Thoughts about the journey through life.
One of the frequent conversations held inside the esoteric world of hymn book editing is the use of supposedly archaic words such as: Thee, Thine, Thou and Thy. This issue reflects the general flattening of our language when it comes to the distinction between levels of personal intimacy. Most recently this has shown up in children and teen’s addressing of adults; especially in addressing their teachers by some form of their first name, whether or not it is proceeded with a Ms., or Mr. This over familiarity has blurred the line which once demarcated the youth from the adult. In several European languages there still exists a clear form of addressing a close friend or family member which is distinctively different from an address towards anybody else. And culturally, it requires a direct invitation to address someone with the intimate form.
One might assume that words such as: Thee, Thine, Thou and Thy, are a hyper formal form of address which is reserved only for religious usage. Nothing could be further from the truth. As our language has changed, we have not made everybody more intimate in our address (school children being excepted). Rather, we have made our intimate relationships no different in address than what is used for a total stranger. An address of “Thou” marked the greatest intimacy. It was reserved only for a lover, spouse, family member, or very close personal friend.
A true “Thou” intimacy is very rare in our lives, we may only have a handful during our entire lifetime. I had a “Thou” with my late, best friend Ralph Bus. Ours was a relationship built upon a complete openness and honesty and uncompromising love for each other. And yet we were as different as two men could be. He loved jazz, and well, I didn’t, but we shared a love of learning and exploring, so when I started to rent pianos to area jazz musicians, Ralph came along and loved getting to go behind the scenes. He also attended every concert I gave without fail.
“Thou” is characterized by a deathbed presence. When I received the call that Ralph had been taken to the Elmhurst hospital and was probably not going to survive the day, I raced to the hospital; getting my first speeding ticket of my life! If my dear friend had been awake, he would have died from laughing at me! But, alas, thou, my friend, we will have to wait for eternity to continue our exploration of our faith and what it means.
As rare as a true “thou” may be, we all have at least one “thou” and that is our Father who knows us better than we know ourselves. The use of Thee, Thine, Thou, and Thy in our hymns is not a religious formality, but a reflection of the greatest of intimacies. An intimacy which burrows into our very being and holds our heart in the strongest and gentlest of hands. So use the “Thou” to address our most intimate of friends, it is the most appropriate way to address the one who loved us so much, the gave his only begotten Son to the cross, so that all may know the love which passes all understanding. Amen.
This is My Father’s World
By: Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901)
Usually sung to: Terra Beata by: Franklin Shepherd (1852-1930)
Here is a YouTube recording:
1 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.
2 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 the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.
3 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!
Maltbie Davenport Babcock was born in Syracuse, NY on August 3, 1858 and died in Naples, Italy on May 18th, 1901 as he was returning from a trip to the Holy Land. He graduated from Syracuse University and Auburn Theological Seminary in New York. After briefly serving two smaller congregations in Lockport, NY, he became the pastor at the Brick Church in Lockport. He would take frequent walks in the countryside surrounding his hometown which sat upon a hill overlooking Lake Ontario. He would often explain that “I am going out to see my Father’s world” as he set off on these outings. He was very athletic, having been recognized for his accomplishments in swimming and baseball at the university. He was also a skilled amateur musician playing both the organ and piano.
This poem originally had 16 four-line stanzas. Shortly after his death, his good friend Franklin Shepherd (1852-1930) adapted an old English folk melody he learned as a child and condensed Babcock’s poem to the form we find today. The tune he wrote for it he titled: “Terra Beata” which means: terra (earth) beata (blessed… as in “beatitudes”)
Recently, I came across three different articles which look at various cosmological issues of time, space, and dimensions. One was written from the perspective that if it were not for the absolute precision of the universe; so many aspects of cosmological history and law having to be exactly as they are, the universe couldn’t exist in its current state if this were not the case. The conclusion was there must be a God for this to have happened. Another looked at the same set of issues and concluded that this was proof that there was no God. The final article looked at the 10 dimensions of reality physicist/philosophers believe can be postulated. One of the most fascinating part of this article was the discussion of the 4th and 5th dimensions. I won’t even begin to try to explain these; I will leave that to my physicist brother. But suffice it to say what was described as being knowable from these perspectives completely explained the Biblical concepts of Jerimiah 1:5 “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Or: Romans 8:29 “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Existing outside of time (the 4th dimension) would put one in the position to see all of time in an instant and not experience it linearly as we must.
As I look out of my office window, I see snow covered ground, evergreen bushes, and bare, leafless trees. The sky is clear with only a few whiffs of clouds. This could be seen as either the end of life which winter inevitably brings to the north, or the season which is preparation for the return of life in the spring. Our understanding of time, the seasons, and God’s providence would determine how we understand the world we live within.
This is our Father’s world! All of nature loudly proclaims this to be true. From the cosmos filled with galaxies unknowable, whose light we finally see hundreds of millions and billions of years after it was made, to the strangest sub-atomic particles and dark matter we can only theorize about, we can rest assured that His hand is present.
For all we know about life, we still do not understand what it is which is life. Yet, this mystery we see all around us, the birds in the air and spider descending on a thin string, all share in this wondrous mystery. Everything which has the breath of life declares the wonder of our Father and his work. In this we should take eternal comfort. Though we cannot always understand why Evil might overcome Good for a day, God is the ruler over everything, it is our Father’s world, and in this we shall be glad.
I Sing the Mighty Pow’r of God
By: Isaac Watts 1709
Commonly sung to: “Ellacombe” and sometimes “Zerah”
Here are two YouTube recordings:
- I sing the mighty pow’r of God, that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command, and all the stars obey.
- I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky.
- There’s not a plant or flow’r below, but makes Thy glories known,
And clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be, Thou, God, art present there.
Though Isaac Watts had no children of his own, he was very concerned with the education of children. He wrote an entire book of children’s songs called: “Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language, for the Use of Children (1715)” for use in worship and education. “I Sing the Mighty Pow’r of God” is the only one left in common use.
Its original title was: “Praise for Creation and Providence”. Though traditionally titles are taken from the opening phrase of the text, the original title covers the entirety of the text very appropriately. The first two stanzas speak to the various manifestations of God’s power and goodness. It is His power which made the mountains and seas and set the sun to rule the day and the moon the night. It is His goodness which filled the earth with food and made all of the creatures. In every aspect of the creation the providence and power of God can be seen; from the flowers to the storms, everything is in His order and care.
Much has changed in the 300 years since this text was penned. In Isaac’s time, life could be easily described and short and brutish. Disease, war, famine, and death were a daily presence. The notion that we should expect anything less if God was indeed “good” was inconceivable. Life was a continuous dance with death. Yet, out of this existence, which would be seen as utter barbarous to a 21st Century American gave rise to this exquisite recognition of the undeniable evidence of God’s hand in all of life. And we, as simply borrowers of life for a short time, must continue to see God’s presence in his creation and our experience of it.
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