Treasure Trove: ‘Christmas Bells’ by Henry Wandsworth Longfellow

I first came across this poem as a Christmas carol adaptation by one of my favourite contemporary Christian bands, Casting Crowns (you can listen to their version here). Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote the original in 1863, in response to the American Civil War (1861-1865). It was an intensely personal poem: Longfellow’s eldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, had joined the War in the Union cause without his father’s blessing, and had later been seriously wounded in Virginia.

Sidney E King, ‘The Capture of Rickett’s Battery’

Although it has subsequently been adapted several times, with the more specific references to the War altered or omitted, the original runs as follows:




Continue reading “Treasure Trove: ‘Christmas Bells’ by Henry Wandsworth Longfellow”

Treasure Trove: ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’, a hymn by John Greenleaf Whittier

1Kings quote

I read an interesting comment online recently which expressed the opinion that Christians who criticise modern worship music must be sad, lonely people who hate all music and live alone in silence with their dog. It’s probably fairly obvious from this blog that I in fact enjoy a wide range of music, including Christian music, but nonetheless I could level a number of criticisms against much (but by no means all) of the modern Christian repertoire. My key complaint, however, is the volume. Modern worship music, performed with modern electronic amplification, is often far too loud for comfort. And it’s not just me saying it…

One of my favourite hymns strikes a very different note, and it’s perhaps no wonder that it was written by a Quaker, as silence forms a key part of Quaker worship practise. The hymn is Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, and it was originally written as the climax of a poem by agriculturalist, journalist and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier of Massachusetts in 1872. It is traditionally sung to F. C. Maker’s tune ‘Rest’.

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.


Definitely not a dog.

Also, I don’t have a dog. I have a cat. And chickens.



Seeing the Old in a New Light: ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’

Christ Crucified Diego Velazquez 1632
Christ Crucified, by Diego Velazquez, 1632

‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ certainly isn’t a new entry into the Christian repertoire. It was written in 1707 by the English Nonconformist preacher Isaac Watts (1674-1748) and has appeared in numerous hymnals since. I first encountered it more than a decade ago and know it by heart. Continue reading “Seeing the Old in a New Light: ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’”

Treasure Trove: Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

Saint Patrick.jpgIn honour of Saint Patrick’s day, I’m sharing a prayer traditionally attributed to the ‘Apostle of Ireland’, Saint Patrick’s breastplate.

Tradition tells that Patrick was a young Briton of Roman extraction who in the fifth century was kidnapped by pirates and spent six years as a slave in Ireland. After escaping and returning to Britain he subsequently chose to return in order to share the gospel with the Irish, who at that time were pagan. His ‘breastplate’ is based upon a prayer for divine protection that the saint is reputed to have offered up when facing opposition from King Loegaire, High King of Ireland. Continue reading “Treasure Trove: Saint Patrick’s Breastplate”

Glory, Hallelujah

What We Do In The Shadows
New Zealand mokumentary What We Do In The Shadows plays an extensive excerpt from Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’ when the human Stu wins over the vampires.

It happens most often in comedy movies. The protagonist has just had an epiphany (or pseudo-epiphany), found the plot-relevant object or achieved an important goal, and their success is greeted with the sound of an angelic choir and perhaps a ray of heavenly light.

In order to really hammer home the importance of the moment (and because they are well and truly in the public domain) movie-makers often fall back on excerpts from two instantly-recognisable pieces of stock music to convey the significance of this moment.

The first is Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’ . The second is the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’  from Handel’s Messiah. Continue reading “Glory, Hallelujah”

Christmas Classics: Carols

In my student days I spent several Christmases working in retail. Musically, it took me years to recover from spending ten hours a day listening to piped Christmas ‘muzak’, which tends to feature a lot of snow and very little religious sentiment, often while muttering darkly about how I live in a country where Christmas occurs in the middle of summer and ‘if it does f***ing snow I am NOT going to be impressed.’

Christmas carols, however, are another thing altogether for me, and it seems I’m not alone. Even in secularised New Zealand community-organised open-air carol singing events can still draw a crowd. Santa usually puts in an appearance, and there’s an atmosphere of good-natured celebration, if not exactly religious devotion, which is arguably fitting to the singing of carols. Continue reading “Christmas Classics: Carols”