Sunday, May 23, 2010

Dear Holy Ghost: Take My Life

For Pentecost Sunday, this morning’s Epistle featured the obligatory passage from Acts about the first Pentecost and the birth day of the church. The lectionary selected Old Testament and Gospel readings that foreshadow Penetecost, including that portion of Acts that cites Joel 2:28-31.

But what to sing on Whitsunday? There’s always Salve Festa Dies, but if not that, then Oremus has a list of Pentecost hymns (even if the hotlinks are broken.) What about the old-fashioned way of finding hymns? There are a number of hymns that make explicit reference to the Holy Ghost (or the Holy Spirit as our “contemporary” church refers to him). Some of these are overtly trinitarian in their outlook, so I’ll defer those to another Sunday.

As with other central themes of the Christian faith, for the Holy Ghost there are ancient (or at least medieval) texts that provide continuity across the millenia. One example is “Come Holy Ghost, Creator blest” (Hymnal 1940: 218). Taken from a 9th? 10th? century text, it was translated in the mid-19th century by Edward Caswall, an Anglo-Catholic CoE clergyman who followed John Newman to the Roman church.

Another, more personal favorite is “Come, Holy Ghost, with God the Son.” (H40: 160), with the original Latin attributed to St. Ambrose and as translated by J.M. Neale. Hymnal 1982 (#20) sets it to Wareham and a harmonization from Hymns Ancient & Modern, but (alas) bowdlerizes the words to become "Now Holy Spirit, ever one."

However, today’s sermon focused less on the historical truth of the Eleven in the upper room, nor on the glossolaly that mistakenly brought us Pentacostalism. Instead, the priest emphasized the importance of letting the Holy Ghost do its work in our daily lives, or — in the contemporary jargon — “being open to the power of the Spirit.”

This core message — surrending one’s will to that of God, working through the power of the Holy Spirit — reminded me of a hymn. I couldn't remember the song title during the service, but looked it up on the Internet when I got home:
Take my life, and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee;
take my moments and my days,
let them flow in ceaseless praise.


Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
take my heart, it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne.
The hymn (H40: #408; H82: #707) was written by Frances Havergal (1836-1879), youngest daughter of an Anglican cleric and compsoer. Quoting from her autobiography, the Hymnal 1940 Companion recounts how the couplets came to Havergal in December 1973 in response to prayer.

The CyberHymnal lists eight different melodies. H40/H82 use Hollingside (by John Dykes) but The English Hymnal (#582) has Ives while Songs of Praise, Enlarged Edition (#257) has Benevento. Oremus also lists 12 couplets -- which The CyberHymnal groups into three verses. Americans only get 8/12 (2/3) of these, but the Brits get all 12.

As devotionals go, this one is both easy to sing and powerful in its message. If I were the music director — and our rector had his act together enough to plan his sermon theme a week ahead — I would have scheduled this as the offertory hymn, right after the sermon. It also seems like it would be effective for children’s ministry.

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