Today’s Word by Sheila Weidendorf, TLC Organist…
This Is My Song
Composer: Jean Sibelius
Text: Lloyd Stone, 1934
Jean Christian Sibelius (186-1957) is often heralded as Finland’s greatest composer. Writing at the end of the 19th and into the early 20th centuries, his works helped Finland gain and express a national identity in the face of Russian oppression. Having composed six historical tableaux with express intent to further Finland’s cause, he later worked the final one into his very famous symphonic tone poem, Finlandia. Opening with themes of turbulence and opposition, the tone poem ends with a chorale-like section which Sibelius later worked into a stand-alone hymn-like work, premiered in 1941 with text by the Finnish poet Veikko Antero Koskienniemi, and sung in Finnish.
The melody—also known in hymnody as “Finlandia–first appeared in the Scottish Church Hymnary (1927) and the Presbyterian Hymnal (1933) with differing texts as composed by varying authors. As with many hymns, a tune or melody enters the archives and is used time and time again by different church traditions with differing texts. [Sibelius is mostly known for his symphonic works. His only specifically-devotional works are his Five Christmas Songs (1895-1913) and his You Are Mighty, A Lord (1927).]
For today’s hymnody missive I raided the 1989 edition of the United Methodist Hymnal (My first church organist gig was for the United Methodist Church in Mora, Minnesota at age 10. I later attended graduate school as a United Methodist seminarian, but that’s a story for another time and place…). This hymn is included here under the categories of both “Sanctifying and Perfecting Grace” and “Social Holiness.”
What, indeed, is “Social Holiness?” Right now there is raging polarization in our own country. Fundamental questions—divisions–between our current dominant political parties can, in part, be boiled down to the core question of responsibility—How much is the individual response-able toward the whole, and, conversely, the whole for the individual? (Of course let us not forget that “society” is US—we ARE society!)
Being an individuated woman of the Western world, I have always felt not only the freedom, but almost a mandate to follow my own star, to do what indeed seems right for my own growth trajectory. I have done so with a sort of foundational supposition that the fulfillment of my potential, my particular gifts and graces—and the facing of my particular challenges—is actually good for the the whole of my sphere of influence. This is different than “I’ll do whatever I want and let the consequences be damned!” (That would be more akin to extreme adolescence!)
However I also spend considerable time in India, which has a less egoic, less individual focus in the general context of human relations and individual responsibility. Here, for example, the birthday celebrant would cut the cake and eat the first bite. In India, the celebrant would feed the first bites to others in gratitude for another circumnavigation of the sun. I only mention this as a point of reference to ponder our role and responsibility as creatures on this Earth—who are we to each other? And then, in the “macro” sense—who are we collectively to the rest of the world?
As we face this upcoming election and whatever challenges or upheavals it may bring, I would hope we can remain true—true to ourselves, true to each other, and true to the world, as individuals and as a nation, and as global citizens here on God’s beautiful creation. With that, I leave you the text of today’s hymn:
This is my song, O 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 holy 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.
O hear my song, though God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.
This recording is by Trio Indigo:
Linda Vogt, violin
Mary Riles, cello
Sheila Weidendorf, piano
Photo by Holly Husom Davison