Friday, February 26, 2010

The Power (and Peace) in Hymns

I love to go to church on Sunday mornings.

I go to a very plain country church. It used to be a store, it's been added onto and has a funny shape with a rounded roof.

You might go to a church in the big city with beautiful furnishings and stained glass windows, a soaring roof line and a steeple with a bell.

Not that any of that matters.

What I do know is that
the Lord is pleased when we give him our first fruits, and that means the first fruits of our time, too.

To begin the week on Sunday morning: just taking that time to recognize that the reason we are able to live, move and have our being is that HE makes it all possible --is a comfort and a blessing.

Sitting there in that pew, knowing that you need to be humble, because you certainly don't deserve all the blessings that He's given to you.

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound...that saved a wretch like me!"

Some things that I love about church are the peacefulness that overwhelms me as I enter and sit in the pew.

I love that we're all sitting side by side, as a family.

I love it when my husband puts his arm around me...the hush of the congregation as the pastor steps forward.

I like hearing the choir sing.

I love holding my Bible, and the sound of the pages turning in unison as the pastor announces the texts during his sermon.

"Redeemed how I love to proclaim it, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb!"

I also love it when my husband shifts in the pew and switches arms and turns and puts his other arm around our son, making memories that are strong and precious and will be etched in his heart for the rest of his young life, even when his dad may no longer be near him, physically, he'll feel those arms wrapped around his shoulders during church.

"Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be....thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done....on earth as it is in heaven....Give us this day, our daily bread...."

One of the best parts of all on Sunday morning, is picking up the hymnal, hearing the music start to soar and singing hymns that our parents, theirs before them and generations beyond sang in churches, both humble and great in generations past; in this country in the cities or frontier towns scattered across the middle of the country, even in the wild west, or in their homelands across the ocean.

"What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus...what can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus...oh! Precious is the flow that makes me white as snow..."

I am more than happy to sing a song to God that perhaps George Washington sang as he stood tall in his congregation out there in the wild and beautiful hills of Virginia:

"Faith of our Fathers, living still, in spite of dungeon, fire and sword!"

The words of the familiar hymns--most of them by now memorized-- have meanings, and if you do nothing more than listen to the sermon contained within the words of a've been to church and can go home fuller than when you arrived.

"We have heard the joyful sound, Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Spread the tidings all around...."

(A hymn can be hummed to your baby while you're rocking him to sleep, your accompaniment the squeak of the rockers: infusing him with wisdom inspired by God and his Word....precious memories made for both you and the baby. There are simple ones you can softly sing...)

"Oh, how I love Jesus...Oh, how I love Jesus..."

Some hymns are upbeat:

"Some glad morning, when this life is over, I'll fly a home on God's celestial shore, I'll fly away....I'll fly away, oh glory, I'll fly away...."

As that song is sung, I can vividly remember tent revivals I went to with my parents as a kid: in a hot and breezy tent on a late summer night, all of us gathered and parked in the freshly cut hay field on the farm a sweet old farming couple we went to church with. The crowd sang "I'll fly away" and ten more good old gospel songs with all their might, and the crickets sang along.

Some hymns are comforting and reassuring:

"Anywhere with Jesus, I can safely go; Anywhere He leads me in this world below..."

There is one song in particular I can never make it through without crying and that is:

"To the old rugged cross, I will ever be true, its shame and reproach gladly bear...."

(My husband has learned that as soon as that song is announced he puts his arm around me because he knows what's coming. It's either run out of the auditorium or weep through it; most of the time I weep.)

Some songs remind me of certain people, like my brother-in-law who died young, and at his funeral we sang:

"Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, because He lives, all fear is gone....!"

At Easter, we are reminded of our Lord's loneliness in Gethsemane when we sing the opening lines of:

"I come to the garden alone...while the dew is still on the roses...and the voice I hear, falling on my ear...."

Or around the fourth of July when we all sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, I think of my dear Grandpa who requested it be sung at his funeral. Strangely I can sing it all the way through without a tear, because it's a triumphant song:

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored....He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on...!"

We can celebrate seasons with our hymns, and the remember the sacrifice of those that came before us during special times of year by singing those classics like:

"Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain..."

That's another one that I can barely make it through without a Kleenex. My throat swells and shuts and I can barely get a word out past the first stanza.

Yes, just opening a hymnbook can bring back a flood of memories and of comfort. Have you heard the stories about Alzheimer patients or those with severe cases of dementia who can remember nothing much else...being able to sing along word for word when a hymn that was burned into their soul is sung: bringing joy to the family of loved ones as they watch and listen?

