Last year, I had the privilege of being part of two singing ensembles. The first was a community choir. We were going to perform John Stainer’s Crucifixion for Easter, including the beautiful “God So Loved the World.” We sang through our whole program, rapid-fire, the last practice before lock-down. The second group, Heart Cry Ensemble, managed to work in practices throughout the summer and fall by practising in churches and large buildings, and we recorded the first weekend in November. Practicing six feet apart has it’s challenges, but I learned something about myself.
I need music. I need to make music. I need to sing with people. It’s a deep soul need, as deep as my body’s need for breath.
I have a suspicion that many of you, particularly those of you who worship in an Anabaptist Church, feel the same way. We sing together more naturally than we pray together.
I don’t know if you or I will be able to sing much in 2021, but if I can’t make good music, than I can at least share it with you here. I’m calling this series Soul Songs, because I want to share music that feeds the soul. They won’t all be hymns. They may not even all be “Christian,” but they will all give us something of what is good, true, and beautiful about the world.
“This Is My Song” was written by Lloyd Stone in 1934. It is often sung to the tune “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius, which hymn-singers will recognize as the same tune as “Be Still My Soul.”
I first heard this song sung by our school’s choir when I was in the fifth grade. Something about the haunting minor melody caught my ear; and the words “My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine” caught my imagination.
So often the nature celebrated in the songs I sang as a child were things like mountains and oceans and other things my world did not contain. But clover and pines and blue skies–my country had these. It seemed so right to worship with the glories of nature that I saw every day.
Still, there was something deeper about the message that I couldn’t put into words then. Not only did the song celebrate my beloved country, but it admitted that other countries had glories, too. The glory of one blue sky called to the glory of another blue sky, all fashioned by one Creator. All equal. Other hearts in other places beat with dreams as daring and as precious as mine.
In 2007, Sam Candler described this theme as the “tension that rings through modern civilizations: the tension between the local and the global.” (Read more here.) In the years since then, this tension has only been amplified.
Yet, peace does not come from the absence of conflict, but from the grace God gives us to live with the differences He created.
I wonder how much our world would change if we lived like we believed that. I offer this now, as “A song of peace for their land and for mine.”
This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.
You can listen to a lovely men’s a cappella version here. I dare you to sing along.
What stands out to you about this song (phrases, ideas, notes)? Do you have any special memories of listening to it or singing it?
Do you have any different favourite soul songs? We’d enjoy reading about it below.