Claim That Tune

I have a crush on Jane Parker Huber. And Brian Wren. And Jaroslav Vajda. If you know these names, you are such a church music geek! All three are lyricists for some of my favorite hymns (“Called as Partners in Christ’s Service,” “When Love Is Found,” “God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale”). I have always been in awe of their ability to put words to music that are meaningful, resonant…and that rhyme!

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at it, but didn’t have either the time or confidence to do it. Recently, I suggested to a congregation member that she try this exercise as a spiritual discipline. She came back with a wonderful hymn to the tune of “Silent Night,” and she said she enjoyed the challenge and blessing of the experience.

All right, Wilcoxson, put your money where your mouth is. I can’t well encourage someone to try something if I myself am not willing to do the same. This week’s sermon is on Psalm 121, a song of ascents that was probably sung by travelers on their way up to Jerusalem for a festival. Gosh, this one almost writes itself! So this is my attempt to write a hymn. Granted, there’s nothing new here. The words are taken straight from the psalm; I just did some rearranging so that they rhymed. We’ll sing this on Sunday in worship, and if no one storms out, I may try it again.

It’s an interesting exercise to take these ancient words and restate them in a different form. It makes you think more about what they mean and why the psalmist chose to express himself in this way. In the writing process, I’ve probably sung through this hymn a dozen times. I’m learning scripture! And all the while I just thought I was having fun. Sneaky Bible!

PSALM 121
Tune: St. Ann (O God, Our Help in Ages Past)

I lift my eyes up to the hills,
From where will come my aid?
My help comes from the Lord who spoke,
And heaven and earth were made.

God will not let your foot be moved,
Your Keeper stays awake.
The Lord will watch o’er Israel
With every step you take.

God is our shade right by our side
We’re always in God’s sight.
The sun won’t harm us in the day
The moon’s no threat at night.

The Lord keeps watch over our souls
When evil’s at the door.
While going out and coming in
God’s with us evermore.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Claim That Tune

  1. Roberta Buckley

    I’ve met and talked with Brian and he is a great guy. Your idea of creating hymns ourselves is great. If nothing else, we will gain a deeper appreciation of those who have been successful.

  2. Marcus Quitilian

    Jane Parker “fruit crushed and bread broken” Huber certainly meant well, but it is sad to see the number of meaningful and elegant old hymns that have disappeared because people find Huber’s work more politically correct. Through no fault of her own, she has become tarred with the same brush as the people who changed “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” to “I will live in God’s house for a very long time.”

    • I appreciate your comment, Marcus. It’s a fine line to walk between honoring tradition and adapting hymns to fit modern contexts. I love Parker’s poetic style of writing but understand how it’s not for everyone.

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