Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"How Firm a Foundation"

One of the projects we have always wanted our Beloved Godfather (perhaps in collaboration with our Beloved Godson) to undertake is the compilation of what we call "The Reference Hymnal." We imagine a collection of hymns, or at least of hymn lyrics, in their original forms with chief popular variants indicated.

This isn't easy. Which English verses of A Mighty Fortress are "chief variants," for example? And what about such hymns as Conditor alme siderum? The 7th-c. Latin original was almost completely re-written a thousand years later, as part of Urban VIII's breviary reform. Is it now one hymn with translations and variants, or two?

Still, for most hymns the idea is fairly straightforward, and might be useful to worship leaders and preachers who wanted to explore ideas which have been excised from the common hymnal versions. (Likely not to include the fervent hope, expressed in Faith of our Fathers, that England would return to papistry. But who knows what a preacher may need?).

Here, by way of f'rinstance, are the words to How Firm a Foundation, which not coincidentally we will sing come Sunday. Red indicates stanzas absent from LBW and ELW, and [brackets] indicate textual alterations.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! [ELW: "in Christ Jesus, the Word"]
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled? [ELW, LBW: "Who unto the Savior"]

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid; [ELW, LBW: "your God," "give you aid"]
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand [ELW, LBW: "help you," "cause you"]
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie, [ELW, LBW: "your pathways"]
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; [ELW, LBW: "your supply"]
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design [ELW, LBW: "hurt youu"]
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine. [ELW, LBW: "your dross," "your gold"]

Even down to old age all My people shall prove [ELW, LBW: "Throughout all their lifetime, my people']
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

In this case, the emendations are modest -- a house style that prefers you to thee, and an alteration of l.4 to avoid the awkwardness of "you, who." One might argue, profitably, over whether ELW's decision to identify the Word by name for people who may not get it is either useful interpretation or offensive dumbing-down.

As for avoiding mention of old age, well, blame a culture which worships youth and considers "old" to be a slur. And there's a sermon right there.

But the excised verses may be more interesting. The omitted second stanza rebukes the Prosperity Gospel up front. And the concluding thought of the fourth stanza -- that God will "sanctify to [us our] deepest distress" -- is actually alien to a lot of Protestants these days, especially liberal ones, despite the clear Protestantism of the hymn. (Not to mention its liberal appeal: sung at the funerals of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson). Food for thought.


Soulbuick02 said...

I'm sure Godson would be on board... Godfather?

Diane said...

I really like that missing verse; that's another sermon!