Jan 22 2014

Discovering a New Song

Winter Grand Canyon 2 (h) crThis past Sunday the opening hymn we sang was one I did not know.  As the introduction was played I noticed that it was written by Isaac Watts.  That is a name I have long been familiar with.  He has been referred to as the “Father of English Hymnody” and is thought to have penned approximately 750 hymns.  Watts died in 1748 but many of his hymns continue to be used on a regular basis in churches around the world.  A few of his best known ones include “Joy to the World!,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”

_DSC0400The hymn we sang on Sunday is called “We Sing Your Mighty Power, O God.”  I was not familiar with the tune so I found it hard to sing but I immediately fell in love with the words.  “We sing your mighty power, O God, that made the mountains rise, that spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.  We sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule by day.  The moon shines full at your command, and all the stars obey.  We sing your goodness, sovereign God, who filled the earth with food; you formed the creatures with your word, and then pronounced them good.  Oh! How your wonders are displayed, whereever we turn our eyes; if we survey the ground we tread, or gaze upon the skies.  There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes your glories known; and clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from your throne.  While all that borrows life from you is ever in your care, and everywhere that we can be, you, God, are present there.”

mountain laurelDoing some research on this particular hymn I discovered that it first appeared in Watts’ hymnal, Divine and Moral Songs for Children, around 1715.  I’m not sure how appealing this song is to children almost three hundred years later but the message of this hymn certainly needs to be conveyed to them (and the rest of us too).  Surely using Genesis 1 as his inspiration Watts stresses the power, wisdom and goodness of God found in Creation.  He makes sure to emphasize that God’s glory is revealed through the Creation, making specific reference to plants and flowers, clouds and tempests.   Watts also shows that God is the Source of all life and that all remains under His care.  Furthermore, he closes with the wonderful truth that “everywhere that we can be, you, God, are present there.”

Entire books have been written by theologians on each of these truths, not to mention a number of shorter blogs.  How delightful that a hymn writer three centuries ago could combine them all in a simple song that even children can sing!


(I took the top image at Grand Canyon National Park in AZ, the middle one in Henderson County, KY, and the bottom one at Pine Mountain State Park in KY.)

Nov 7 2010

Strangely Dim?

Greenbo-trees-832Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus is a beautiful hymn.  I’ve heard it all my life.  If you’re not familiar with it the words to the refrain read, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His Wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”  Yesterday while reading a new book I had received I learned that Mark Noll, an eminent church historian, feels the hymn writer plainly errs in her theology.  He says the things of this earth grow clearer, not dimmer, in the light of Christ.

Despite my love for this song I have to admit that Noll makes a good point.  As one turns his or her eyes upon Jesus and draws nearer to him the things of the earth grow brighter and more radiant.  This is true, at least, when it comes to the natural things of this earth.

Greenbo-Lake-737When we see Creation as a gift of Christ’s, and remember that God makes himself known through that which He has made, it makes the natural world more resplendent.  It also makes it more meaningful.  I suspect you have items that mean a lot to you primarily because of the person who made the item or gave it to you.  When we look at Creation through the lens of faith we see the world as a wonderful and prized gift.  Creation means more to us because we personally know the Creator. I think the closer I come to Christ the more I appreciate and admire Creation.  Likewise, the more I come to know and love him the more I want to care for that which he has made. 

I think I know where Helen Lemmel was coming from when she wrote Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.  A lot of the things we prize so much here on earth do indeed grow dimmer when we focus on Christ and his kingdom but his Creation is not one of them.  For me and many others, the things of this earth grow strangely bright in the light of His glory and grace.


(The images above were taken last year at Greenbo Lake State Park in northeastern Kentucky.)

Sep 19 2010

Peace Like a River

BIP 866This morning we sang “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” at church.  That got me to thinking of other hymns that combine peace and rivers.  One of my favorite hymns, “It Is Well with My Soul,” begins, “When peace like a river attendeth my way.”  Another popular hymn begins “Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace.” I’m not aware of any direct link in the Scriptures to peace and rivers.  At times rivers do serve as a symbol of God’s presence and this may be a link.  In the Bible rivers are also viewed as a source of life.  This, too, may be a link.  Throughout the Scriptures rivers are associated with cleansing—physical and spiritual.  This could be a link as well.

In the end I’m not sure the linking of rivers and peace by various hymnists has anything to do with the Scriptures at all.  It may instead simply represent an experience common to many.  There is just something peaceful about rivers.  People have enjoyed sitting by rivers for ages.  There is something incredibly relaxing about watching a river flow by. 

On Thursday I went over to Breaks Interstate Park and took some pictures of the Russell Fork River.   It had been a stressful week and I really wasn’t in the mood to photograph but setting up my tripod next to the river I felt a sense of peace flow over me.  The sight and sound of that river calmed my nerves and brought a sense of tranquility I had not felt for several days. 

river abstractI realize that when God created rivers He had lots of other purposes in mind than just providing us a place to experience peace, but I’m not so sure that this wasn’t also one of His reasons for making rivers and streams.  I think God knew that we would need places we could go to in order to have our spirits renewed, places where we could feel serenity.  It really is no wonder that there are so many songs that combine peace and rivers.  They go together quite naturally.


(The images above were taken Thursday at Breaks Interstate Park in Pike County, Kentucky.)

