A hymn on Psalm 8

Just delivered to our door is the latest Lutheran Forum magazine, dated Pentecost/Summer 2008, and my hymn, as promised, is included. Under the new editorship of Sarah Hinlicky Wilson they’ve appointed a Hymn Editor, Sally Messner, who has taken on the worthy project of printing a new hymn each issue. I sent in two hymns for consideration, and they chose O Lord, Our Lord, Your Excellent Name, for which I wrote the text, based on Psalm 8, as well as music.

Although I enjoy writing prose and setting poetry, I have not written much original poetry because, well, it’s hard. Really, really hard. This leaves aside the question of whether I possess a gift for it, a question I have no more hope of answering than the question of whether I have a gift for composition. Well, someone else can take a crack at answering that.

I do remember that when I decided to focus only on composing it was because I’d rather do one thing well than a couple of things (including playing the bass guitar) just competently, resting in the hope, of course, that I could one day compose well. At least, the amount of time I would need to invest to get really good at poetry or my Fender Jazz Bass I realized I’d rather spend composing. Real poets and real bass players have my unalloyed respect. Nevertheless, every once in a while I try my hand at it. Poetry, that is; I sold the bass.

That’s the hymn, above (click on it for a full-size copy), and here’s a midi version if you care for a listen:

Writing texts and music for hymns carries with it the challenges peculiar to poetry and composition, but also the additional challenge of immediate functionality. The materials cannot be involved or obscure; the artist cannot stray too far ahead or the congregation simply will not follow. But if the materials are too common, the worshipers go nowhere, their attention dulled by cliché. This is a delicate dance, the stretching and the comforting. I find, increasingly, that it intrigues me. It’s still hard—really, really hard—but it intrigues me.

This is Psalm 8:

O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

and the hymn text:

1. O Lord, our Lord, your excellent name
Fills heaven and earth with a glorious sound.
Each new-sprung voice now leads the acclaim
Of grateful hosannas for mercies profound.

2. O Lord, our Lord, with wonder we gaze
On all you have fashioned, the heavenly span
Of moon and stars, creation’s displays.
We ponder our presence in your shining plan.

3. O Lord, our Lord, around we discern
The dearest reminders of visited love.
Beneath the angels, we humbly learn
The wise obligation for gifts from above.

4. O Lord, our Lord, your excellent name
With all living creatures our voices resound.
All earth, all oceans join the acclaim:
Our Lord still is with us! Our thanks will abound!

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