We sing a lot in the Episcopal Church! It’s not that members of other Protestant denominations don’t sing (they certainly do), but our liturgies – depending on the individual congregation, priest, and music director – are routinely peppered not only with hymns but also chants, responses and intoned prayers. We sing many beautiful hymns – poetry set to music in many cases – and we have a history of composers who have richly expanded our repertoire for centuries.
A contemporary lyricist who is well worth highlighting is the Rev. Dr. Carl P. Daw, an Episcopal priest, Associate of the Society of St. Margaret, and the former Executive Director of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada (1996-2009). When the Hymnal of the Episcopal Church was being revised in the early 1980s to accompany the revised Book of Common Prayer, the Rev. Daw penned new words to a number of older, well-loved tunes. He has also written new words to the tune Raquel for the supplementary hymnal, Wonder, Love and Praise (WLP).
What strikes us as we become familiar with Daw’s words is his sensitive attention to social justice issues, as well as terms of comfort he offers for times of grief, challenge and turmoil. He masterfully weaves Christian and wider Biblical motifs with modern concerns, a combination that reflects much of today’s Episcopal theology. Here are several of his inspiring compositions.
Hymn 358, “Christ the Victorious” (written for the burial service; tune: Russia)
Christ the Victorious, give to your servants
rest with your saints in the regions of light.
Grief and pain ended, and sighing no longer,
There may they find everlasting life.
God-spoken prophecy, word at creation:
“You came from dust and to dust shall return.”
Yet at the grave shall we raise up our glad song,
Hymn 513, “Like the murmur of the dove’s song,” tune: Bridegroom
Like the murmur of the dove’s song,
like the challenge of her flight,
like the vigor of the wind’s rush,
like the new flame’s eager might:
come, Holy Spirit, come.
To the members of Christ’s Body,
to the branches of the Vine,
to the Church in faith assembled,
to her midst as gift and sign:
come, Holy Spirit, come.
Hymn 517, verses 3 and 4, “How lovely is thy dwelling place,” tune: Brother James’ Air
They who go through the desert vale
will find it filled with springs,
and they shall climb from height to height
till Zion’s temple rings
with praise to thee, in glory throned,
Lord God, great King of kings.
One day within thy courts excels
a thousand spent away;
how happy they who keep thy laws
nor from thy precepts stray,
for thou shalt surely bless all those
who live the words they pray.
Hymn 597, “O day of peace,” tune: Jerusalem
O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God’s grace our warring world
shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.
Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb,
nor shall the fierce devour the small;
as beasts and cattle calmly graze,
a little child shall lead them all.
Then enemies shall learn to love,
all creatures find their true accord;
the hope of peace shall be fulfilled,
for all the earth shall know the Lord.
WLP Hymn 763, “As we gather at your table,” tune: Raquel
As we gather at your Table,
as we listen to your Word,
help us know, O God, your presence;
let our hearts and minds be stirred.
Nourish us with sacred story
till we claim it as our own;
teach us through this holy banquet
how to make Love’s vict’ry known.
Turn our worship into witness
in the sacrament of life;
send us forth to love and serve you,
bringing peace where there is strife.
Give us, Christ, your great compassion
to forgive as you forgave;
may we still behold your image
in the world you died to save.
Gracious Spirit, help us summon
other guests to share that Feast
where triumphant Love will welcome
those who had been last and least.
There no more will envy blind us
nor will pride our peace destroy,
as we join with saints and angels
to repeat the sounding joy.
When we join with others and sing these hymns together in the liturgy, often accompanied by piano or organ, we can be spiritually transported to a world of hope, love, peace and solace. Even if we do not subscribe completely to some of the theological themes of these hymns, we can tap into the best of our natures – and be inspired to act together for the common good. We can be very grateful for the talents and skills of people like the Rev. Daw – and in this age of COVID, we can hope that we can gather again, in the not-too-distant future, with our fellow parishioners in person – and sing our hearts out!