Text: Henry R. MacFayden (1877-1964) Tune: Southern Harmony 1835
1 The lone, wild fowl in lofty flight Is still with thee, nor leaves thy sight. And I am thine! I rest in thee. Great Spirit, come, and rest in me. 2 The ends of earth are in thy hand, The sea's dark deep and no-man’s land. And I am thine! I rest in thee. Great Spirit, come, and rest in me.
Pentecost, which marks the coming of the Spirit, has tended to take a back seat to Christmas, and Easter. Some have called the Holy Spirit the shy member of the Trinity, taking a back seat to the Father and Son. The Trinity is not easy to fathom, and the theologians and philosophers have spent millennia trying to, but what is easiest in my book is Jesus’ in his High Priestly prayer reveling in the fact that he and his Father are one. As he leaves the disciples on Ascension Day he explains that he will send his Spirit. The Spirit will make him present everywhere—ubiquitous—to use a fancy word. It will come like wind, fire, or in the form of a bird.
There can be no Christian life without the Spirit to breathe on us and give the Word life. Jesus has promised that if we are together in his name reading his word and talking among ourselves about him, he is there.
In the same way that when God breathes into the dust of Adam he comes to life, so we as sisters and brothers of the new Adam need God’s breath in us to rise up and live.
The Middle Ages had a term for spiritual torpor—acedia—something the monks used to describe the dead air around them. Acquinas called it “the sorrow of the world that worketh death.” Or not even caring that one doesn’t care. Dante, a disciple of Acquinas, used it to describe the sloth or lack of feeling that was drowning him midway in his life’s journey. It nearly destroyed him until Heaven intervened and raised him up. He needed a fresh blast of the Spirit’s wind in order to be fully alive. To quicken him, raise him from the dead, in other words.
We all know that feeling of walking into a room that has not been aired out in years. It feels deadly until the windows are opened and fresh air pours in and we feel life again. So it is in our souls.
The song writer knows that God’s Spirit is in full contact with God and is everywhere in creation. The fowl rides on the wind and brings it to us, to our beings. It changes us and makes life vivid and new.
When I was a child, our family lived on the western prairies of North Dakota. The wind was a constant howling presence—we knew it was there. What it brought was light, clean air that freshened everything, our spirits, our homes, especially the clothes on the clothesline. My mother wrote in her diaries how she would love to stand out on the prairies and just gulp the air. It invigorated everything and gave us life.
So it is with the Holy Spirit. It refreshes us with life. We pray with the writer, “Great Spirit, come and rest in me.”
This hymn sounds like a folk hymn with its simple diction and lack of anything ornate. Its contemplation of the work of the Holy Spirit in terms of the lone, wild fowl is concrete and visual. Its author was the son of a Civil War soldier who spent time in prison during the war. The author, who studied at Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, after the war, spent much of his ministry in Texas. The tune comes to us from that great collection of Southern tunes by Williston Walker. It sounds deeply American and could be used as the soundtrack of a cowboy movie.
Kim Paterson and First Presbyterian Church Oneconta/The text and tune
L.A. Choral Lab