Thursday, September 27, 2012

Origin of the Hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind

As I am playing this hymn at a brass band contest next week I thought I should look up the words and see if they would influence my performance in any of the verses.

It turns out the hymn is actually the last few verses of a poem called "The Brewing of Soma" by John Greenleaf Whittier (December 17, 1807 – September 7, 1892) which compares the practice of ancient civilisations using drugs to experience the divine with modern day Christians who use "... music, incense, vigils drear, And trance, to bring the skies more near, Or life men up to heaven."

Whittier was a Quaker which is why the poem ends with the "still, small voice of calm". The hymn is not about hearing God's voice through troubling times, but about hearing God in the small things of life rather than large spiritual displays.

I wonder how many Christians today realise its origins in comparing certain worship activities to drug induced shamnism?

Here is the full poem with the verses used in the hymn in their original context (the quote at the beginning is in the original):

 "These libations mixed with milk have
been prepared for Indra: offer Soma to the
drinker of Some." Vashista, translated
by Max Muller.

The fagots blazed, the caldron's
  Up through the green wood curled;
"Bring honey from the hollow oak,
Brink milky sap," the brewers spoke,
  In the childhood of the world.

And brewed they well or brewed they ill,
  The priests thrust in their rods,
First tasted, and then drank their fill,
And shouted, with one voice and will,
  "Behold, the drink of the gods!"

They drank, and lo! in heart and brain
  A new, glad life began;
They grew of hair grew young again,
The sick man laughed away his pain,
  The cripple leaped and ran.

"Drink, mortals, what the gods have sent,
  Forget you long annoy."
So sang the priests, From tent to tent
The Soma's sacred madness went,
  A storm of drunken joy.

Then knew each rapt inebriate
  A winged and glorious birth,
Soared upward, with strange joy elate,
Beat, with dazed head, Varuna's gate,
  And sobered, sank to earth.

The land with Soma's praises rang;
  On Gihon's banks of shade
Its hymns the dusky maidens sang;
In joy of life or mortal pang
  All men to Soma prayed.

The morning twilight of the race
  Sends down these matin psalms;
And still with wondering eyes we trace
The simple prayers to Soma's grace,
  That verdic verse embalms.

As in the child-world's early year,
  Each after age has striven
By music, incense, vigils drear,
And trance, to bring the skies more near,
  Or life men up to heaven!

Some fever of the blood and brain,
  Some self-exalting spell,
The scourger's keen delight of pain,
the Dervish dance, the Orphic strain,
  The wild-haired Bacchant's yell, -

The desert's hair-grown hermit sunk
  The saner brute below;
The naked Santon, haschish-drunk,
The cloister madness of the monk,
  The fakir's torture show!

And yet the past comes round again,
  And new doth old fulfill;
In sensual transports wild as vain
We brew in many a Christian fane
  The heathen Soma still!

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
  Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
  In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
  Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
  Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
  O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
  Interpreted by love!

With that deep hush subduing all
  Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
And noiseless let Thy blessing fall
  As fell Thy manna down.

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
  Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
  Thy beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the hearts of our desire
  Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be numb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
  O still, small voice of calm!