"I will sing the wondrous story, of the Christ who died for me....How He left His home in glory for the cross of Calvary....Sing O sing, of my redeemer, of the Christ who died for me! Sing it with the saints in glory, gathered by the crystal sea!"

I know the modern trend is "praise and worship" and "contemporary Christian music" but I hope that as long as there is a United States of America that we will never fully abandon the precious hymn book and the stories and simple wisdom and truths contained therein.

A hymn is a mini-sermon, and we all probably have memorized enough for a lifetime, just in case it's us one day that's sitting in a wheelchair with our gray hair and not able to remember our own name, singing with our families:

"Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee...."


Parisienne Farmgirl said...

Oh goodness. Youre making me cry.
I lead worship at our church and I ALWAYS sneak in a hymn or two. You can' beat the harmonies, the words, the simplicity.
In the Garden is surely my favorite but I also love "Oh For A Thousand Tongues" and "Be Thou my Vision" - I can't hardly listen/sing to any hymn without crying.

Laura said...

I can't get through "On Eagle's Wings" without a tear or two (or more)...

Sit A Spell said...

I love this post! Sometimes I take my hymnal off the shelf and just sit and sing for's still in a box somewhere. Sigh, so thanks for reminding me of many of my favorites in your post tonight. A single favorite...just one???
He Keeps me Singing has been a fav since my teen yrs. In the garden was sung at my Daddys funeral,who was only 55, by my best friend, and it's a favorite. At Calvery reminds me of revivals.
Church in the Wildwood,
Shall We Gather at the River, Um, I guess I better stop, I think that's more than one : )

Lisa said...

What a lovely visit! My grandmother, Little Mama, love Rock of Ages. I love God Be With You and Israel, Israel. The latter is a favorite because of memories as a child in Quitman, Georgia. Church was a wood building, no air conditioning, a pot belly stove for heat and on a good Sunday, about 60 people. They would slide from the high notes to the next note- terrible musically, but such a sweet memory. Thanks!

peggy said...

How beautiful!!!Thank you so much for expressing your love for the hymns. My fav is Oh For a Thousand Tongues" too and I love "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" (especially sung by Alan Jackson.)I think our young people are missing a great treasure if they are not taught these, the poetry and the content will be with me forever. God intends for us to sing these, how else would they have survived all these centuries!! Thanks again.

Molly Betsy @ Star Cottage said...

I love the old Hymns. That's all they sang @ my old Baptist church. When I got married I moved out to NY we started attending a nondenominational church that has more contemporary worship, and I really miss the old Hymns. ;(

gina in ri said...

thank you for your posts, I love coming to visit. I have a question regarding the caramel corn recipe; do you know what would happen if I used light corn syrup? It's all I have on hand. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

You lifed my spirits again..he must send me here to your site to be lifed.."There is no spot that God is not!"
Smiles from southern Mi...Audrie

Julie Harward said...

I love the hymns too...they are more powerful than any sermon..they carry the spirit into our hearts and teach truths as no other way. One I love always is..I Know That My Redeemer Lives...and I Need Thee Every Hour..and so many others! Come say hi :D

Bizy Janes said...

I have SO many favorite hymns, but the one the sticks in my mind is Great Is Thy Faithfulness. :)
~ Heather from Bizy Janes

Shari from Big Yellow Farmhouse said...

What a beautiful post - I love it! This is a topic close to my heart! The old hymns mean so much to me and you are right, many of them are powerful sermons all by themselves. They often make me cry - tears of joy! I simply cannot understand the need for churches to turn away from them. It just doesn't make sense to me.

Some of our old family favorites are In the Garden, Softly and Tenderly, The Old Rugged Cross, Amazing Grace, Rock of Ages, Blessed Assurance - all of these were played at my parents' funerals.

My own list would run on far too long - but here are some:
Open My Eyes, That I May See
Higher Ground
Fairest Lord Jesus
'Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus
Trust and Obey
Abide with Me
Just As I Am
Love Lifted Me
He Hideth My Soul
There is a Balm in Gidead

I really love those rousing old triumphant Tennessee Ernie Ford kind of hymns like:
Power in the Blood
Holy, Holy, Holy
Standing on the Promises
Glory to His Name
A Mightly Fortress is our God
When the Roll is Called up Yonder
Throw Out the Life Line
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
I'll Fly Away
Bringing in the Sheaves

One that has come to mean a lot to me as I've gotten older and that I want the congregation to sing at my funeral is It is Well With My Soul. I can never get through this one without crying! "When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul."

Oops, sorry for such a long comment! Great post!

Erin said...

What a great post. I have tears in my eyes. My very favorite song is Jesus Hold my Hand. But I have so many others. It is well with my soul, Sing and be happy, Farther Along, and many, many more. I love old timey hymns.