Aug 22 2010

Music & Creation Care

LAV 842“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High.” Psalms 92:1

It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to you that many of my favorite hymns are songs that praise God as Creator.  Some of my personal favorites are “This is My Father’s World,”  “Great is Thy Faithfulness,”  “For the Beauty of the Earth,”  “Worthy of Worship,” and “Morning Has Broken.”  Some of my favorite contemporary Christian songs are likewise focused on God as Creator.  These include “Indescribable” and “All Things Well,” both by Chris Tomlin, and “Creation Song” by Fernando Ortega.

This past week I was reminded of the importance of singing songs connecting God and Creation.  Matthew Sleeth, in his newest book, The Gospel According to the Earth, has a chapter on the Book of Psalms he calls “The First Environmental Music.”  In this chapter he claims that singing songs connecting God and Creation can actually make a difference in how we look at and treat the earth.  He says, “Singing songs in praise of creation inspires us to appreciate God’s gifts.  Appreciation leads to a desire to be better stewards.  Better stewardship at home, church, work, and beyond leads to less waste.  Less waste demonstrates respect for God, resulting in a cleaner, more beautiful world in which to sing his praises.”  I like Sleeth’s thinking, as well as his conclusion to the chapter: “With God as the conductor, maybe music can also save a planet.”

LAV 904A couple of days ago I got my latest edition of Orion in the mail.  This is an environmental magazine that Rob Sheppard introduced me to last year.  In it there is an article by Erik Reese about how a group of country musicians are using their talents to combat mountaintop removal in Appalachia.  Toward the end of the article Reese writes: “Can music save mountains?  Certainly not by itself.  But there is a reason Walter Pater said that all art aspires toward the condition of music.  More than any other art form, music can connect the head to the heart, the self to the social whole.  After all, the fiddle tunes that began in the mountains of Appalachia were never meant for an ‘audience.’  That music was intended to draw people together, to involve them in something communal and collective.  Now a new collective conscience must be mobilized in order to preserve the mountains where this music was born.”

It would seem that there truly is a connection between music and Creation Care—a connection worth noting and celebrating.  God told Job that when He created the world “the morning stars sang together.” (38:7)  It seems to me that it’s now our job to continue the song.


(The images above were taken at a lavender field near Port Angeles, Washington.)

Jun 20 2010

Honoring Our Heavenly Father

AZ-Monument-Valley-mittens-(v)-cr“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it…”  Psalm 24:1

I’ve been singing hymns all my life; I love them!  Not surprisingly, some of my favorite hymns speak of God’s role as Creator.  Some of these include “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,”  “Morning Has Broken,” “How Great Thou Art,” “For the Beauty of the Earth,” and “Fairest Lord Jesus.”  This morning the chancel choir sang another one of my favorites, “This Is My Father’s World.”

Here are the first two verses of this beautiful hymn written by Maltbie Babcock: “This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.  This is my Father’s world, I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees of skies and seas; His hands the wonders wrought.   This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise, the morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.  This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair; in the rustling grass I hear Him pass, He speaks to me everywhere.”

I love the message of this hymn.  Like the Psalmist the hymnist reminds us that the earth is the Lords.  We’re also reminded that all of Creation joins together in offering God praise.  Furthermore, we are reminded that God does, indeed, speak to us in the world that He has made.

Being Father’s Day I can’t help but wonder how honored God the Father must feel today when it comes to the way we have cared for His Creation.  As a child I was taught to respect the things that belonged to my Dad.   I understood that these things were his, not mine.  I also knew that if I used something that belonged to my father that I had better take very good care of it. 

If we know to respect our earthly father’s belongings you would think that we would also know to respect our heavenly Father’s belongings.  One way we can honor and show respect for God on Father’s Day, and the rest of the year, is by taking good care of that which belongs to Him—the earth.


(The image above was taken at Monument Valley.)

P.S. Rob Sheppard has a new blog that can be found at www.natureandphotography.com.  Make sure to check it out!

Jun 21 2009

This Is My Father’s World

morning-light1This morning at church we sang the hymn “This Is My Father’s World.”  Being Father’s Day, it seemed an appropriate choice.  This particular hymn has been a favorite of mine for a long time but as we sang the song I noticed that the words in the Chalice Hymnal were different from the ones I grew up singing.  The first two verses were the same:

“This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears, all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.  This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise, the morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.  This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair; in the rustling grass I hear Him pass; He speaks to me everywhere.”

The third verse started with words I was familiar with, “This is my Father’s world.  Oh, let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”  After this came the new words: “God trusts us with the world to keep it clean and fair, all earth and trees, the skies and seas, God’s creatures everywhere.”

Some research done this afternoon reveals that these last words were not part of the original hymn.  Still, I’m glad they somehow found their way into our hymnal.  Here we find an important reminder that having been blessed with a beautiful and marvelous world by our heavenly Father, we are now entrusted by Him to “keep it clean and fair.”  We need such reminders for if we do not keep the world clean and fair our ability to see and hear God “everywhere” will be hindered. It will also influence how future generations will be able to experience God in Creation.

On a day set aside to honor our earthly fathers, let’s pause to remember that one way we can honor our heavenly Father is by caring for and protecting His Creation.

–Chuck Summers

(The picture of “morning light” that appears above was taken recently at Pine Mountain State Park in Kentucky.)