“Spirit of God, descend upon my heart; / Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.”
Hymn lyrics are some of the earliest prayers I learned, and seem to have penetrated far deeper into my theological understanding than I generally realize. I know some of you like singing more than others. (Yes, I can see those of you who are standing, but not moving your mouths during the hymns. You’re humming, right?)
Whether we sing it or not, music is one of the deepest parts of worship, because it’s such a physical action, requiring multiple parts of our bodies to work together. Sometimes that means we can’t listen to the words while we’re actually singing, because we’re busy looking at the notes, or trying to figure out what comes next. But the words to hymns can be really beautiful.
Listen to the second verse, or stanza, of this old hymn, “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart”:
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.
The person praying in this hymn is not asking for anything grandiose, just to, “take the dimness of my soul away.” What a beautiful, humble, sweet prayer. I don’t need anything dramatic, just sharpen up my spirit a little, bring my soul into focus a little better.
Many people assume that spiritual practice is supposed to be something magical, like visions, or voices in your head, or clear messages. That may happen if we’re lucky, and if we’re paying close attention. But it doesn’t have to be that way at all. Or for those who struggle with their concept of God, they may not be sure how to pray to God—as they understand God to be—with integrity and honesty, or whether their prayers will make any difference.
Spiritual practice can be as basic and as important as a simple request for help spoken to the universe, exactly like this old hymn. I don’t need much, I just want you to take the dimness of my soul away. Help me to shine a little brighter. Help me clarify myself. However you conceive of God, or whatever you call God, speaking this need aloud helps us clarify our own spiritual needs for ourselves. Once that’s clearer, we can be more attuned to those things that might help us address those needs.
So listen to the hymns this Sunday. And don’t be afraid to sing along. The prayers we sing together can be more powerful than you know.
Grace and peace,