Our music leader at church is planning to spotlight hymns this summer and has asked church members to fill out a little card with the name of a special hymn and why it's important to them. This creates two problems for me 1) I could never pick just one and 2) the card is small and I like words.
I love hymns. I listen to them pretty regularly and love singing them in church. Lately my favorite ones to listen to are any hymns performed by Johnny Cash and Bart Millard's Hymned and Hymned Again. I grew up in a very musical home, and I don't even have to concentrate too hard to hear my mother singing any number of hymns while she cleaned house or made dinner or did anything else. So many hymns have special meaning for me, so I decided to write about them here.
First...hymns with my name in them. Of course the easiest one is On Jordan's Stormy Banks. My name is capitalized and everything. This always got a good giggle when I was a kid. However, On Christ the Solid Rock is the clear winner as it contains both my first and middle names spelled correctly. The second line of the second verse says "In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the sail." This has brought laughter and giggles to my nieces and nephews and then to my own children (and maybe a father-in-law, but I'd never rat him out). I must say, it is pretty entertaining.
Second, Victory in Jesus. We must have sung this often at Calvary Baptist Church in Midlothian, because every single time I hear it I see Walter Stice, hand in a fist, keeping the congregation in time with the song. Walter is the father of my Uncle Scottie, and every great once in a while I see him again, and I always think of Victory in Jesus.
Third, Standing on the Promises. I think I must have been listening to this a lot when Tucker was very little, most likely on Alan Jackson's Precious Memories album. By the time Tucker was two years old, he knew every single word. He would sing it constantly, and when we sang it in church he would get so excited! It's one of the first songs Trey and I thought of when this hymn conversation started.
Fourth, a list of hymns that I love because I love them. I remember my Pappaw singing them and picking a guitar. I remember sitting next to my Mammaw in church and hearing her sing in that impassioned way old ladies sing when their faith has bared the test of time and come out stronger. I remember Dad, standing behind a lectern, leading the small congregation at the First Baptist Church of Rice in them as Mom played along on the piano. The list is long: I'll Fly Away, When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, In the Sweet By and By, The Old Rugged Cross, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, Down at the Cross, Softly and Tenderly, He Keeps Me Singing (that was the very last song in our hymnal growing up), Sweet Hour of Prayer (makes me think of Mammaw every time). I could quite literally go on for days.
Fifth, Bart Millard's version of Brethren We Have Met to Worship. (You can listen to it here.) The arrangement is one of my all time favorites. It's the perfect blend of solemnity and the joy of having a God worthy of such great worship. The lyrics plead for the Holy Spirit to enter into our worship and sings conviction that holy manna will fall down upon the worshipers. I love the hymn, and I find that this arrangement matches the music to the sentiment. I sometimes listen to it over and over and over again because it reminds me that worship can happen anywhere. I would really like our church choir to sing it.
Sixth, and strangely, a hymn that's very special but I don't remember which one. You know how childhood memories are so clouded by childhood that you remember the important parts and have probably made up the rest over the years? This is one of those. When I was little my Aunt Judy was helping with some sort of children's choir or something. I remember vividly her talking to us about music and how important it is. She explained about how we knew to never say something unless we meant it, but we should also remember to never sing something unless we meant it. When we sing to God we are talking to him and should never say something that we don't mean. That really got me. I began to analyze the words of every song we sang, making sure they reflected what was really in my heart. There was one song, I can't quite remember which one, where the second line of the second verse said something about not being afraid of death. Well, I don't know how old I was (it was less than nine because this happened before we moved to Rice), but dying sounded terribly scary to me. I must have hummed that line of that song a million times because I just couldn't bring myself to sing it.
Lastly, my favorite hymn, Beulah Land. I've learned as an adult that it's a bit obscure, but I've known it my whole life. One of those other cloudy childhood memories I have is Mom singing in a quartet. I don't have any idea how often they sang or how long she sang with them, but I have this picture in my mind of Mom and three others practicing at someone's house. When I see that picture, they are always singing Beulah Land. I also remember my Pappaw singing it, but not necessarily in church. I can hear him singing it loudly, perfectly, without any accompanying music. It was played at both of my grandparents' funerals (maybe it was in the music before or after, but it was there), and I felt so comforted by it. The lyrics are simple:
I'm kind of homesick for a country
To which I've never been before.
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
for time won't matter anymore.
Beulah Land, I'm longing for you
and some day on thee I'll stand.
There my home shall be eternal.
Beulah Land -- Sweet Beulah Land
I'm looking now across the river
where my faith will end in sight.
There's just a few more days to labor.
Then I will take my heavenly flight.
What a fantastic perspective this song offers! To be homesick for heaven! I've never found a recorded version that I can listen to over and over. That could be because of it's obscurity. I think it's probably because nothing will be as good as hearing Mom or Pappaw sing it. (Here's a pretty good one you can listen to if you've never heard it.)
As I finished up this post, I looked up the history behind the song, and I think it was written in 1973! Maybe instead of obscure it's just new -- in hymn years, of course.
I'm a pretty blessed person to know that these hymns are such a part of my life's soundtrack!