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I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light

“I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” During a relentless heat wave during the summer of 1966, Kathleen Thomerson and her family, in an effort to escape the rolling brownouts of St Louis, elected to return to the comfort of her mother’s air conditioned home in Houston. Although a musician, not a poet, by training, and certainly not intending to write a hymn, Thomerson’s recent meditations on scripture passages dealing with childlike faith unexpectedly began to evoke the first stanza of this hymn, which she composed, phrase by phrase both in text and tune, instead of packing for the airport. She composed the remaining stanzas in the same fashion after arriving in Houston, hence giving genesis to the tune name. Originally conceived as a choral anthem, its first use as a hymn was at Church of the Redeemer, Episcopal, in Houston, where congregants routinely purloined the copies that had been placed in each pew. The popularity of this hymn grew appreciably within the next few years, necessitating its copyrighting in 1970. Although originating in the Episcopal Church, the hymn has been appropriated within the hymnals of numerous mainline denominations and has been translated into Welsh, Japanese, Spanish, Dutch and Hmong.
Although placed within the hymnal’s Epiphany section, the text, which has been used even for weddings and funerals, bears a pronounced Advent theme, evidenced particularly by the second stanza which references Malachi 4: 2, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” Nevertheless, the distinct emphasis on light contrasted with dark not only suggests an Epiphany usage, but links it not only to the hymnological tradition of Luther, for whom such theological dichotomies were of primary importance, but even back to Greek hymnody with its frequent allusion to the “light” of Christ to the Gentiles. The hymn’s original extra-liturgical composition, as well as its devotional character, suggests general congregational use beyond one or two liturgical seasons.
The incipient theme of Christ abiding within the heart of the Christian was inspired by Ephesians 3: 17, “. . . so that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” Michael Hawn posits that, like in a gospel song, the hymn’s refrain encapsulates its theological meaning, in this case culminating in the final words, “Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus,” not only gaining inspiration from Ephesians, but also alluding to I John 1: 5, “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” Thomerson contends that her meditation on scripture inspired this hymn, with its rich scriptural metaphor and imagery even conveying an eschatological tone in the penultimate phrase, which is nearly verbatim from Revelation 21: 23, “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” The hymn may manifest a theme of childhood, alluding to Jesus’ words in Matthew 18: 3, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” but it was initially composed for adults to nurture their childlike faith. Its length may seemingly belie its childlike simplicity, but the text’s amalgamation of subjective, first-person pronouns with profuse scripture references seem to have been elemental to its popular success, much to the surprise of the composer, who originally harbored only modest aspirations for her choral anthem.

 

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with

Son of God, Eternal Saviour

“Son of God, Eternal Savior.” Imagine yourself living in the late 1800’s—there is great prosperity in the United States and in Europe, technological innovation and sophistication is increasing at a rate previously unknown; it was only a generation before that the telephone and lightbulb were unknown. This is a time of great optimism—the 1890’s themselves have been described as the “Gay ‘90s.” This optimism influenced the churches and theology of the time, resulting in what is known as the “Social Gospel Movement.” This movement is based upon the idea that Christians are capable of achieving perfection and of establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth through their service to the poor and oppressed and to one another. Missionary endeavors throughout the world were begun (the YMCA and YWCA originate at this time) and it is thought that, once the whole world is converted to Christianity, God’s peace will flourish.
The British writer of this hymn, Somerset Lowry (1855-1932), was influenced by this world view which can be seen in the only hymn for which he is known. The omitted stanza which we do not sing today probably demonstrates best his theology:

Dark the path that lies behind us,
Strewn with wrecks and stained with blood.
But before us gleams the vision
Of the coming brotherhood.
See the Christlike host advancing,
High and lowly, great and small,
Linked in bonds of common service
For the common Lord of all.

How optimistic! The stanzas we do sing today stress that “As You, Lord, have lived for others, so may we for others live. . . freely may Your servants give.” The fourth stanza implies how unity will be achieved: “By Your praying, by Your willing that Your people should be one. Grant, oh, grant, our hope’s fruition: Here on earth Your will be done.” This text encourages our service toward others here and now and encourages us not to get distracted from this missionary endeavor.
Our 21st century world does not view itself so optimistically as did the world of the writer. The past century saw two world wars and the rise of weapons of mass destruction which perhaps forced the world to see itself less innocently. We have endured a bitter election with political misadventures abounding. Is the future bright? On earth, probably not. In eternity, certainly so. As we know from Romans 8: 38, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Kingdom of the World may be corrupt by sin, but our hope is not in the world, but in Christ, for in the end, in the words of St John in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with

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