The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


February 25, 2009

Songs of life

I've heard people say that songs pop into their minds when things happen in their lives. They "think in song." I don't necessarily do that. But when I hear songs that were part of an experience, that stops me short. It gets my attention. That's especially true of hymns. I love hymns. And they have been such a part of my life forever.

I just returned from the noon Ash Wednesday worship service here at the Lutheran Center in Chicago. After the imposition of ashes and following communion, we sang no. 608 from Evangelical Lutheran Worship : "Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling." I knew it would be difficult to make it through without crying. Sure enough, I didn't. But I sang as much of it as I could.

My father had requested that hymn as one of his funeral hymns. It was a favorite. For that reason, we sang it (among other hymns) in his last days in hospice in 2001. And the one instance I shall never forget: We literally sang that as Dad took his final breath. My mother and siblings were with Dad the morning he died. Mom had stayed in hospice with him overnight. But we siblings got an early morning phone call telling us to get there quickly because Dad was near death. When we got there we prayed. Then we sang "Softly and Tenderly." As we finished the first verse, Dad took his last breath. We never did get to verses two and three, as we did at worship today. Yes, Dad, Jesus called you Home. And you are there now. So that's a hymn that always touches me deeply.

When my under 30-year-old brother-in-law was killed in a car accident many years ago, we sang "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less." Again, whenever I sing that I think of Mark. And I think of my young and vulnerable sister and my then-5-year-old nephew, left alone without husband and father.

When Mom died last summer, she had asked for "Let All Things Now Living" as one of her funeral hymns. Again, that song is so powerful for me now. Consider verse one: "Let all things now living A song of thanksgiving To God the creator triumphantly raise, Who fashioned and made us, Protected and stayed us, Who still guides us on to the end of our days. God's banners are o'er us, His light goes before us, A pillar of fire shining forth in the night. Till shadows have vanished And darkness is banished, As forward we travel from light into light." Yes!

I am so grateful to hymnwriters because their work speaks deeply to my soul, not just in times of sorrow and celebration, but always. What richness is contained in our hymnals. Check it out. Perhaps you have your own memories and your own favorites? 


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