Abide With Me

On Friday evening after dinner, I suggested to the family that we take a walk. Theo (the toddler) eagerly asked for the ‘paygwoun’ so we walked out a little past it to catch it on the way back. Between the time it takes to get one energetic toddler dressed and two tired parents back in outside clothes and out the door, the Sun was setting. We arrived at the playground and it was already quite dark. Theo climbed ravenously for exactly 5 minutes, then declared himself ready to go home. But the stars were starting to come out, so we coaxed him to lie down on the playground rubber turf with us and we did some family stargazing. It’s an easy sell with Theo; he’s currently on month 9 of a space obsession.

I’m not very good at reading the sky or telling orientation, even with the remnants of the Sunset literally there reminding me which direction is west. So I picked out a bright star, and, knowing Mars is really prominent this month, we decided it was Mars. We watched planes and clouds go by, and various stars appeared one by one. Finally, Theo (who despite loving anything space is still a little scared of being out past dark) had had enough and was ready for home and bed. As we walked through the dark field to the gate, I turned back one more time. And WOAH. From behind the tall buildings on campus, rose MARS. Really Mars. Deep, rusty red. About three times the size of any other celestial object. I realized I had been wrong about fake Mars immediately (thinking about it, I think that must be Jupiter? But again, I’m not good at directions). I marveled at it in a way I would not say is characteristic of me. It was really amazing: this was something between a spiritual awareness of God’s creation, excitement at witnessing a cosmic event, and deep gratitude for my son who inspired this experience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about lullabies. Maybe it’s because Theo’s starting to request particular ones, maybe it’s that his sleep has been terribly disrupted this last month, maybe it’s the ritual and intimacy of that music making time. (Likely all three) The poem by Henry Francis Lyte, “Abide with me; fast falls the eventide” is about the eve of life as much as it is a reflection and prayer at the end of the day. I love it because it so intricately melds human experiences, darkness, light, joy, sorrow, gain, and loss. We recoil from ‘negative’ emotions and experiences while at the same time hymns that embrace the totality of human experience are sometimes our most favorite. I think we long for the bravery to face “Earth’s joys [growing] dim” and to come out on the other side declaring “I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.”

American composer William Bolcom (b. 1938) composed a short setting of the tune associated with this hymn. Dedicated to his father, it is dated just four days after his death. Chorale preludes are settings both of a particular tune but also of a mood or worshipful experience. They might introduce music to be played later in the worship service or provide additional contemplative material. I think this setting is perfect for the latter use. It is an intimate piece composed in a very raw and intimate time of the composer’s life, and while we are all here, separately together, it is music for our own contemplation and devotion.

Abide with Me, by William Bolcom

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day,
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see:
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence ev’ry passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Text: Henry Francis Lyte, 1847
Music: EVENTIDE, William Henry Monk, 1861
Origin: English Hymnody

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