“go and come”?

The choral anthem planned for tomorrow’s service at Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, is a rendition of My Shepherd Will Supply My Need; the great Isaac Watts’[1] paraphrase[2] of Psalm 23.[3] Chosen by our fabulously gifted choir director, Randall Traynham, it is a lovely piece (though the highest note of the tenor part is F above middle C; not the easiest climb for my voice early in the day or at any time!).

This morning, as I continued to learn my part (Randy says “It’s easy!”, but that’s easy for him to say!), I found myself studying the text. It’s familiar. I’ve sung various versions of Watts’ wording many times. And that’s the thing. Over the years, I’ve learned that when I am faced with well-known lyrics set to a new tune I have a tendency to focus more on the notes and less on the words, thus potentially missing the essential mark of singing with meaning. So, again, I spent a quiet moment or two reflecting on Watts’ words and I noted something previously unseen by me that had been present all along. Or perhaps better said I thought for the first time about something I’d seen countless times…

Watts’ verse 3, his interpretation of Psalm 23, verse 6, bears words nowhere found or even hinted in the psalm: There (in God’s house) would I find a settled rest, while others go and come.

Psalm 23 is, for me, among many things, a song of confidence in the steadfast goodness and kindness of God, which attends the faithful pilgrim’s trek through, verily, in “the house of Lord”, that is, in God’s presence, both in this world and the next.

So, I wonder. Who are those to whom Watts refers as the “others (who) go and come”, who, as I construe his intent, depart and return or arrive and depart from God’s house, who, either way, are, perhaps, transient seekers of and dwellers in God’s presence?

I don’t know. Though I would hazard a guess that Watts was criticized in his day by detractors who could not have imagined, much less dared, and might have considered it blasphemous to add words to scriptural texts. I also think that Watts, the biblical scholar and theologian, knowing that the Psalms, as a part of the Hebrew scriptures, were not written with a Christian consciousness, felt free to amend psalmic texts, particularly for Christian worship, to reflect his belief in Jesus Christ.

When I think of it that way, then I behold something characteristic about me and God.

About me? I, as human, alway subject to flights (and fits!) of unfaithfulness, am one who goes and comes, in and out of God’s presence.

About God? God, who loves me unconditionally, allows me, in my freewill, to go and come, in and out, and, so far, akin to the blessed father figure in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, alway welcomes me home.

Believing, knowing that this is so, I will sing this anthem tomorrow as a prayer that I, with Watts, will find in God’s house my “settled (unwavering, everlasting) rest.”

 

Footnotes:

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

[1] Isaac Watts (1674-1748), English Christian minister, hymn writer, and theologian; recognized as the “Father of English Hymnody” and credited with over 750 hymns, among them, Joy to the World, O God our Help in Ages Past, and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.

[2] The full text of Watts’ paraphrase of Psalm 23:

  1. My Shepherd will supply my need: Jehovah is His Name;

In pastures fresh He makes me feed, beside the living stream.

He brings my wandering spirit back when I forsake His ways,

And leads me, for His mercy’s sake, in paths of truth and grace.

  1. When I walk through the shades of death, Thy presence is my stay;

A word of Thy supporting breath drives all my fears away.

Thy hand, in sight of all my foes, doth still my table spread;

My cup with blessings overflows, Thine oil anoints my head.

  1. The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;

O may Thy house be my abode, and all my work be praise!

There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come;

No more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home.

[3] Psalm 23, King James Version:

  1. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
  2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
  3. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
  4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
  5. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
  6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
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9 thoughts on ““go and come”?

  1. Great post Paul!

    I think we all “come and go” in our relationship with God. As I get older, I come and stay much more than I come and go with God. I want to be present and near so I can have peace and feel the unconditional love. Funny how we’ve seen certain words and phrases for most of our lives but their meanings change or become more important and relevant as our moods or things in our lives change.

    You’ve inspired me to re-read something I’m really familiar with to see if it says anything different to me today. I wish I was musical, but I’m not so I’ll just have to focus on the words. This exercise will hopefully be good for my spirit.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Paul,

    Such a lovely thing to read on a hot Saturday afternoon in Des Moines, where I am with a group of dear women friends this weekend to attend three splendid opera productions (by Des Moines Metro Opera). I have four responses:

    1. Thank you!
    2. I find Watts’ approach to “adding” to the text of Psalm 23 in beautiful accord with the ancient practices of both midrash and Lectio Divina, i.e, as I understand them, looking for and finding something new and compelling in familiar scriptural territory.
    3. I think that the “going” may actually be as important in its way as the “coming,” in that when we go away from, at least, the consciousness of God’s presence, we inevitably return with something that we didn’t possess, know, or understand before we left. In order to grow, we bring the new, the unfamiliar, the strange, the perhaps frightening into God’s light when we return, where God helps us to illuminate it, accept it, love it as an essential and sacred part of our experience and ultimately of our being.
    4. The final words of Watts’ poem have always been among the most comforting words I have ever read anywhere, bar none: “No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.” Thank you, dear friend, for bringing them before my eyes again today.

    Much love,

    Karen

    Liked by 1 person

    • Much love to you, Karen, always.

      Thank you for your response, especially your #3…”we inevitably return with something that we didn’t possess, know, or understand before we left…we bring the new, the unfamiliar, the strange, the perhaps frightening into God’s light when we return, where God helps us to illuminate it, accept it, love it as an essential and sacred part of our experience and ultimately of our being.”

      Lord, have mercy, this’ll preach! Your words strike a resonate note that expands my grasp of the Parable of the Prodigal Son in a midrashic conceptual fashion that peers into the consciousness of the second son, who, in repentance, returned. Now, what had he learned about himself? Yes, this’ll preach!

      Thank you.

      Love,
      Paul

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      • Thank you, Paul! I am so humbled to receive a “That’ll preach!” from you, because in my mind you are THE preacher! I loved your connection to the Prodigal Son and the question of what he was bringing back when he returned to his father. I will be thinking of that in the car on the way home tomorrow, my “internal” Sunday sermon.

        I hope the Epiphany service, including the anthem, goes well tomorrow. Wish I could be there to hear.

        Much love,

        Karen

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Paul I chose the Serenity Prayer which I’ve said for much of my life. I believe people, including me, focus on the words “accepting the things we cannot change” and concentrating on being great and happy people even if we get hurt or traumatized by people or by life’s events.
    So I focused instead in my re-reading on the point of the entire prayer… Serenity – which I’ve often ignored. When someone you love dies, you truly want serenity – that peace and calm that is the exact opposite of what you’re feeling for the first few days and months. Now that almost one year has passed since Tim’s death I focused on the prayer again that I say almost daily. We already know I can’t change the fact that he’s no longer here…. BUT today I can focus more on achieving the serenity as part of my grief and healing. I can feel safe in the stillness and quiet now, more easily that I could even a few days ago. This morning I did something I rarely do. I walked for an hour just listening to my heartbeat and footsteps with no music playing. It allowed me to allow the serenity in. I can now see and feel one of my favorite prayers in a new and healing light.

    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Loretta, this is a glorious discernment for you – and for anyone! Allowing serenity to enter in and take possession of your inner being. Again, glorious.

      And, Lord, have mercy, yes, there is so much, at times, I feel, too much that occurs that is hurtful or wounding that we cannot control. Hence, another reason, verily, the virtue of being able to seek and obtain serenity.

      I love the image of your walking without music and listening to your heartbeat. I consider that truly seeking out and being in touch with and finding yourself – and, as I oft like to distinguish, your self.

      Once again, I write: glorious!

      Much love, always

      Liked by 1 person

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