Hymn of the week: Dear Lord and Father of mankind

This week’s hymn was never intended to be sung as a hymn. In fact it is part of a poem which criticises the use of music in worship!

The author John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) was the son of a New England farmer, who became a successful writer, poet, journalist and newspaper editor. A prominent abolitionist, Whittier was a Quaker who was critical of both  revivalist religion with its attendant emotionalism and the ritualism of Catholic worship.

‘Dear Lord and Father’ is the six concluding verses of a poem entitled ‘The Brewing of Soma‘ originally published in 1872. Whittier had read about the use of soma (a plant extract with intoxicating properties used in religious rituals) in eastern religions as described in Max Müller’s Sacred Books of the East. The poem is headed with a quotation from Müller’s translation of Vashista:

“These libations mixed with milk have been prepared for Indra: offer Soma to the drinker of Soma.”

In the first part of the poem Whittier conjures up a picture of ecstatic worship fuelled by “Soma’s  sacred madness”. But it is not just ancient Vedic religion that comes in for criticism, for

Each after age has striven
By music, incense, vigils drear,
And trance, to bring the skies more near,
Or lift men up to heaven!

However Whittier’s real concern is the spirituality of his contemporary Christians:

In sensual transports wild as vain
We brew in many a Christian fane
The heathen Soma still!

Dear Lord and Father…

As Companion to Hymns and Psalms rightly observes:

It is after the catalogue of feverish distractions that Whittier suddenly, and with great effect, introduces the note of quiet: ‘Dear Lord…’

The hymn works very well with this Sunday’s  lectionary readings, particularly if using  the Old Testament passage from the ‘related’ series, which is 1 Kings 19, the basis for verses 4 and 5.

Here is the hymn as sung today:

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!

With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

John Greenleaf Whittier



About Holloway Rev

Paul Weary is a Methodist minister living and working in Holloway, North London.
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