Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Come to the gate

Come to the gate, O come to the Savior; come for safety and release.
Follow the voice of your dear Shepherd to security and peace.
Enter in to God’s protection; follow then to pastures green;  
Come to the gate, O come to the Savior; learn what life and wholeness mean.

Bandits and robbers, they cannot enter, cannot come in through this gate –
Leave them aside! Do not give ear to voices crying fear and hate.
Only follow your dear Shepherd and this voice of trust and care;
Come to the gate, O come to the Savior; find your joy and fullness there.

TEXT: Charles Spence Freeman, April 2020, after John 10:1-10 (Easter 4A)
MUSIC: Suggested tune HOLY MANNA, Columbian Harmony, 1825

Apparently my lectionary-hymn brain has recovered somewhat after this month-plus of quarantine.
I unwittingly dared myself to write this one. In sharing information for this coming Sunday’s service I made the offhand remark that, while there are hymns or songs for Jesus the Good Shepherd, or even the Vine, you just didn’t see hymns on Jesus as the gate for the sheep as he says in this passage. Of course my hymn-writing brain was going to take that as a dare. Of course it was.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

For those who take up science

For those who take up science to study nature’s ways
And learn of your creation, the wonder it displays,
To warn us from destruction of all we have adored;
For those who take up science, we give you thanks, O Lord.

For those who take up study of creatures great and small,
On land, in air and water, O God who made them all,
To thwart annihilation of creatures that you love;
In wonder and repentance, we thank you, God above.

For those who seek out learning of water, heat, and air,
Of climate and its changing, the consequence we bear,
And who, for all their labors, face sore abuse and scorn
We thank you for the knowledge of those who work and warn.

In time when fear is rampant and ignorance is strong,
We see the consequences of years of greed and wrong;
With mourning and repentance we seek your learning new,
To know the holy healing that you would have us do.

TEXT: Charles Spence Freeman, April 22, 2020
MUSIC: Suggested tune AURELIA, Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1864

Between today being Earth Day and the recent news of the death of faith-fueled climate scientist Sir John Houghton, this hymn developed. The last verse, no surprise, is the kicker - to paraphrase Sam Cooke, a change has gotta come.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

I lift my voice to cry unto the Lord

I lift my voice to cry unto the Lord; 
I raise my pleading to my God on high.
I tell my trouble to the Holy One
Who knows my fainting soul and fearful sigh.

When I go out and danger lies in wait,
See, there is none to care or comfort show.
No refuge comes before my weary eye;
Hear, Lord, for I am brought down grieving low.

I cry to you, my refuge and my hope,
To save and keep me from the ones who hate,
Oh, hear my weeping and my anxious call,
And lead me from this fearful prison’s gate.

O God, I give you all my thanks and praise,
For you will ever work for good in me;
You are my strength as long as I shall live,
And you my hope for all eternity.

TEXT: Charles Spence Freeman, 2020, after Psalm 142
MUSIC: Suggested tunes:
            SURSUM CORDA (Smith), Alfred Morton Smith, 1941
                        (permission not available for reproduction)
            Or  MORECAMBE, Frederick Cook Atkinson, 1870

The ongoing enforced isolation keeps driving me to darker and more obscure psalms. Apparently Psalm 142 wasn't deemed suitable for lectionary use (though I would think anyone working in prison ministry might find it useful), but it may resonate in the current moment, even if the "persecutors" of the psalm's text are more internal than external. (On the other hand, the "ones who hate" are sadly too real and too plentiful today.) I've tagged it as a lament, though it isn't strictly so, because frankly at this moment it's close enough. As is usually the case with the darker psalms, the note of hope comes at the end, which I have taken the liberty of expressing as one both for "as long as I live" and "for all eternity."

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

This is my Father's world, adapted

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 rustling grass I hear him pass; God speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world. Among the mountains drear,
‘Mid rending rocks and earthquake shocks, the still, small voice I hear.
This is my Father’s world, now close to heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod; no place but holy ground.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world. Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; Let earth be glad!

