, Ull-Britt Gustafsson-Pensar. When I was translating it into English from Swedish, I kept close contact with Ull-Britt. A warm, grandmotherly force of nature, she would not let me get away with easy versions. She kept pressing me to get it right, especially the stanza about our calling. She did not want me to miss the specific language about vocation in stanza three through five, a strong emphasis in Lutheran theology. I love that kind of pressure: it always makes my work better. I met her in Trondheim at our international hymn society meeting in 2007. We were going to a meeting. As we walked along, I enjoyed her good humor and Swede-Finn accented English which is a particular sound that I have come to love. A scholar, and character, like many of the hymnologists in this group, she has spent her life studying the work of one of Finland’s greatest writers, Zacharias Topelius (1818-1898), among other things a Swede-Finn patriot, and writer of poems and hymns in Swedish.
She continues to work now as she approaches 90. She was part of the committee that put together the Swede-Finn hymnal for the Finnish church. Many may not be aware of this, but Swedish is an official language of Finland. Over 5% of the people speak Swedish as their native tongue. So much of what is written in Finnish, that I need to read, I can access in Swedish, fortunately. Finnish is not easily learned!
This hymn is a prayer, but it also teaches the one praying what the Holy Spirit does in instigating and guiding us in our work. The question is always before us: what should I do in your service, Lord? Lead me and guide me. We need help on our Christian pilgrimage.
This is a prayer we all need to be praying now as we go out into the world after the quarantine and riots. What is God calling us to do? We can be confident that he will help since, as the hymn notes, God's works in the past give us the hope he will help us now. We walk by faith, but not by sight. So we need to pray constantly that God is leading us forth into the light... and the right!
Written in 1978 by Pia Perkiö, this Pentecost hymn has been unusually popular in the north. You can see that in the number of times it was used this Pentecost in Swedish and Finnish churches, many on line due to the virus. Perkiö has written poems and hymns for children, and librettos for a mission opera and a church opera.
Kuusisto has been an organist and choir director in the Finnish church for years as well as a conductor and composer for the Finnish Opera, one of the great opera companies in the world. Kuusisto comes from a musical family--his father composed and his son Pekka is a famous violinist and conductor.
Finland/soprano Raita Karpo
Swedish/Stefan Jansson jazz trio