I’ve had a deepening appreciation for old hymns since I’ve moved here. This has been motivated in part because we sing more of the old ones here than we did at Highland, and in part because the timelessness and familiarity have been comforting to me during this time of transition. I love that these songs are the same ones I’ve been singing my whole life. I love the history of them and the sense of continuity that generations before me have found meaning and hope in these words. And I love, love, love that I can hear the sound of my grandad’s voice in some of them (he was the song leader at the little church in Bangs, Texas, where my dad grew up).
Lately, I’ve been wrapping these songs around myself like a blanket. I sing to myself in moments when I’m feeling small and lonely. I retreat into as I walk down the street, when I’m alone in my apartment, whenever life seems hard. In fact, I think singing old hymns has become my primary mode of prayer. I think I started because of the comfort of familiarity, but I find that my spirit has been renewed by the beauty of the words, and by the statements of faith in brokenness that I see in them. There seems to be an almost unanimous understanding in the best of the old hymns that life is hard, and that the only good option is to turn and cling to God, and to have faith that there is hope. And there’s an acknowledgment of the mystery and sacredness of God that is too often missing in some of the more contemporary songs.
Earlier this week I downloaded Chris Rice’s album Peace Like a River, which is a collection of many of my favorite hymns, and I’ve really been enjoying listening to it. My favorite style for recorded hymns is a sort of mixture of beauty and humility, and this album does that really well. Here are some of my favorite hymns and favorite lines from them, in no particular order.
1. O Love that Will Not Let Me: “O Joy that seekest me through pain / I cannot turn my heart from Thee / I trace the rainbow through the rain / And trust the promise is not vain / that morn shall tearless be.”
2. Abide with Me: “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day / Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away / Change and decay in all around I see / O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”
3. Great is Thy Faithfulness: “Summer and winter and springtime and harvest / Sun, moon and stars in their courses above / Join with all nature in manifold witness / To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.”
4. It is Well with My Soul: “When peace like a river / attendeneth my way / When sorrows like sea billows roll / whatever my lot / Thou hast taught me to say / It is well, it is well with my soul” (p.s. when I was little, I thought this song said, “It is well with Lysol.” And that’s how I sang it at church. Loud and proud, and a little confused.)
5. Holy, Holy, Holy: [the whole song] [and you should listen to this link. It’s Sufjan Steven’s version, and maybe my favorite song in existence.]
So this is the first blessing I’m counting–a heritage of beautiful hymns that are sustaining me. What are some of your favorites, old or new?