Music and the spirit

One of the great losses that Covid-19 has brought for Christians, and many others, is the ban on singing hymns in Church. This has been part of a huge loss for all who play and sing music and those who simply love to hear it. This has been to the detriment of our lives which need the dimension that comes through music, art, theatre and all forms of culture. There is a search and a longing for the feeding of the spirit (the soul). Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to be at the Gibberd Garden in Harlow (where I volunteer) and there hear live music from Woodwind of Stortford. Just to hear music in the setting of a garden, planned and loved by the late Sir Frederick and Lady Gibberd, was to feel a rising of the spirit. Many have discovered in these very dark times, the place of gardens in lifting us out of the current difficulties of life to a new appreciation of creation and the creativity that gardening can bring. We only have to watch Gardeners’ World on BBC 2 to hear how people are turning to their gardens, allotments, or open spaces to experience something both healing and absorbing. To combine that with music, yesterday, was both joyful and uplifting.

Music plays a huge part in the quest for a deeper appreciation of what life is really about but the Covid-19 virus has wreaked havoc on our ability to play, listen to and experience music ‘in the flesh’ as it were. The BBC, Classic FM and live streaming of concerts of all kinds of music have done as much as possible to keep the echo of music alive in our hearts.
But there have been casualties and I ask you to think about those free-lance musicians who simply lost their jobs and livelihoods when Lockdown began in March.
Hymn singing has also been a casualty for many. Singers, Organists, other religious music makers are now able to offer a little under Government rules but there is still a huge gap to be filled.

Like all things, however, difficulties and loss often bring new awareness, insights and determination. (I sing far more in the shower than I ever did, without subjecting others!)
Also we can think carefully about what hymns mean to us and the spirituality they convey.

So below, my friend Diana Lowry, meditates on one of her favourite hymns. A new insight into ‘And now, O Father, mindful of the Love’

A Favourite Hymn

I am sure we all have favourite hymns and different hymns will speak to us at different times. Sometimes they may be linked to a person in some way and the one I am writing about today does have that connection. Here is the hymn which I have printed in full in case you do not remember all the words:

And now, O Father, mindful of the love
which bought us once for all on Calvary’s tree,
and having with us Christ who reigns above,
we celebrate with joy for all to see
that only offering perfect in your eyes:
the one true, pure, immortal sacrifice.

Look, Father, look on his anointed face,
and only look on us as found in him;
look not on our misusings of your grace,
our prayer so feeble and our faith so dim;
for, set between our sins and their reward,
we see the cross of Christ, your Son, our Lord.

And then for those, our dearest and our best,
By this prevailing presence we appeal;
O fold them closer to thy mercy’s breast,
O do thine utmost for their souls’ true weal;
From tainting mischief keep them white and clear
And crown thy gifts with grace to persevere.

And so we come: O draw us to your feet,
most patient Saviour, who can love us still;
and by this food, so awesome and so sweet,
deliver us from every touch of ill;
for your glad service, Master, set us free,
and make of us what you would have us be.

                                                William Bright 1824-1901

It is usually sung as a communion hymn and to me reminds me of the link of all of Christ’s life, not just his death, with the Eucharist. For instance it speaks of grace, forgiveness, freedom, support and love. It is also special because it was sung at the funeral of a priest whom I thought I knew well but never ceased to surprise me: he gave the impression that his faith was woolly and bendable but in fact it was at its heart very traditional and incredibly important to who he was and how he lived.

Now when I sing this I think of Chris living above, with God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; I am reminded again that the sacrifice on Calvary was pure and true and forever. The hymns acknowledges our languid (indifferent) prayer and our faith that is often so weak, and how we misuse grace, but that all has been redeemed through Christ, that tomorrow is another day when we can do better. And then we bring before God those who we love; we admit that they too have shortcomings, but we pray for them and know that God will protect them and give them the grace to persevere.

The last verse teaches us about the Eucharist, giving thanks for all that our Saviour went through and knowing how special this food is – so aweful (breathtaking) and so sweet (beloved), that renews us and reminds us of our need of God and that we need never be parted from him. The tune (Unde et Memores) fits perfectly with the words: if you do not know the hymn do try the youtube link.

You can hear it performed at: by the Marlborough College choir.

Diana Lowry

* Diana is a Licensed Lay Minister in the Church Of England.

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