God is Near in Song

sing2Music has always been a big part of my life. Thanks to inexpensive LP records at Treasure Island (a discount store in our area back in the 70’s), we had more than just gospel music at home. Mom bought everything from John Phillip Sousa, Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (I wore that one out), Johnny Mann’s choral music, E. Power Biggs organ albums, and many others. I played these on the stereo at home a lot. We took piano lessons at the Wisconsin Conservatory as children, and my sister and I sang with a Christian singing group that traveled around the country each Easter break for years.  In addition, our Lutheran day school taught music reading as part of our curriculum along with sacred music in choir.   We learned American folk songs and lots of wonderful hymns that we sang in chapel and in class devotions.

Also, I heard gospel music long before it was so commercialized with slick pop stars, back when it really was about the great old songs, not so much the performers. As kids, my siblings and I fell asleep late at night  many times on our coats at the Christian radio station where our parents worked in Milwaukee’s central city, the Haven of Rest radio program  on the speakers in the ceiling. This recording here of their theme song with the bells takes me straight back to those times years ago.

As a young adult, I became familiar with a broader range of hymnody on CD, Psalm singing of various kinds (metrical Psalms from Scotland, Anglican chant, etc.), and the grand festival hymns of the English choral tradition. I interviewed John Rutter once about his wonderful compositions and I have the CD’s of his hymns that are unequaled, as far as I am concerned, in excellence.  I also bought St. Olaf’s choir CD’s, the choir of Gustavas Adolphus (I love their Scandinavian hymn CD), and so forth.

For a time, I drifted away from the gospel songs I grew up with, but as I have grown older, I find myself coming back again to the songs I used to hear in congregational singing and from recording artists like George Beverly Shea. In the last few years, these sweet old songs have been a tremendous comfort to me.

Scripture talks about Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs—three separate categories, That’s because each category serves a purpose of its own. It’s not that you can’t sing a hymn of worship on your bed on a sleepless or pain-filled night, but often that is when the gospel songs mean the most.  They speak of God’s immanence, his closeness to us through Christ–our Savior who knows what it is to suffer and to walk on this earth as a human.  Hymns of worship emphasize God’s transcendence, his sovereignty and greatness, his holiness, something we also acknowledge. But when hurting, the closeness of God is what we tend to need most.

I once stood next to my grandma, Mary, in a church service where they were singing the Fanny Crosby song, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” I heard her sweet quavering voice next to me. Do you know, I never forgot it, and every time I hear that song, I remember her and her faith. The words of that song, penned by the blind Crosby,  reflect Luther’s deathbed words, “We are beggars all.”  No matter how strong we think we are, in the end, we are dependent completely on the Savior passing by our place of need. (See the story of Bartemaeus)

Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Savior, Savior,
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Let me at Thy throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief;
Kneeling there in deep contrition,
Help my unbelief.

Trusting only in Thy merit,
Would I seek Thy face;
Heal my wounded, broken spirit,
Save me by Thy grace.

Thou the spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me,
Whom have I on earth beside Thee,
Whom in Heav’n but Thee.

~ Fanny J. Crosby

I recently discovered a YouTube channel of congregational singing including many of these old gospel songs. I am a big fan!  When I can’t get to church, I watch these videos and sing aloud. I know many of these hymns by heart and don’t have to reference the words. Here is one such song that I love, and another beneath it. The channel is called “Faith for the Family” from Temple Baptist Church in Powell, Tennessee. If you’re blessed by these dear old songs, check it out and sing along. One of the things I notice are the young faces in the congregation, and many of them are really singing these. How wonderful that another generation will know these treasures.

Here are the words of this song, “He Hideth my Soul.” Another of Fanny Crosby’s compositions, the text is based on Exodus 33:22

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.


He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
He taketh my burden away;
He holdeth me up, and I shall not be moved,
He giveth me strength as my day.


With numberless blessings each moment He crowns,
And filled with His fullness divine,
I sing in my rapture, oh, glory to God
For such a Redeemer as mine!


When clothed in His brightness, transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love
I’ll shout with the millions on high.

Isn’t it wonderful to know that despite the world’s foundations being rocked by turmoil and fear these days, our souls, as Christians, are hid with God, in Christ. He hides our souls and covers them with his hand.

This one is the earliest song I remember singing in church, back at First Christian and Missionary Alliance on 60th street in Milwaukee. It’s hard not to join in joyfully with that refrain. “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, let the people rejoice. O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son, and give Him the glory, great things he has done!”

The Apostle Paul and Silas, imprisoned at Phillipi for sharing the Gospel, are recorded in Scripture as singing in their chains (just before the earthquake that set them free.  See Acts, Chapter 16) We cannot change circumstances in our lives so often, but we can sing anyway. Our song comes from the knowledge that our God “plants his footsteps in the seas, and rides upon the storm.” He is with us, come what may in this life. And soon, we will see Him in a place where no tear will ever dim our eyesight. What a day that will be.

I hope these are as much of a blessing to you as they are to me!



There’s Still Music

Our son, Will, 19,  and assistant at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas this last week warming up before the concert with the Wheaton College Men’s Glee Club. It’s an increasingly ugly culture, but these young people remind us that there is still music left.



From Russia to You

The first music I ever heard my husband, Tom, play professionally was the music by Prokofiev for the ballet, Romeo and Juliet, and I fell in love with it –and Tom, by the way.   smile emoticon  This is my favorite part. A little gorgeous  русская музыка (Russian music) for your day!

19 years Ago…Two Miracles

At a recent eye checkup, I tried out a new machine in the office that takes a very detailed look at the retinas, a much closer look that was possible before.

