Today I awake and God is before me

Raindrops and chapel. Copyright Stephen Craven 2005.

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “Today I awake and God is before me”. It comes with its own tune written by the composer, John Bell, but I first came across it to the tune better known to the words “Morning has broken”.  Like that one, it is a “morning hymn” rather than specifically an Easter one, but in the Easter season we are reminded that Christ’s resurrection revealed at daybreak on Easter day was as a new morning for the world. In form, the hymn is Trinitarian – one verse each referring to the Creator, Son and Holy Spirit and one to the Trinity (three persons, one God). 

Equally important, I would say, are the verbs used at the start of each verse: I awake, I arise, I affirm, I enjoy.  Everyone goes to bed expecting to awake in the morning, though knowing that one day we will not. Nearly everyone (except for those afflicted by disease or disability) is able to arise.  But to affirm and enjoy the new day is a matter of the will.  in verse 1, we sing “God never sleeps but patterns the morning in slithers of gold or glory in grey”.  I have illustrated this post with a photo taken in 2005 when I was on a photographic holiday retreat at Scargill House, in wet and grey weather unsuitable for outdoor colour photography.  We sang this hymn and were encouraged to take monochrome and indoor photos instead. This one shows the chapel – representing the praise of God – beyond the raindrops in the foreground.

While come people’s circumstances make it easier to do so, it is the ability to thank God even for the “glories of a grey day” that perhaps makes the difference between those who find cause to grumble right from the start of the day even when there is much to give thanks for, and those who manage to find good things in life around them, however challenging their circumstances. The singing of a hymn of praise at the start of the day is a good way to get into the right mood.

In verse 2 we sing of Christ who “walked through the dark to scatter new light”.  He did that on earth, bringing hope to the sick and sinful, but supremely in death and resurrection. “Yes, Christ is alive, and beckons his people to hope and to heal, resist and invite”.  It is that hope in the one who brings new life in the most hopeless circumstances that allows us to enter each new day joyfully.

Verse 3 affirms the work of the Holy Spirit, while in verse 4 we “enjoy” God’s presence in any way, who “called me to life and called me their friend”.  I would just query here the use of the plural “they/their”, which I doubt is intended to reflect current usage by transgender or non-binary people.  It may just be to avoid gendering God as ‘he’ (John Bell has written other hymns that address the Spirit, at least, as ‘she’) but seems to go against the traditional Christian understanding that the three ‘persons’ of the Trinity are one God.

1 thought on “Today I awake and God is before me”

  1. I appreciated this hymn: it was new to me, and I confess that it never occurred to me to sing it to “Bunessan” (“Morning has broken”). I thought the imagery of God patterning the world whilst I am asleep, so as to have something unique formed by the morning when I awake, was charming and very refreshing. I thought the “slithers of gold” and “glory in grey” were particularly good phrases, but the imagery throughout is very evocative.

    I did vary some of the compositions of the chords, as I’m not that keen on all those parallel fifths between bass and tenor – but overall I liked it very much.

    Like Stephen I raised my eyebrows at the plural “They” and “their” in verse 4, referring to the Trinity. Actually I’ve always wondered at quite how the Iona Community speaks of the Trinity, and this hymn only confirms my wondering. Why not simply duck the issue, and instead of writing “they call me to life and call me their friend” (particularly as “friend” doesn’t rhyme with “behind” just use words that avoid the question – maybe “The Maker, the Son, the Spirit together invite me to life, to seek and to find”?

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