Before the throne of God above

Image from everipedia.com
original source unknown

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “Before the throne of God above”.  I have sung this plenty of times in churches, and as the music is in contemporary style (actually credited to Vikki Cook, 1997) I assumed the words were also recently written, even if some words such as “graven” and “thence” are a bit archaic – but then there are ‘contemporary’ churches that still use the Lord’s Prayer in its old form. The language is otherwise quite similar to that used by Stuart Townend, for example, as the theme is that of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our redemption. 

But no, the words were written as a poem by Charitie de Chenez who was born as long ago as 1841. You can hear it read as a poem online. Wikipedia tells us that she was born Charitie Lees Smith (a less exotic name for this Victorian Irishwoman), and she was a well known religious poet of her time. This particular poem was written in 1863 in response to the 1859 Ulster Revival (of which I admit I had not heard previously). The modern tune fits well with the mood of the old words, the high notes of the middle lines being set to phrases such as “my name is written on his heart”, “my sinful soul is counted free” and “my life is hid with Christ on high”. I enjoy singing this hymn, and can well imagine it being belted out at a revival meeting.

The call of the lamb

A brief diversion today from my 2021 “Sing Praise” project. On most Saturdays I haven’t selected a hymn or song although that will change shortly when we get to Lent. But today I took part in an online ‘quiet day’ with a couple of devotional talks, group discussion and times for personal prayer, all focused around the themes of ‘lament’ and ‘praise’ found in Psalm 57, which is believed to have been written by David in a cave while being pursued by his rival Saul.

The idea of being stuck in a cave fearing what’s outside obviously resonates with the Covid-19 lockdown. After the first session on ‘lament’ we were encouraged to take the words and themes of the psalm and come up with something creative – words, music, art or craft. My meditation resulted in the following poem. It was inspired by the photo shown here on the handout for the day. The viewer is looking out from the narrow cave and there is a sheep looking in. Jesus is referred to as both the Shepherd and the Lamb of God, and that is the poem’s starting point…

Look up, look out from your death-dark cave
And see me standing here.
You are not alone when you mourn and moan,
I have come to allay your fear.

Did you think I would stay in those pastures green
On the other side of the dale?
No, with sure-footed skill I have climbed your hill
To hear your woeful tale.

The enemy shall not find you here,
Nor lions enter your cave.
For I suffice as the sacrifice,
It is I who have come to save.

The Most High God comes down to earth
As a gentle, listening lamb.
I heard you bleat, and have come to meet
You where you are.  I Am.

© Stephen Craven 2021
Written on a Scargill virtual quiet day with Revd Mat Ineson, 6 February 2021