I Trace the Rainbow through the Rain

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?


6 thoughts on “I Trace the Rainbow through the Rain

  1. Abide With Me is one of MY favorite hymns, too! How weird is that? 🙂 I’ve thought that, if anywhere is my home, it’s the Gospel. Wherever I go, there it is. Does that make sense? Congregations come and go, but truth is eternal, and, by extension, omnipresent.

  2. It’s usually the things we carry with us but which can’t be packed that bring us the most comfort. Thanks for sharing! I haven’t heard the Sufjan version in years. My favorites:

    O Come O Come Emmanuel
    O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
    Our spirits by Thine advent here
    Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
    And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
    Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

    Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
    O to grace how great a debtor
    Daily I’m constrained to be!
    Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
    Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
    Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
    Prone to leave the God I love;
    Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
    Seal it for Thy courts above.

  3. I love all the ones on your list, Shanna, but especially “Abide With Me” and “Holy, Holy, Holy.” And I’ve come to love “It Is Well” so much more in the last few years, because it is Calvin’s favorite.

    I’ve been reaching for these old hymns too. They’re so rich and comforting.

  4. Just sang this song at church this morning. Not being a native English speaker, found the phrase “rainbow through the rain” a bit difficult. Upon googling to reach this site, can now see that is where the meat of the poem really is. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I was hoping to read the meaning of ‘I trace the rainbow through the rain’! I love singing a lot of similar songs. Indeed, I’m interested in not only the date of composition but in the life of the writer as well. This morning, for instance, after re-learning ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee, Nearer to thee!’, I reflected that Mrs Sarah F.Adams (1805-48) died in 11 August, of T.B. Such a lovely song, not only re-enacts Jacob’s dream, it brings out a most challenging conviction of faith in the lady,too.

    So much for digression; ‘tracing the Rainbow through the rain’. From childhood we’ve learnt that rainbow is a sign that rain is falling somewhere not very far away, and the ray of sunlight is ‘spectrumed’ through it. My knowledge of this is ruefully very limited! This is in agreement with another song ‘Happy are they …that love God’ where it says ‘Sad were our lot, evil this earth/Did not its sorrows prove the path whereby the sheep may find the fold of Jesus’ love.’ So faith must be tested; effective love transfixes!

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