I knew I had scarring on my retinas from a case of severe preeclampsia with our youngest son, Will, and for the first time, I got a real look at the damage. It was a reminder of how close to being permanently blinded I really was. The fluid that had built up in a life-threatening experience bowed my retinas outward, doing damage as it did so. The eye doctor pointed out to me that in both eyes, the scarring came within a tiny margin of destroying the optic nerve.

The legal blindness I had for two weeks after Will was born eventually subsided, all thanks to the Lord. I remember the day when the dim light I was seeing was replaced with normal vision. All of a sudden it was like a million diamonds were sparkling all over. The light was coming back into my eyes. Within hours, literally, I could see fully again, lines on paper were straight again instead of wonky looking, and things were sharply focused.

Today marks 19 years since that frightening evening when I, by God’s merciful Willgesuorgan1design, went in for a prenatal check-up on a Monday instead of a Wednesday appointment, which saved my life. My blood pressure was through the roof. The doctor, a young man without any experience with preeclampsia he later admitted, sent me into the hospital, and I was hooked up to every monitor in existence. Will was born prematurely that night, but both our lives were spared.

God still had work for me and for Will. I am deeply grateful. Will is a tornado, a man with a plan ever since he was little. I can always tell when he is home, because the piano in our living room will burst into sound at random moments. When I hear that sudden music, I know our son is there.

In between his landscape work this summer, he is preparing for a noon-time concert at a church in Milwaukee in a couple of weeks. He is good friends with many organists in town who seem to like our son a lot. We like him, too!

Every child born into a family brings something to it. Will brings music. The night he was born, I had this piece of music pounding through my head. It’s fitting that the composer, Anton Bruckner, was an organist as well as composer of symphonies! It is one of Will’s favorites, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

So, in honor of Will, here’s the finale to Bruckner’s 8th Symphony. The whole 22 minutes is a wonderful listen.


A Reflection for Today

Hymn reflection. These old treasures of English hymnody are largely unknown to younger generations. I share this one today in fitting contemplation of our Savior’s sacrifice on the cross. The music sung below only uses four of these stanzas, but the totality of the text tells the full story.

Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow,
Where the blood of Christ was shed,
Perfect Man on thee did suffer,
Perfect God on thee has bled!

Here the king of all the ages,
Throned in light ere worlds could be,
Robed in mortal flesh is dying,
Crucified by sin for me.

O mysterious condescending!
O abandonment sublime!
Very God Himself is bearing
All the sufferings of time!

Evermore for human failure
By His passion we can plead;
God has born all mortal anguish,
Surely He will know our need.

This—all human thought surpassing—
This is earth’s most awful hour,
God has taken mortal weakness!
God has laid aside His power!

Once the Lord of brilliant seraphs,
Winged with love to do His will,
Now the scorn of all His creatures,
And the aim of every ill.

Up in Heaven, sublimest glory
Circled round Him from the first;
But the earth finds none to serve Him,
None to quench His raging thirst.

Who shall fathom that descending,
From the rainbow circled throne,
Down to earth’s most base profaning,
Dying desolate alone.

From the Holy, Holy, Holy,
We adore Thee, O most High,
Down to earth’s blaspheming voices
And the shout of Crucify.

Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow,
Where the blood of Christ was shed,
Perfect Man on thee did suffer,
Perfect God on thee has bled!

Text: William J. Sparrow-Simpson, created for John Stainer’s oratorio, The Crucifixion

For Your Day

For 20 years, since I discovered its riches, the oratorio, Elijah, by Mendelssohn, has been a source of comfort and hope. From the opening chorus of, “Help, Lord!” through all of it’s Scripture-laden content, it is the story of a people in need of God’s help and deliverance. And it’s the story of how God did deliver. This aria, sung by a young boy in this rendition, is one of my favorites. Direct instruction. “Rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him, and He will give you your heart’s desire.”


Home Again

Will is home from college tonight. He arrived at the bus station too early for his dad to pick him up after work, so he walked down Wisconsin Avenue carrying all his stuff from college and arrived at Gesu Church where his beloved Schantz organ was waiting for him in the dark organ loft.

Our son recorded a Christmas carol just for me. I thought I’d share  Silent Night with the Hope Blog readers.

He also recorded this joyful fanfare just for fun. This is a fanfare he learned from Organist Emeritus at Gesu, John Weissrock, Will’s mentor in organ from the time he was a very small boy. The fanfare is usually the introduction to Christ the Lord is Risen Today at Easter, but Will whips it out when he is in a particularly joyful mood. He’s glad to be home, and Tom, Mary , Emmy and I are all so happy to have our tornado back for a few weeks from college.




For Today

I came across this music from Psalm 42 that I love so much, sung by the (German) Harmony Quartet. Their videos on YouTube, both in English and German, are a frequent enjoyment of mine. Here are the words to that Psalm, and then here is their truly lovely version of it. The spirit of the music lifts up the beauty and longing of the words and fills a heart with peace.

Psalm 42

For the choir director: A psalm[a] of the descendants of Korah.

As the deer longs for streams of water,
so I long for you, O God.
I thirst for God, the living God.
When can I go and stand before him?
Day and night I have only tears for food,
while my enemies continually taunt me, saying,
“Where is this God of yours?”

My heart is breaking
as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers,
leading a great procession to the house of God,
singing for joy and giving thanks
amid the sound of a great celebration!
Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!
Now I am deeply discouraged,
but I will remember you—
even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan,
from the land of Mount Mizar.
I hear the tumult of the raging seas
as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.
But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me,
and through each night I sing his songs,
praying to God who gives me life.

“O God my rock,” I cry,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I wander around in grief,
oppressed by my enemies?”
Their taunts break my bones.
They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”
Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!