Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Three New Hymns

Further to my "new crop" of original hymns, planned as a set of 14 but written (strangely enough) one at a time, here are a few more that came together during the past week. This latest crop (of 14, I mean) seems to divide naturally into hymns of compassion, like 251 below, and hymns of citizenship, of which 252 seems to be the parade example. The tune, which appeared in Useful Hymns, was written "on deadline," along with many others, as the book assumed its final form. It originally went with a "scratched and dented" metrical setting of the Morning and Evening Prayers from Luther's Small Catechism - a two-stanza poem that I wrote when I was in college in the 1990s and, after a few revisions, thought worthy of publication. So if you notice the tune isn't that great, observe that it absolutely shines next to the text for which I wrote it and was, after all, done in a rush. For the present text, I make no excuses. I'm saving those up for Hymn 253.
251. Prayer About Caregivers
Tune: HOLY ANGEL by R. D. Fish, 2014
Christ, who men’s illnesses dared to command,
Often with fasting and prayer:
Help and bless those who with heart and with hand
Their weaker neighbor give care.
Strengthen their courage to face, undismayed,
Emblems of man’s fallen state,
Nourished on hope, though the sight be delayed,
Of the new life we await.

Strengthen the hands whose caress eases pain,
Muscles that lift, cleanse and feed;
You who bore all things, their spirit sustain,
Knowing, fulfilling their need.
Cause what their hearts can endure to increase
Even beyond what they must;
From selfless labor at last give surcease,
Fair recompense for their trust.

Now, Lord, to heaven we lift hands and hearts,
Asking for pardon and aid
On both the sower’s and bread-eater’s parts,
Master, man, mother and maid;
Those who serve many and those most in need,
Those who Your word speak and hear,
Giving the comfort for which all hearts plead:
Heavenly helper, draw near!
For this hymn, I recycled another one of those "written in the rush to publish Useful Hymns" hymn-tunes that I thought might deserve another airing. The hymn it originally accompanied was a burial hymn of the "scratched and dented" persuasion. I feel I've done better, multiple times, where it comes to burial hymns. So, to rescue this tune from total oblivion, here's another text to go with it.
252. Prayer About Civic Duty
Tune: COMMITTAL by R. D. Fish, 2014
Almighty, Most High, who teach the wise
And rule those who rule, now give us eyes
To view the rich blessing You intend
When leaders both bad and good You send.

Just as You appoint both flood and drought
On both those in grace and those without,
So help us accept, if You command,
The governing yoke and grasping hand.

May we in the rule of law delight
And render to Caesar what is right:
All meekness, yet shot with courage through,
Nor failing to render, Lord, Your due.

What duties to neighbor and to state,
What rights in which we participate,
Help us to observe with thoughtful care,
Perceiving their value, frail and rare.

And come the hour when we must obey
You rather than men, be near, we pray.
Deliver us from our exile long,
To serve in Your kingdom fair and strong.
I expect to be accused of heresy for the following hymn. I'm not sure why, but I'm more nervous about this than about 252 previous instances when I have taken the same risk. Of course, part of why I put them out here is to get discussion going and maybe receive correction, or notes for improving my work, which I would happily put into effect. Also, I can recall practically inviting rebuke on several previous occasions, such as when I embedded a joke in my hymn, or took a polemical stance, or when I wrote the hymn that originally paired with the tune below - a prayer for healing of the grief of those whose unbelieving loved one has died. Funnily enough, a bunch of people went on a tear about how you can't promise anything about that person being in heaven without checking whether that hymn made any such promise. In the hymn below, however, I deal with another issue in which I have a deep, dark, personal interest, and for which I sensed an urgent need - whether we may offer any Christian comfort, and just what comfort that is, to the survivors when a professed Christian commits suicide. This has been brought home to me not once but twice, when Christian friends have ended their own lives. I also took into account the testimony of several faithful Christians I know, including ministers, who have leaned over the brink of suicide and, thank God, stepped back; not to mention Martin Luther's hint that a suicide victim was murdered by Satan. But I also had to wrestle with the advice of respected colleagues that one can't proclaim with assurance that a given person is in heaven in such a case - and that's what usually makes it fun to preach at a Christian's funeral.

This hymn's pose of being willing to risk a departure from doctrine was at least partly angling for a shock value commensurate with the depth of my feelings. But beneath the feelings is a conviction that the case for the automatic damnation of anyone who commits suicide is a figment of "pious reason" and not a doctrine revealed by Scripture. There is hope here, but it is a hope founded on objective justification (the work of Christ and the character of God) rather than subjective (the necessity of faith). Also at issue: What is taken as dogmatically certain may actually be founded on hearsay or speculation, unquestioningly accepted by too many for too long until the distress of faithful hearts bursts forth and demands a better answer.
253. After a Loved One’s Suicide
Tune: HEALING by R. D. Fish, 2011
Lord, hear our groans, which rise
As from the planet’s roots;
Regard with gracious eyes
The prayer our doctrine moots.
Though it may seem the dead
Have been destroyed, cast out,
Relieve our hopeless dread;
Make good use of our doubt.

Though pious reason says
Self-murder murders hope,
Let foolish faith shed rays
On that with which we cope.
If Satan or sick mind
Can such advantage take,
What safety can we find
For our salvation’s sake?

But You shed drops like blood;
You wished the cup held back.
Forsaken, You withstood;
You offered what we lack.
Should some dark moment come,
Brief weakness, swift mistake,
Must lifelong faith grow numb?
Must instant wrath awake?

If every sin again
Parts us from grace, Lord, why
Have you so ransomed men?
Who dares to sleep or die?
Shall we not rather trust
That we are now your own,
Bathed once, once raised from dust,
For One’s sake named and known?

Forbear, Lord! For Your word,
If not our faith, is firm;
Your pity must be stirred,
As ours, for such a worm!
Nay, more; for where our love
Is cool, Yours blazes forth;
Your kindness is above
All that we know in worth.

If reason’s doubtful guess
Gives only sharper pain,
Our foolish error bless;
Soothe, heal our hearts again.
For here Your word is dumb;
Here dogma growls and sneers;
Here, Lord, with comfort come,
Come wipe away our tears.

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