July 28, 2019

Behind the Hymns – PEACE

Passage: Colossians 2:6-15 and Luke 11:1-13

Will your anchor hold 744

This old hymn written in the 19th century expresses great hope but also fills us with a great sense of peace. This hymn – a long with several others – was penned by Pricilla Jane Owens. Another well known hymn of hers is: We have heard a joyful sound, Jesus saves, Jesus saves.

The tune – composed specifically for this hymn – came from the pen of William James Kirkpatrick. The son of a schoolteacher and musician, William studied music and carpentry but devoted most of his life to music and led the choir at the Wharton Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia for many years. It is not clear how or when he came across Priscilla’s words, but both were Methodists so no doubt there was a meeting.

In the storms of life and in the straits of fear, when the clouds unfold their wings of strife and the reef is near. Today most of us will not have the experience of traveling great distances by boat. And if we were to travel by boat, we would probably check the weather before heading out. But the experience of such travel was not uncommon in Priscilla’s day and the chances that loved ones would have been caught in terrific gales and storms would have been images that most people could identify with.

Using that imagery to paint a picture of the turbulent times that we will experience in life enabled Priscilla to write a hymn that reminds each and every one of us that when we place our faith and our hope in God we will find an anchor for our soul that nothing can ever take away.

Life is full of challenges not only to our physical beings but also to our emotional and mental states. Even beyond that, there are challenges to our very souls – that most inward part of us that ultimately determines the course of our lives. Recognizing the need to have an anchor for our souls was key to Priscilla and key to her finding peace for her soul amid life’s struggles.

To put our faith and our trust in God would ensure that our souls would not be lost. And that anchor that God provides our souls is not just stuck in mud or sand, but it is secured to a rock that cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.

And so, in the end, we will be able to find the morning light of the city of gold as envisioned by St. John in his revelation and we will bring our souls to that heavenly shore where all pain and sorrow and suffering will no longer be able to disturb us and we will find perfect peace.

Make me a channel of your peace 740

It is interesting that what we so often see as the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi was written by St. Patrick of Ireland a full seven centuries before Francis lived. No doubt the words of St. Patrick would have been well known throughout the world and became the inspiration for Francis and the life of peace that he envisioned and lived.

The inspiration for Patrick’s prayer that has become so well known and loved came from his own experience of being kidnapped at the age of 16 by Irish raiders on his home in Britain. Held as a slave for 6 years, his faith kept him hopeful and he managed to escape and return to Britain. But a dream in which Irishmen beseeched him to return led him to make the decision that would mark his life and his legacy. And so, he returned to Ireland and began a ministry among unbelievers that was marked by constant danger. His life among the people was one of seeking to convince them to believe in God and yet respectful of them at the same time. His mission eventually bore fruit due to his patience and desire to convert not by force but by example.

Obviously this hymn began as a prayer that was probably often said by St. Patrick as he worked among the Irish. It is said that Patrick was a most humble-minded man who poured out continuous prayers of thanks and praise to God for having chosen him as the instrument whereby multitudes who had worshipped “idols and unclean things” had become the people of God.

The tune that we associate with this hymn was written by Sebastian Temple who was born in 1928 and died in 1997. He grew up in South Africa but moved to London as an adult and worked for the BBC reporting on issues relating to South Africa. He became a Christian after his arrival in England and spent much of his free time composing music for worship.

Be still my soul 749

This hymn was composed in the mid 1700’s by Katharina von Schlegel.
Very little is known of this lady, but it appears that she was connected to the Evangelical Lutheran convent at Cothen in Germany. Jane Borthwick – who lived in the 19th century and translated this hymn into English – spent her life editing and translating hymns from the land of Luther.

While verses 1,2, and 4 are attributed to Katharina, verse 3 was written by Jane herself. It is unclear as to how the hymn came to have the tune Finlandia attached to it but I find it particularly moving considering the message.

Be still my soul. This is the message echoed and repeated throughout this hymn. And that message is one of great hope as it seeks to bring peace to the soul. Even through the passage of time, the words of this hymn have not lost their impact. The message is as relevant today as it was when first composed.

What a friend we have in Jesus 746

It is no surprise to learn that this hymn was composed to provide comfort to someone in a time of special sorrow. What might be more surprising is that it was intended only to be read as a poem by one person, the author’s mother. Little is known of the life of Joseph Scriven. It is believed that he was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1820, graduated from TrinityCollege in Dublin and emigrated to Canada at the age of 25. He died at Port Hope, Ontario in 1886. It is believed that the hymn was written around 1855.

The hymn only came to light as the result of a neighbour who tended to Joseph during his final illness. The neighbour happened upon a manuscript of What a Friend we have in Jesus. After reading it, he questioned Joseph about it. Joseph then recounted how the poem was intended to comfort his mother in a time of special sorrow in her life. What exactly that sorrow was we will never know but Joseph said that it was a personal thing and he did not intend for anyone else to ever read it.

We can be thankful that Joseph’s neighbour decided not to keep the poem a secret but let it be published. It first appeared in Hasting’s Song of Pilgrimage in 1886 and was attributed to Joseph Scriven. It was set to music by Charles Converse who wrote the tune What a Friend just for this hymn.

The kind of friendship Joseph Scriven imagined with Jesus is the kind that so many people seek for but seldom if ever find. In fact, we probably could never hope to find anyone outside of Jesus who would be prepared to bear all our sins and griefs. Joseph then reminds his mother - and all of us who have heard these words through the ages – that it is a privilege to carry everything in our lives in prayer to God. Our hesitancy to do so only leads to a lack of peace and the continuing presence of pain that we needlessly carry when we choose not to include God in our lives.

When it comes to the second verse, we have no doubt reflected on the fact that there is no one of us who has not experienced trials and temptations. We all know that there is trouble somewhere in the life of someone we know but Joseph reminds us to never be discouraged and take it all to the Lord in prayer. And is there anyone else we know who will be faithful enough to listen to and let us share all our sorrows? Probably not; but Jesus knows our every weakness and is still willing to share our sorrows and help us in our trials and temptations.

The final verse is almost like a recap of what he has already told us. If you find yourself weak and heavy-laden; if you find you are cumbered with a load of care, do not hesitate to take it to God for he is for us a refuge amidany trouble or trial of life. And if you find your friends have grown tired of your struggles and have stopped listening or caring, do not despair for God will take you in his arms and shield your spirit and you will find a solace there. No wonder the neighbour felt compelled to share this wonderful poem with the world.