Lisa said...

Your written words bring peace to my soul.Your music playing brings a smile to my face, and the pictures of my favorite place on earth ( the smokies) bring me much happiness after a long hard week. Thank you and God bless.

mary your sis said...

Hymns from certain occasions get me, too. When I hear "Be Thou My Vision" I think of Autumn and Clint's wedding; I cry when I hear "Taps", (which isn't a hymn), but I think of Daddy when I hear it, just as we both do when we hear "The Old Rugged Cross". When I sing "Crown Him With Many Crowns" I think of going to James' college graduation, the first of our siblings to go to college and earn a doctorate degree. And when I hear "I'll Fly Away" I think of Aunt Merita. She wouldn't go to church during her adult life, because she knew too many harsh, hypocritical christians. When she developed a brain tumor, a local Pastor came to visit her and she accepted Christ and began attending church. She said she regretted not going to church before because now she knew that church could be a happy place. I wonder if there's an ambulance in Heaven for her to drive? (Just for the fun of it, of course!)

My personal favorite is "Amazing Grace", it is both humbling and uplifting. Thank you for a beautiful post.

One more thing I wish churches would come back to: gothic-style stained glass windows and beautiful wooden arches and pews. Hymns sound better in a cathedral-type building. I wish new church buildings would be built with some beautiful, old fashioned character, instead of cold modern 'chrisian centers'.

Bloggin bout my Boys said...

Your best post ever! So many of those have dual sentiment to me as soul stirring hymns and as songs to send my loved ones home with. I sang Amazing Grace at my Mom and Grandma's services and In the Garden.I get goosebumps or cry at many a hymn. Tissues right by my bible! Thanks for the time and effort you put into this great post.

Sue said...

Oh, Joni...
This post opened a floodgate of memories for me. It reminded me just how much I miss the old standards. Our current church is a contempory, non-denominational one where we sing worship songs. Sometimes they are the old hymns set to a new tune, but there is NOTHING like singing the old ones that led me to a knowledge of Jesus as a child. My favorite??? There is NO WAY I can pick just one, but I remember telling my 6 yr old daughter as the 2 of us headed to church when my husband, her daddy, left us and we were struggling so hard, that one of my favorites was Mansion on the Hilltop! There are just so many...Thank you for reminding me, Joni. Can't go into it further right now, but it is a very timely post...

God bless you, my sister!

Thistle Cove Farm said...

I love, love, LOVE this post! Some of my favorite hymns, Be Thou My Vision, It is Well With My Soul, Amazing Grace and, probably, my favorite...Jesus Loves Me. I love not only the hymns of my youth but also the Gregorian chants, the hymns of the Nuns...virtually any music that praises God.
We share in service at a little country church, so sweet and precious. I remember the little country church of my childhood and the baptisms in the cold Elk River in WV...which they still do...amazing! Nothing like people worshiping Jesus together.

mary your sis said...

Iforgot. "How Great Thou Art" is my absolute favorite. And, remember how we laughed so hard we cried during our B-I-L's Memorial Service as a couple sang "It is well with my soul"?? It's a very weird time to laugh that hard, but it did it's part to lighten the moment, doncha think???

Robert said...

A beautiful and thought-provoking blog. Since your enjoy the great hymns of the faith as I do, you might be interested in my daily blog on hymns, Wordwise Hymns. There I talk about things that happened in hymn history on each day of the year.

Jaybird said...

It is so sad that a lot of our churches are getting away from the hymnbooks and using 7-11 songs read off a TV screen.....
My favorite hymn is "It is Well With My Soul" beautiful.
I play piano once a week in an Alzheimer's ward. The folks there can't remember who/where they are, but they all remember me, and head straight for the common room with the piano!! It always amazes me that they can often remember multiple verses of the old hymns. I think I enjoy my hour MUCH more than they can...but we all laugh and clap, and yes, there have been a few wobbly dance steps performed. I don't think that takes anything away from the message or intent of the hymns!
Blessings to you,

Lisa said...

Wow! It's been over two years since this was posted and I am happy you commented, Jaybird, because I read through everything again and feel just as tender now as I did then. There's nothing like music to lift you and others. I love that you, Jaybird, play for Alz. patients. Amazing how though our minds are taken from us, music stays. That's the power of a hymn. My sis in law's mother's funeral was yesterday. In her last moment with my sil, her mother was conscious enough to communicate with her. And here's what she did: She sang God Be With You Til We Meet Again. That's what her spirit did-strengthened enough to sing a beautiful message, that we WILL be with loved ones again and that God is with us. Isn't that just like a mother to comfort us at HER passing? Thanks,JB for bringing this back and thanks, OCF, for the original! Have a blessed day!