HYMN 96 Lord, as a Pilgrim
Finnish: Oi Herra, jos mä matkamies maan
Norwegian: Styr du min vandring
Swedish: När får jag se dig
Text: Wilhelm Malmivaara (1854-1922). Tune: Mikael Nyberg (1871-1940); Erik August Hagfors (1827-1913)
1. Lord, as a pilgrim through life I go;
Each day your loving presence I know.
Travel beside me,
Strengthen and guide me,
2. Friends have forsaken, you have stood fast;
You have been faithful, true to the last;
Much I offended,
Yet you extended
3. You are my refuge; grant me, I pray
Strength for each burden, light for each day.
Comfort in sorrow,
Grace for tomorrow,
4. Lord, let your presence brighten the night
Till the last sunrise; then in your might,
Pardon and spare me,
Summon and bear me
Homeward at last.
Tr. Gil Doan (1930-)
MEDITATION The tune matters. A lot. Familiar words to the wrong tune irritate. This is a good example. In the Upper Peninsula where there are Finns who know this hymn well, it is told, that a pastor, unfamiliar with the tradition, picked the wrong tune for a funeral. As the organist began playing it, a substantial Finnish-American woman stood up and hollered, “Wrong tune!” or words to that effect. They quickly changed it.
Both tunes appear in the Norwegian hymnal. The Hagfors tune was used in the Service Book and Hymnal (1958) when there were Finns from Suomi Synod on the committee. The Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) committee had no Finns. Which is probably why we chose the second, more “churchly” tune. It did not go down well with many in the Suomi Synod.
It is of interest, also, to see which tune makes it on Youtube. The Nyberg tune seems a bit more popular. In any case, this hymn text by Malmivaara is an important piece to show a movement most American Lutherans are not familiar with.
In the late 18th century there was a strong revival that took place in Finland, rather like the Haugean revival in Norway. It involved something like the experience of Han Nielsen Hauge in Norway. Farmers would be working in the fields and be stopped by a trance. Pentecostals might call it a Second Blessing. The most famous of the people to experience this was Paavo Ruotsalainen (1777-1852). An uneducated farmer, he changed the face of Finnish Lutheranism. Like Hauge, he took to walking the length and breadth of his country, leading Bible studies and meetings. (Some estimate he walked 40,000 kilometers.) Like Hauge he was also put on trial by the state for preaching without being ordained, but he was not imprisoned like Hauge, although he was fined. The movement only grew. One of Finland’s most beloved operas treats the final days of Paavo, The Last Temptations by Joonas Kokkonen (1921-1996).
Malmivaara was a significant leader in the later days of this movement. His song, a prayer, would have been sung in the small groups, conventicles, called Seurat. They would sing a hymn slowly without accompaniment, with short testimonies in between. If the testimony was thought to be unsatisfactory, someone would start singing another hymn and drown out the speaker. They began their time with coffee and concluded with edifying conversations.
Its adherents lived a simple life; they opposed the theater, dancing, and drinking, a scourge in the far north. The women wore simple black clothing to the meetings and their dress became something of a cultural icon for the movement.
A huge summer festival also became part of their tradition, known as Herättäjäjuhlat. Many would gather and hear sermons, sing hymns and enjoy each other’s company. Today the tradition continues within the Finnish Lutheran Church. Over half of Finnish pastors see the movement as important; many grew up in it. They have built Christian high schools and established a vigorous Finnish youth movement in the 1970s. In addition, they support the very active Finnish Missionary Society and work for social justice.
During the Winter War (1939-1940), I have heard, you would identify yourself to friends by singing the right tune for this hymn. I believe the Hagfors tune was the correct one..
The hymn is a quiet, somber prayer for God’s guidance. Life is a pilgrimage. Life in the rural parts of Finland, one of the most beautiful places on earth with its lakes and forests, could be forbidding. The ice and snows of winter are haunting and beautiful, but fierce. Think Sibelius! Their capacities on skis made it possible for them to cause great losses for the Russians during the war before the sheer numbers of the Soviets defeated them. Hymns like this gave many Finns the strength and courage to endure their privations and sufferings during these very difficult years. They found hope in the bright ending of the hymn, where the Lord receives us into his home after a journey through darkness. It gives one courage to face the worst.
Malmivaara became a leader in the Finnish revival, beginning a publishing house and magazine. (All spiritual movements need a place, a leader and a song.) The two tunes come from highly regarded musicians in Finnish culture.
Mikael Nyberg was a son-in-law of Zacharias Topelius, one of Finland’s greatest writers. Hagfors trained to be a medical doctor, but turned to music, becoming the first music teacher at the first Finnish language teacher's school in Finland. Despite the fact that he was a Swede-Finn whose Finnish was not very good, he was a champion of the language and directed the first Finnish language choirs in Finland, including the first mixed choir to sing in Finnish, in 1864.
The Hagfors tune on guitar
Norwegian version from Nordreisa church
The Nyberg tune. Samuli Edelmann
Kim Borg/Basso profundo