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Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but thou art mighty.
Hold me with thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me till I want no more; feed me till I want no more.
“Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” (v. 1) by William Williams
Hymn 65, Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
This is probably my favorite hymn in the hymnal, not sad or morose but something you’d sing full-out at a Welsh rugby match (it’s also known as “The Welsh Rugby Hymn”).
The origin of this hymn is interesting: the words were written in the mid-eighteenth century, while the tune we are familiar with was written in the early twentieth century. I don’t know what the original tune was, but it must have been good if it stayed around for one hundred and fifty years. Still, the tune we know today—written by John Hughes (not the movie director) for the inauguration of a church organ—is pretty darn good on its own.
The story (not sure it’s entirely true) is that Hughes was getting ready to play this concert and got the English translation of the Welsh because of a large number of English-speaking migrant industrial workers in the area. He supposedly wrote out the tune we now know as Cwm Rhondda in chalk on a tarpaulin, because that was the only material at hand when he was struck with inspiration.
Chalk on a tarpaulin. Not the most durable medium, especially in Wales, where it’s known to rain a bit. An afternoon shower, and it’s gone. And yet this quick chalk sketch of a melody has endured and grown more powerful as the years have passed, to the point that barely thirty years later, in 1941, John Ford used it for his film How Green Was My Valley, having nineteenth-century Welsh miners sing that tune (unwritten at the time the film is set) because it defined the Welsh so completely.
We are all chalk on a tarpaulin, here for a moment, washed away in time. The mark we make, though, is often more than a scratch on the surface. We have the capacity to have a deep effect on those we touch, one that (we hope) will outlast us. That deep effect is the echo of our presence, and that echo will come to define us as well. So, let’s sing it loud, like we’re at a Welsh rugby match. It’s not time to be timid, after all.
Lord, let the echoes of our presence be harmonious, and may they encourage others on their way and in their trials. Amen.
Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts
Reflection and Prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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