Archive for February, 2014

Tysk, holy light, and van Gogh

Tysk Church Stockholm

Tyska Kyrkan (German Church), Stockholm

Recently we sang  a serene hymn at Compline whose unusual name is simply “Tysk.” I first sang it at Compline shortly after I joined the choir in the 1960s, and although I love many hymns, this one is my  favorite. One of the reasons it appeals to me is that I have both Swedish and German heritage, and this hymn was sung in the “German church” (Tyska Kyrkan) in Stockholm during the eighteenth century. The tune, from a collection called Psalm und Choralbuch (1719), found its way into the Episcopal hymnals of 1940 and 1982, with words based on the original German hymn by the German Reformed mystic and pietist writer Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769).

I love the hymn’s stanza structure, with each in the classic AAB form – the “A” sections having lines of 6, 6, and 8 syllables, and the “B” section groups of 3, 3, 6, and 6 syllables.  It satisfyingly ends with the couplet of twelve syllables which it began. The lyrics too  are ravishing, movingly speaking of  adoration, quietness, surrender – ideal for prayer at the end of the day.

Listen now, and see what you think:

God Himself is with us; Let us all adore Him, And with awe appear before Him.
God is here within us; Souls, in silence fear Him, Humbly, fervently draw near Him.
Now His own who have known God, in worship lowly, Yield their spirits wholly.

Gladly, Lord, we offer Thine to be forever, Soul and life and each endeavor.
Help us to surrender Earth’s deceitful treasures, Pride of life and sinful pleasures:
Thou alone shall be known Lord of all our being, Life’s true way decreeing.

Thou pervadest all things, Let Thy radiant beauty Light my eyes to see my duty.
As the tender flowers Eagerly unfold them, To the sunlight calmly hold them,
So let me, quietly, In Thy rays imbue me, Let Thy light shine through me.

Come, abide within me; Let my soul, like Mary, Be Thine earthly sanctuary.
Come, indwelling Spirit, With transfiguring splendor; Love and honor will I render.
Where I go here below, Let me bow before Thee, Know Thee and adore Thee.

I love the images, especially in the last two verses, of the flowers, eagerly unfolding themselves to God’s light, or letting ourselves, like Mary, be imbued by the Holy Spirit. The gospel for the same day we sang Tysk contained the familiar “You are the light of the world,” and this was echoed by the end of the hymn’s third verse: “Let Thy light shine through me.” As we consider often during the season of Epiphany, we are asked to receive the light, and then reflect it.

This last weekend I spent at St. Placid Priory near Olympia, Washington, where I attended Victoria Scarlett’s workshop  on Van Gogh’s Art and Spiritual Journey through the Priory Spirituality Center. My friend Victoria, of the Center for Sacred Art, spoke of van Gogh’s passion for light.  I felt the exact parallel between the hymn Tysk about light, and the brilliance and energy of the later paintings of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). The artist, through line and color, suffuses his paintings with divine light.

I’ll leave you with two images, both of flowers – one by van Gogh, and the other a picture I took this morning at St. Placid. “Let Thy rays imbue me .”

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889

St. Placid Priory garden, February 16, 2014

St. Placid Priory garden, February 16, 2014