1 I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
it was not I that found, O Savior true;
no, I was found, was found of thee.
2 Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold;
I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea;
’twas not so much that I on thee took hold,
as thou, dear Lord, on me, on me.
3 I find, I walk, I love; but O the whole
of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee!
For thou wert long beforehand with my soul;
always, always thou lovedst me.
This poem, by English poet Jean Ingelow, came to me by way of the Episcopal hymnal 1982, where the source is listed as The Pilgrim Hymnal (1904) and the author “anonymous.” The tune in the Hymnal 1982 is “Faith” by 20th century Mennonite composer J. Harold Moyer. Nothing about Moyer is available through the worship aid website, hymnary.org. I tracked down a mention of him through doing a Google Books search and came back with one mention in a book on congregational music and community by author Jonathan Dueck. He merely claims Moyer contributed American shape note songs to a collection and wrote the piece that he chronicles in a worship service he describes in his book. This hymn tune, Faith, does have strong shape note qualities to it, which is one reason why I love this tune. A strong feeling in two, melody mainly composed of the tonic chord notes, modal rather than minor, are all aspects music theorists would point to in describing the music. I have a long fondness for technical descriptions and dorky music theory details, but I’m primarily interested in how the tune makes me feel: I sense unease but also trust, wandering but also rest, and longing but also bliss. This tension of feeling is what I think is so powerful in the marriage of this text and tune: the pilgrim is looking for God and finds God, who has already found them. The sense of longing and the sense of bliss at having been found in that which one longed for.
The Christian life (also though, HUMAN life!) is not one of staticity: we are always growing, changing, deepening our relationships, or letting go of relationships, modes of operation, or things. Much in our lives is transient. Although there is certainly a then-now present in the text, there’s a then-then or a now-now present in the music which serves to uproot the idea that we have ever fully and perfectly held on to God’s hand when it ‘reached forth.’ I think it is significant that the actions of GOD in this poem have taken place and won’t let go, but that doesn’t mean the speaker/singer is ‘finished’. The melody and harmony keep searching even in smaller cadences (‘resting points’). I still have work to do. That’s why I love to sing and re-sing this hymn. We are always searching for the God who has already found us.
I do love to go on lecturing about the hymns I choose, but I really want this to be a place for resources for families of all ages. So if I decide I want to say more, I will later in the week. Instead, I leave you with a list of ways to learn or engage with this hymn in your home, by yourself, with your kids, or with a small group. As always, if you have an idea you’d like to share, or a thought you’d like my or this community’s comment on, please comment below!
- What do you like, or not like, about the language used in this hymn? Do you connect with formal, 19th century words like ‘lovedst’ or thee/thine?
- Forgetting for a moment how I (Heather) feel about the tune, what does it make you think of or feel?
- What does it mean to you to seek God seeking you? Do you see concrete moments of that in your life?
- What is YOUR answer to God’s love?
- What are some areas where your faith is strong? Where are its weaknesses or bruises? Have you felt God holding you up? Share those moments with children in your life!
- Learn more about shape note singing here!
- What are some old poems, traditions, or hymns that you love? What, if anything, about them has changed for you in your life?
- Lastly, I invite you to wonder about our longing for ‘stability’ or ‘predictability’ (staticity as I say earlier), verses the very real transience of life. Where is God in the changes of life? How can you be intentional about change?