Monday, January 08, 2007

The American West

The week of New Year's Day, I went with my brother's family and Amy's family to Colorado to spend the week skiing in Winter Park. Unfortunately, we were detoured through New Mexico due to a second major blizzard that hit Colorado and Kansas, closing I-70. When we left Oklahoma City I-40 was open, but we arrived in Amarillo to discover it had been closed in the interim. We detoured onto US60 and US285, taking us through cattle towns and the high plains of New Mexico. Eventually we were turned away by the New Mexico highway patrol, but we spent several hours of driving as usually the only 2 cars in sight, surrounded by plains of snow.

I love this area of the country, simply for its solitude. There are few places on earth where the only sign of human activity is a road, but that is one of them. As the sun set (which was easily visible in the immense flatness) and the whole sky turned purple and red, I was really astounded at the beauty. I do love the sky, and I miss it while living in New Jersey, where trees, buildings and smog obscure it. Then, as the sun disappeared, the brightness of the stars and the Milky Way gave me an even greater feeling of smallness than driving in the deserted landscape had done. As is often the case, I thought about one of my favorite hymns.

"For the Beauty of the Earth" is usually sung to the tune DIX, written by Conrad Kocher, a German church musician who founded the School of Sacred Music in Stuttgart. The text, by Folliot Pierpoint, comes in this form from the 1864 second edition of Lyra Eucharistica.

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.

Refrain

Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour,
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon, and stars of light.

For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind’s delight,
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild.

For Thy Church, that evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Offering up on every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love.

For the martyrs’ crown of light,
For Thy prophets’ eagle eye,
For Thy bold confessors’ might,
For the lips of infancy.

For Thy virgins’ robes of snow,
For Thy maiden mother mild,
For Thyself, with hearts aglow,
Jesu, Victim undefiled.

For each perfect gift of Thine,
To our race so freely given,
Graces human and divine,
Flowers of earth and buds of Heaven.

Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise!

This has somehow come to be associated with Thanksgiving, I suppose because of the "grateful praise" of the refrain. I like it at any time, though! It encompasses not only the beauty of creation, but it covers the Church (living and dead) as well as the incarnation. Enjoy it in the new year, both fiscal and liturgical.

3 comments:

Pastor Michael Jordan said...

Hey Lance--liked your post.

Copland wouldabeen proud.

We sing "For the Beauty of the Earth" once a quarter in our church in lieu of the pastoral prayer, in part to acknowledge the changing of the seasons. Don't worry, we don't sing the verses about the virgins or the martyrs... ;)

Mike

Anonymous said...

Lance -

Somehow I've always associated this hymn with spring-time.

This past Sunday we sang 'Beneath the Cross of Jesus' from the new hymnals, and I discovered a new (new to me, anyway) verse -
----
There lies beneath its shadow but on the further side
The darkness of an awful grave that gapes both deep and wide
And there between us stands the cross two arms outstretched to save
A watchman set to guard the way from that eternal grave.
------
In checking 'Cyberhymnal', I found this to be the original 3rd verse; the 2nd is -
-----------
O safe and happy shelter, O refuge tried and sweet,
O trysting place where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet!
As to the holy patriarch that wondrous dream was given,
So seems my Savior’s cross to me, a ladder up to heaven.
-----------
I am quite taken with both of these (though original 2nd may be too obscure in its Biblical references for most congregations).

Thanks for highlighting what we're missing in 'For the Beauty of the Earth'!

<>< Ron Troup

Lance said...

Mike, you should introduce the martyrs and virgin and see what happens. And, the missing verses of "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" are quite interesting. The "trysting" language of mid-19th-century hymns always astounds me. Some of them make the modern Jesus-lover language sound tame.