TEXT: From Maltbie D. Babcock, “My Father’s World,” in Thoughts for Every-Day Living, from the Spoken and Written Words of Maltbie Davenport Babcock, 1901; adapted from stanzas 2-5, 9, 11, 14, 16 and alt. Charles Spence Freeman, 2020.
MUSIC: Tune TERRA BEATA, Franklin L. Sheppard, 1915 

Going back to Maltbie Babcock's original poem from which the popular hymn is extracted yielded some interesting verses not typically preserved in modern hymnals. Seeking to use this hymn for an Earth Day-themed service made those stanzas seem worth reinstating. Hopefully Babcock will be pleased with this (in whatever afterlife he may be) enough to be unconcerned about the few word alterations needed for music rhythm and such.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

For God alone my soul does wait

For God alone my soul does wait
In silence and in solitude;
My safety is in God alone;
My soul is sheltered and renewed.

God is my sole foundation strong,
And my salvation sure and true;
My fortress firm in which I trust,
And which no foe can still undo.

For God alone my soul does wait
In silence and in solitude;
My hope lives only in the Lord,
My soul is sheltered and renewed.

Deliverance and honor true
Come only from my God on high;
My mighty rock is only God,
My refuge when I mourn and cry.

O trust our God in all your ways;
O peoples, trust your Lord above!
Pour out your heart, cry out your prayers
To God our refuge and our love.

TEXT: Charles Spence Freeman, March 2020, after Psalm 62:1-2, 5, 7-8
MUSIC: Suggested tune CONDITOR ALME SIDERUM, Sarum plainsong, 9th cent. (LM)

The ongoing isolation, I suppose, was inevitably going to drive me to the Psalms, where a number of texts seemingly attuned to the current situation live. The first line of the psalm itself ("For God alone my soul waits in silence") was particularly arresting; I almost hated to paraphrase it. I was deliberately selective about which verses to set, which I suppose disqualifies this hymn from ever appearning in a true psalter, but oh well. It didn't immediately strike me, but setting the text to a chant tune, ideally sung a cappella, also seems appropriate to the time.

Monday, March 16, 2020

When hands can no more reach and hold

When hands can no more reach and hold, 
            Or arms no more embrace,
When lives must now be held apart
            By yawning empty space; 
Great God, now give your children hope
            In place of sad despair,
And hold our hearts in your good peace,
            Our breaking souls repair.

God, teach us in this lonely time
            To hold in yearning prayer
Those lives and souls who touch our own,
            And give them to your care.
Let not our gnawing fear take hold
            And make us feel alone,
But teach us, Lord, to hold this truth
            Until this scourge is gone:

Those souls we’ve been loved by and love
            Are still with us this day;
That friendship touch is not denied,
            Nor is it gone away.
Help us reach out, though not with hands
            Or arms or holy kiss,
To all those friends and loved ones dear
            Whose presence now we miss.

Our prayers for health and wholeness hear,
            And give our souls release
To hope against that day when we
            Can reunite in peace.
Sustain our souls, set free our minds,
            Renew our battered love
On earth, e’en now in solitude,
            As in your realms above.

TEXT: Charles Spence Freeman, 2020.
MUSIC: Suggested tune RESIGNATION, USA folk melody,
            Lewis’s Beauties of Harmony, 1828 (CMD)


A hymn of the moment. As the grim reality of Covid-19 settled in and the necessity of isolation and "social distancing" became all the clearer, I was reminded (oddly enough, but not really?) of the Carolyn Winfrey Gillette hymn title "When hands reach out and fingers trace." The obvious question became "but what happens when we can't do that?" This hymn is a feeble attempt at an answer, or less an answer than a response? 

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Born of the Spirit

Born of the Spirit, bound for the Kingdom; 
            so is the gift of God’s own true love; 
Washed in the water, raised in Christ’s likeness,
            formed in Christ’s image, born from above.

Born of the Spirit, fresh as the wind blows,
            borne on the wind like flight of the dove;
Mighty wind rushing – hark now and hear it! –
            so is the new life born from above.

Born of the Spirit, no longer sin-bound,
            set free from bondage by God’s own love; 
Our lives bear witness to Christ’s true calling
            when we are living born from above.

TEXT: Charles Spence Freeman, 2020, after John 3:3-9 (Lent 2A)
MUSIC: Tune BUNESSAN, Gaelic melody (

I doubt I’ll ever have the nerve to try to set or paraphrase John 3:16 itself, but the earlier part of the lectionary reading offers Jesus’s provocative words on the need to be “born of the Spirit,” and the familiar “Morning has broken” tune seems to bring those images to life particularly well.