January 27, 2009

hymn backgrounds - "Take Now Our Minds"

Here's a little window into my process of finding and incorporating new music in our services:

In looking for a communion hymn for this Sunday, my goal was to find something that captured the concept of loving the Lord with all our hearts; I was interested in hymn texts that point to Scriptures like Matthew 22:37 and Romans 12:1-2. In my search, I was struck by a hymn that I came across in the Trinity Hymnal: "Take Thou Our Minds, Dear Lord" #593. Each stanza elaborates on offering what Jesus commands in the great commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."

The great difficulty was that much of the language was fairly archaic (which is surprising since it was written at the end of World War I). I don't mind a few uses of "thee" and "thou" in hymns--especially those that many people know by heart--but I am also of the mind and heart that it is helpful to gently nudge a text into modern vernacular to enable worshipers to enter into singing without the distraction of getting their tongues around Victorian language.

But this posed a dilemma: the first line of every stanza is "Take Thou..." Not only that, but other phrases struggled to come off my lips. It took me several readings to really get it. (Yes, I realize that this is the mark of good poetry, but it's also the mark of outdated modes of phrasing.)

Before I started altering the hymn, I realized I should have my melody picked out, since I may have to work at making the stanzas musically fit the phrasing. Since I was not familiar with the tune that it is paired with in the Trinity, I made a quick visit to the metrical index. This pointed me to the tune EVENTIDE, used with the widely known "Abide With Me." (I would classify any hymn as widely known if it gets sung by Elton John on the telley). This is a beautiful melody in my opinion, one which translates well into a variety of musical idioms. I found a folk rendition of the tune, sung by Tom Kimmel, with guitar, fiddle, and female harmony, and got the arrangement settled on the page before adding the words. (The nice thing about using strong, familiar melodies is that once I've written an arrangement, I can use it again for other texts. Case in point: this Sunday, we're singing the melody ODE TO JOY from Beethoven's 9th to the text "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee," which we also use for "God All Nature Sings Thy Glory.")

The result is what I now title "Take Now Our Minds," which you'll find presented below. See what you think; I'll allow you to do the work of comparing the original text to the new text. As this is my first shot at really updating a hymn, I will likely find things to change in the future, but I hope that it'll hold up when we sing it this Sunday. Note that I didn't erase every use of "Thee": at the end of the first stanza, I'd have to change the rhyme scheme of the previous line in order to extricate it.

To include a little bit of history for the hymn, at least its writer: William Hiram Foulkes was the son of a Welsh minister in the Presbyterian Church. He grew up in New York State, trained at a seminary in Ohio, and ended up in Salina, KS as a Presbyterian minister. He later founded the Grand View Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, KS, which is a congregation that worship to this today. You can see a more complete biography here.

Take Now Our Minds

Take now our minds, O Father, as we pray,
Give us the mind of Christ each passing day;
Teach us to know the truth that sets us free;
Grant us in all our thoughts to honor Thee.

Take now our hearts, O Christ—they are Your own;
Come in our souls each day and claim Your throne;
Help us to spread abroad Your deathless love;
Use us to make the earth like heaven above.

Take now our wills, O Spirit hold full sway;
Have in our inmost souls Your perfect way;
Guard us each sacred hour from selfish ease;
Guide all our daily lives as You would please.

Take all our lives: our hearts, our minds, our wills;
Through our surrendered souls Your plans fulfill.
We yield ourselves: our time, our talents, all;
We hear, and choose to heed, Your gracious call.

Words: William H. Foulkes, 1918; alt. 2009. Music: EVENTIDE, William H. Monk, 1861. © 2009 Luke W. Brodine.

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