Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Dear Lord and Father of Mankind"

We sang a hymn at church this morning that I really liked.  I was restless, irritable, and discontent before we sang this hymn.  I felt, well, offbeat: we would sing hymns, and I did not know where exactly we were, or what verse we were supposed to be singing.  I also did not know the songs or where exactly they were going, in terms of their music.  Add to that my discontent this week about my apparent lack of social skills, of feeling that I never quite say the right thing in social settings.  I was dealing with my bad memories of that.  After singing one particular hymn at church this morning, however, my mood changed for the better.  It was like how Temple Grandin was in the Temple Grandin movie after she used her squeeze machine: she was much more relaxed, at peace, and sociable, calmly asking a classmate if a particular seat were taken.

The hymn that I liked was entitled “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.”  The last two verses really stood out to me:

“Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
“Till all our strivings cease;
“Take from our souls the strain and stress,
“And let our ordered lives confess
“The beauty of Thy peace.”

“Breathe through the heats of our desire
“Thy coolness and Thy balm;
“Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
“Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
“O still, small voice of calm!”

Those were the things that I wanted: quietness, peace, order, rest, coolness, calm.  I was a perfectionist, one who was irritable when things were not a certain way, or when people did not interact with me in a particular way.  I wanted for God to breathe through the heats of my desire God’s coolness and balm.

I read more about the hymn on wikipedia, and what the article about it said was interesting.  The hymn that we sang was part of a larger poem, “The Brewing of Soma,” which was written by John Greenleaf Whittier in the nineteenth century.  Whittier was a Quaker, a poet, and an abolitionist.  Whittier College, where Richard Nixon went to college, was named after him.  According to wikipedia, “The Brewing of Soma” essentially contrasts ancient Hindu and a number of Christian attempts to experience the divine with the Quaker way, which Whittier prefers:

The Brewing of Soma is the Whittier poem (1872) from which the hymn is taken. Soma was a sacred ritual drink in Vedic religion, going back to Proto-Indo-Iranian times (ca. 2000 BC), possibly with hallucinogenic properties.  The storyline is of Vedic priests brewing and drinking Soma in an attempt to experience divinity. It describes the whole population getting drunk on Soma. It compares this to some Christians’ use of ‘music, incense, vigils drear, And trance, to bring the skies more near, Or lift men up to heaven!’ But all in vain—it is mere intoxication.  Whittier ends by describing the true method for contact with the divine, as practised by Quakers: Sober lives dedicated to doing God’s will, seeking silence and selflessness in order to hear the “still, small voice” described in I Kings 19:11-13 as the authentic voice of God, rather than earthquake, wind or fire.”

The wikipedia article about Whittier himself said that Nathaniel Hawthorne was quite critical of Whittier’s poetry.  Well, I love The Scarlet Letter, but I happen to really like “The Brewing of Soma”!  I am not a poetry person myself, but the poem speaks to me in terms of what I long for in life.

According to the wikipedia article about the hymn, the hymn is often set to a different tune in Great Britain than in the United States.  Here is the hymn sung to the tune of “Repton,” which is what is usually sung in Great Britain.  And here is what I sang this morning: the hymn played to the tune of “Rest.”  To be honest, I prefer the Repton version: I find it more relaxing.

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