HYMN 365 Thy Holy Wings, O Savior
Swedish: Bred Dina Vida Vingar Text: Lina Sandell (1832-1903) Tune: Swedish Folk 1. Thy holy wings O Savior, Spread gently over me And let me rest securely Through good and ill in thee. Oh, be my strength and portion, My rock and hiding place, And let my every moment Be lived without thy grace. 2. Oh, let me nestle near thee, Within thy downy breast Where I will find sweet comfort And peace within thy next. Oh, close thy wings around me And keep me safely there. For I am but a newborn And need thy tender care. 3. This day I ask, dear Jesus, Hold me in thy embrace, Enfold me in the promise Of love for all my days. Direct me, teach me always Of how much I’ve been given. Receive my prayer and keep me, A gift from God in heaven. 4. Come close and hover near me, As I receive my name. Help me remember always The love with which it came. Inscribe it in the heavens Into the Book Life. So someday we may gather And walk the fields of light. 5. Oh, wash me in the waters Of Noah’s cleansing flood! Give me a willing spirit, A heart both clean and good. Oh, take into thy keeping, Thy children great and small. And while we sweetly slumber, Enfold us one and all. MEDITATION The little side chapel of the Luther College Faith in Life building rang with sweet music, this hymn, as Benjamin was baptized. Some of my students had formed a group to sing the Swedish folksongs and hymns I had been studying and translating over the year. I had spent January 1980 in Stockholm working on the Swedish folk tradition and learning the language. I came home with some music, a group of Swedish folk hymns set into slightly jazzy, contemporary music. The settings had grown out of the discovery by Jan Johansson, a Swedish jazz piano player in the 60s that the folk hymns of Scandinavian could serve as the basis for jazz pieces the same way the African American spiritual had been in America. When I was asked to have a group sing at the baptism, I thought of this piece immediately. It was the Swedish children’s evening prayer. I took the two stanza prayer and substituted the phrase “O wash me in the waters of Noah’s cleansing flood” which was not in the original so it could be a baptism song. The rest, as they say, is history. My sister harmonized it. Suddenly it grew famous as people heard it and wanted it sung at the baptism of their babies. John Ylvisaker began using it and soon it became a hit. We used it next at my first nephew’s baptism in 1984 and then I decided to write a stanza that would add more images of God as a mother bird—a favorite image of Lina Sandell—and we used that new stanza for my second nephew’s baptism. My sister’s harmonization was liliting and perfect for piano. The organist at the ceremony, however, having grown up in pietism, disliked the setting and instead of playing it on the piano, where it belonged, he reharmonized it into a stiff organ setting which took away all the lilt and made it more like a German chorale of the 16th century. While I am a great fan of the 16th century chorale, it was something of an assault on our work which was pure Scandinavian pietism. A movement the organist clearly disliked. Since then I have added stanzas for my great nieces and nephews as they have come along some of which I include here. One can see the acrostic Theodora , the name of my second great niece, in the third stanza’s first letters. The work launched my career in the study of Nordic hymnody, much of which has been the topic of these hymnblogs. Not only did I learn the languages because of them, as well as the traditions of Nordic hymnody, which became the subject of several of my books and many articles, but also saw the truth of John Ylvisaker’s meme that tunes were universal, harmonies chronological and rhythms geographical. The tune came from who knows where. The harmonies were clearly 19th century, but easily changed to contemporary jazz, or 16th century German chorale (with not much success) and a beat could easily be added. The increased emphasis on baptism that had been sparked by the liturgical movement was also there, even reference to the flood prayer in the LBW which revived the notion of Noah’s flood. All of that rises up in my memory whenever I hear the song. It is a good way to end this daily blog with an evening prayer, now baptismal, a death and resurrection, one that started a life time of work and pleasure that I have been pleased to share with you all. Soli deo gloria! HYMN INFO Lina Sandell wrote this in 1860 in a letter to a friend of hers. She revised it and published in in 1865. She loved the idea of Jesus as a mother bird which she found in Matthew 23:37 and used over and over again. It is one of the most popular evening hymns for children in the north. It has become a much used funeral song and continues to be among Sandell’s most popular after Chilrden of the Heavenly Father and Day by Day. LINKS Carola Sissel
Chris Sjögren My book of sonnets, Jesus The Harmony, can be ordered from Augsburg Fortress now.