Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Flowers of Thy heart

Psalm 28:9 (NIV)

Save your people and bless your inheritance;
   be their shepherd and carry them forever.
Yesterday I wrote about missing the times I was able to spend making good music with great friends. I had not expected to continue the theme, but the verses in today’s lectionary led me that way — sort of.

One of the readings for today is Psalm 28, which I’ve written about twice already. In checking the scriptural allusions in hymns for this Psalm, I found verse nine, listed above, cited as the inspiration for “When Wilt Thou Save the People?” the lyrics of which Ebenezer Elliott wrote in 1850 as part of a collection titled “More Prose and Verse.” Apparently it is set to the melody Commonwealth, an 1888 Josiah Booth composition.

I’m not at all familiar with the hymn or the tune, but the lyrics jumped off the screen as being the essential skeleton of the song “Save the People” from the musical “Godspell,” a widely known account of the story of Jesus as told in the book of Matthew. But not all the songs are based entirely on Matthew, including this tune. I’d say it’s one of my favorites from the show, but almost the entire score qualifies.

According to my initial hymn search, “When Wilt Thou Save the People?” is based on only three words from Psalm 28:9 — ”Save your people.” Pretty standard stuff. But after digging into “Godspell” a touch, it appears the words of the song from the show resemble Psalm 107. But having just skimmed that Psalm, all 43 verses, I’m not quite seeing the connection. The “Godspell” song is so clearly a derivative of the Elliott verse I don’t see why Psalm 107 is even mentioned as a base point. Here are Elliott’s words:
When wilt Thou save the people?
O God of mercy, when?
Not kings and lords, but nations,
Not thrones and crowns, but men!
Flowers of Thy heart, O God, are they;
Let them not pass, like weeds, away;
Their heritage a sunless day:
O God, save the people!

Shall crime bring crime forever,
Strength aiding still the strong?
Is it Thy will, O Father,
That man shall toil for wrong?
“No,” say Thy mountains; “No,” Thy skies;
Man’s clouded sun shall brightly rise,
And songs ascend, instead of sighs:
O God, save the people!

When wilt Thou save the people?
O God of mercy, when?
The people, Lord, the people,
Not thrones and crowns, but men!
God save the people; Thine they are,
Thy children, as Thine angels fair:
From vice, oppression, and despair,
O God, save the people!
Anyone even remotely familiar with “Godspell” can see this is more than a parallel, it is the essential foundation Stephen Schwartz used for the lyrics to his song. I count myself as more than just familiar with the show, having seen a performance at our church as a kid, being involved in the chorus for our own church production as high school students, being in the college show choir band the semester we performed a “Godspell” medley, then seeing my siblings perform the show during their high school years and my sister again during he freshman year of college. This does not count the many times I would use the soundtrack as driving music.

And that, tangentially, is how I got from yesterday’s entry about performing music with friends though Psalm 28:9 to this point right now, where I have essentially just shared some stuff I learned on the Internet as well as a loose résumé of some stuff I did when I was younger. But that makes the song no less powerful, the words no less poignant.

To be considered as a flower of God’s heart, to be reminded of God’s majesty revealed through creation, to picture someone crying out to know God’s will — these are the type of images I find very helpful when I sit down to ponder my place in the universe. And while I am still not familiar with the hymn tune, I can instantly use my mental jukebox to call up the song from the musical. It never ceases to lift my heart — and to make me wish I could sing as well as my sister and mother, if only to properly belt out praise for my creator and redeemer.

Maybe it’s nothing special to someone who is not deeply in love with the show. Maybe it’s horribly dated, especially given the rapid advancement in recent years of popular Christian music. But it will always be special to me, for the message it delivers and the fond memories of the people with whom I’ve had the honor of making this specific music. I hope my children one day will come to appreciate the musical, even if for only a fraction of what it’s meant to me over many years.

A prayer for July 2:

Lord, I know our clouded sun will one day rise and songs will be heard from every corner of your creation. I am forever humbled to be here at all, yet elated to know you count us all equally, love us all as something you made. You are indeed a God of mercy, and I hope you can help me reveal your mercy through me to the people I encounter. Help me to love everyone as you would love them, and save us according to your will. Amen.

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