Monday, October 27, 2008

Why the Old Hymns Bring Tears

from the mid50s fsodImage by PinkMoose via FlickrI had a precious time in the Scriptures with my two youngest children Sunday morning. It was a divine appointment. We were supposed to be at the first hour of church/Sunday School, but we just weren't able to get it together in time. My hubby took our oldest to youth group, but the two youngest stayed home with me and got ready late.

And somehow I just knew that God wanted to meet with us.

When the kids were ready, we sat down in the Living Room and opened the book, "Don't Waste Your Life" by John Piper. I read to them from it, and some good conversation came out of that.

Then I got out the old hymnal and went looking for a song that would fit what we'd been discussing. I came upon "Jesus is All the World to Me," and I knew I'd found what I was looking for. I knew I wouldn't be able to sing it. I get too choked up. But I figured I could at least read the words to the children.


I got partway through, and suddenly the tears came. It worried the kids a bit, until I helped them understand that these were caused by joy, by beauty. In the end, those tears added a great deal to the sweetness of our time together.

Why can't I sing hymns any more? Why the huge lump in my throat, and the streams from my eyes?

Partly its the joy of seeing old friends. The songs themselves, I mean. So many precious friends rest hidden in between the covers of that old hymnal...friends that filled my mouth not just on Sunday mornings, but throughout the week. Friends that visited me over the radio. Friends that I sang next to my dear Nana in the choir loft, where she taught me to sing harmony. So many friends that I haven't seen in far too long. They've been replaced in church services by the new songs on the block.

I miss them. And when I get to sing them again, it's too sweet to bear, especially when we slow down and sing them at a pace that lets me savor the words.

Sometimes the tears come because of old associations. Faces of those long gone, who once stood beside me and sang those sacred words with me. That's true of all the old familiar hymns, because I sang them all with my loved ones so many times. But there's one hymn in particular that slays me because of a very strong tie to particular people. I had never even heard "Be Thou My Vision" until my uncle and aunt chose that as their "life song." They had lived far from the Lord for decades, but had repented and turned to Him, and then felt called to the mission field in Ireland. "Be Thou My Vision" was sung at their dedication service, and in my heart it is forever linked with them.

My uncle was killed in a motorcycle accident several years ago. I can't help but weep when I sing that song now. Or rather, when I mouth it. I can't actually sing it around the lump in my throat.

Partly hymns make me weep because of the deep meaning of their words. Modern songs sometimes can match their earlier counterparts for depth and richness. "In Christ Alone" is an exceptional example of a song almost too good to be new. I'm thankful for those types of songs, and glad that we sing them in our church. Some of them bring tears, too.

But there's a slightly different taste to the tears that come from the old hymns, and I've recently realized what it is.

It's fulfillment.

Think of a movie that has made you weep because of its happy ending. Think how the fulfillment of the promise of joy at the end felt so moving, especially contrasted with whatever hardships had to be overcome to get there.

That's what I feel from the old hymns. When I sang them as a child, they were unproven theories. Untested promises. Unfelt praise to an as-yet unknown God. I enjoyed them then, but they were only implanted seeds. I could not yet taste the fruit of promises kept.

Now I taste it.

Oh, the hardships I've known on my way here! The grief, the heartache, the overwhelmedness... and all of that only makes today's joys sweeter. Jesus is becoming "all the world to me." I've spent time "In the Garden," and I know there really is delight in His presence there. I've truly come to cherish "The Old Rugged Cross." Jesus is becoming my vision. "Trust and Obey" is starting to take root and blossom.

And all of the old associations become more precious. It's not just that I used to sing that song with Nana. It's that Nana now enjoys, with unveiled face, the God about whom we sang. And call me corny, but I feel a growing kinship with people I've never met, people perhaps in long prairie skirts and bonnets, singing the same words a hundred years ago. I feel as if my voice joins in a chorus that stretches back through time, all affirming the eternal goodness of our mighty God.

And when you boil it all down to its main point, it's really Him. The greatest sweetness of all is not just that promises were fulfilled, but that He fulfilled them. I feel no kinship with anyone who sings hymns only out of religious duty. I sing in chorus with those who love Him, who cherish Him, who praise Him, many of whom now see Him face-to-face. He is the promise of the hymns, and the fulfillment of them. He is their melody, and their harmony. He is their heartbeat.

Why do the old hymns bring tears? Because they touch me with the music of the One I love.

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LauraLee Shaw said...

Wow, now I'm in tears. This is a beautiful post. I love the way you mixed it with the songs and the memories, and in an organized fashion too. Incredible. I'd love to use this for my Lifesong in The Limelight sometime if you don't mind...

This also reminds me of my friend Yvonne over at My Back Door. She has a "Morning Song" that you can sign up for and receive in your inbox each morning. They are always great hymns and other rich songs of the faith. It makes my morning.

Praising God for your exceptional ability to put feelings in word form.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

I completely and fully understand; I love the old hymns for many of the same reasons you listed. We've now lived long enough for their words to pack a more meaningful punch.

They are rich with theology, unlike many of our trite attempts at worship music these days. There are a few exceptions, but as for me, hymns have it all over contemporary.

Thank God for the Wesley brothers and Fanny Crosby and many other saints of old who put pen to paper to script the sacred melodies of their hearts.


Yvonne said...

Thanks for signing up for the Morning Song, Betsy...and thanks Laura for passing it on!

I also grew up with the old hymns. Not only did we sing them at church, but as part of our family Bible time. I must have learned hundreds of hymns over the years.

There are deep truths in the old hymns, more than just our feelings toward the Lord...although that is there too. I find that God will use a song to speak to me when I need encouragement or even conviction.

Even if you don't know the tunes of the old hymns, just reading and thinking of the words can bring tears as they touch your heart.


Joyfull said...

Thank you for sharing such a rich post. Truly the hymns of old hold such a deep meaning and can echo our heart's cry. They are truly meant to be treasured and held close to our hearts.

Laurie Ann said...

What tears your post brought to my eyes...those old hymns...I was steeped in them like a good tea bag. That was my first introduction to music in the church and I will never forget them. Thanks for a powerful post this morning!

Dee Yoder said...

This is lovely and it brought to my mind a host of treasured hymns...I miss them, too. I really miss them.

Anonymous said...

This is so beautiful Betsy -- I think you are exactly right about the words to hymn in relation to our lives.. "Be Thou My Vision" was our class hymn when I went to Bible School.

Patty Wysong said...

Boy, can I ever relate. And I love how you said you sang them now, and wept over them now, with fulfillment. That's it, exactly.

Those old hymns are part of the fiber of who I am. They're precious. Thank you sooooo much for this post!

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