A timely hymn

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

For last Sunday’s Compline service at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle, Jason Anderson, the director of the Compline Choir, had us sing the hymn “Dear Lord and Father of mankind.” He asked us, as he does occasionally, to guess the reason for his selection. Many got it right away – the second verse made reference to Syria, as in “beside the Syrian Sea” (really a reference to the Sea of Galilee). Also, the hymn reminds us that in times when the temptation is to act in haste, to take some time for stillness and calm reflection.

The words of the hymn were excerpted from the last portion of the poem “The Brewing of Soma” written in 1872 by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), American Quaker poet and advocate for the abolition of slavery. The poem begins with a description of the ecstatic religions of ancient times (assisted by the drinking of soma juice), and becomes a plea against what Whittier considered the frenzied religious fervor of the “revivalist meetings” of his day. The last six verses of the poem (12 through 17) are a prayer for the return to peace, calm and simplicity. Five of these six verses became the familiar hymn, included by Garrett Horder in his Congregational Hymns (1884). He omitted verse 15, but I have included it below to show how the reference to manna from heaven sets up the next verse (“drop thy still dews of quietness”).

The two most popular musical settings of the hymn are Repton, by C. H. H. Parry (1848-1918), and Rest, by Frederic Charles Maker (1844-1927). The Compline Choir sang the latter, and I felt that we were all especially inspired that evening. It is always gratifying to sing with others who can turn out such quality work with only ten minutes of rehearsal. And it’s such fun to sing close harmony on nineteenth-century hymns (think “barbershop”), especially in the third verse, where the tenor part sings the melody  an ocatave lower, and the top part sings the tenor part an octave higher.

So, set aside a few minutes to let the words and the beauty of this hymn lift your spirit this week:

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!

[the following stanza is omitted]
With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
And noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

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!

For the Whittier poem, see The Brewing of Soma. Parry’s hymn tune Repton, can be heard in a wonderful version (especially the soprano descant at the end) here. The podcast of last week’s Office of Compline can be heard on king.org – just look for “Compline Service” in the drop-down menu under “On Demand”. “Dear Lord and Father of mankind,” in a setting by Searle Wright, is one of the musical examples in my book, Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing Compline, to be published in November.

  1. #1 by leonardwalworth on September 29, 2013 - 10:16 am

    Ken that was just wonderful. The writing and singing reminds me so much of my days with Luboff. I’m mostly a trombonist these days but haven’t lost the desire to sing in any way. Would love to sing with a group like yours. Need to get some vocalizing going first.
    I am struck by the word “soma” in the poem. If I recall correctly, soma is the drug used in “Brave New World” to dumb down the populace in order to get them to fall in line with what the higher classes want. I just thought it an interesting comparison. I also can’t help but think I’m hearing just a tiny bit of “Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem” at the beginning of the harmonized verses. In any case, really a fantastic job. Something the world desperately needs right now.

  2. #2 by Ken Peterson on September 30, 2013 - 9:20 pm

    Hi Leonard – great to hear from you. Yes, the beginnings of both hymns are the same – but I looked up “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” and the music was written by Lewis H. Redner in 1868, some 20 years before “Rest” was written.

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