Thursday, May 04, 2006

...till all our strivings cease

Dear Lord and Father of Mankind is a famous and much-loved hymn. I can see some of the attraction - in a busy world it reminds us of the importance of reflection on God, of silence, of peace. It's a good sentiment and a lovely tune.

Just a few quibbles with it...

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

What the hymn seems to be aiming for isn't total rest in God, it's total rest with God but on our terms.

Why else "all our strivings"? Or should we not be striving for God's glory? Was Paul wrong to strive (1 Tim 4:10)?

Is the ideal Christian someone who spends their lives in quiet contemplation, or someone who labours and strives? Probably a bit of both, but that's not what the hymn seems to be aiming for. I therefore propose an ammended version.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard,
Beside the Syrian sea,
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The passions of eternity,
Interpreted by love!

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till godless strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Transform the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.


DFH said...

The verses we sing as a hymn were actually part of a much longer poem by the American Quaker, John Greenleaf Whittier, entitled, "The brewing of soma". The full text is available here.

Once you've read the context, it's hard to sing the hymn again without thinking of what he was really getting at!

DFH said...

Once interviewed on the question, "Which is your favourite hymn?", the last-but-one home secretary David Blunkett cited, "Dear Lord and Father of mankind" as his.

My fiend Alan Morrison quipped that this was not surprising coming from the one who relaxed the classification of cannabis!

DFH said...

See also Whittier on Wikipedia, to which I just added a note in the discussion page.

Whittier was strongly influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson, see A tribute to Hinduism which includes, "144. John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) was a talented poet who was influenced by Emerson and from whom he borrowed a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. To Emerson he wrote: "I will e'en keep it until I restore it to thee personally in exchange for George Fox (founder of the Society of Friends, the Quakers). "It is a wonderful book-and has greatly excited my curiosity to know more of the religious literature of the East."
(source: The Oriental Religions and American Thought (Nineteenth-Century Explorations), Carl T. Jackson - Greenwood Press, London, England, 1981, p. 80.)

The results of Whittier's reading are evident in a good number of his poems like "The Oval Heart," "The Cypress Tree of Ceylon," "The Dead Feast of the Kol-Folk," and "The Khan's Devil." A particularly striking example of his use of Indian material is his well-known poem "The Brewing of Soma," which describes the preparation and use of the Vedic sacrificial drink (source: )"

DFH said...

Typo: There should be only one M in amended!

John said...

Thanks for all this.

The fact it's from "The Brewing of Soma" is mentioned on the link I provided.

My understanding is that Whittier was heavily criticising the enthusiastic revivalism of the time. To an extent, of course, some of the criticism is valid, but by going the route of quietism he goes too far and ends up coming across as a grumpy old man who begrudges others their passion.