These reflections were part of Walking By Faith Through the Hymns, a worship service focused on six beloved hymns of the Christian church.

Abide With Me
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.
#700 in The United Methodist Hymnal; Words by Henry F. Lyte; Music by W. H. Monk

The story goes that Henry Lyte, a Scottish Anglican priest, was beside the deathbed of a friend in 1820. As Lyte sat there, his friend was only able to say one phrase over and over again: “Abide with me.” Lyte promptly wrote the first part of what was then just a poem, and gave it to his friend’s family as he was leaving.

27 years later, Lyte was faced with his own health issues, after being inflicted by tuberculosis at the age of 54. In his own sickness, he thought back on the poem that he wrote for his friend, and he worked in his final months to perfect this hymn, drawing from his own situation of illness. Only a month or two before his death, he garnered the strength to preach one final sermon, which was about Holy Communion and the presence of God that meets each worshipper in the bread and the wine. It was then that he gave the full poem to a favorite relative, and he died shortly thereafter.

Though the hymn has taken on many forms and has been used in various political and royal contexts, the truth of the hymn remains: even in the midst of the darkness night and even as those dearest to us may fall away, God remains with us, forever abiding with us, even beyond suffering and death. 

  Isaiah Fish


What a Friend We Have in Jesus
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
#526 in The United Methodist Hymnal; Words by Joseph M. Scriven; Music by Charles C. Converse

Joseph Scriven was a man who had it all—wealth, education, a beloved fiancée, and a well-to-do life in his native Ireland. On the night before his wedding, however, tragedy struck as his fiancée drowned, forever shaping Scriven’s life. Soon thereafter, he moved from Ireland for Port Hope, Canada, devoting his time to being a friend and helper to those who most needed it, becoming known as the “the man who saws wood for poor widows and sick people who are unable to pay.”

He soon received news that his mother had fallen ill in Ireland. In his final letter to her, he included the words of a newly written poem, the hymn that became known as “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Later, when Scriven himself was sick, a friend found this same poem beside his bedside. When asked who had written these beautiful words, he simply replied:  “The Lord and I did it between us.”

For some, the hymn is viewed as too sentimental and too flowery. Scholars have criticized its rhyming pattern, and the language has been said to be too simple. But in that simplicity comes a strong and much-needed message: God is not hostile or apathetic towards us. No, God is one who sits with us in our grief, rejoices with us in our happiness, and is always working for our good, as only a friend can do.

– Isaiah Fish


This Little Light of Mine
This little light of mine, I’m goin’a let it shine;
This little light of mine, I’m goin’a let it shine;
This little light of mine, I’m goin’a let it shine;
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
#585 in The United Methodist Hymnal; Afro-American Spiritual

Some books credit the writing of this hymn to Harry Dixon Loes in 1920. Others say that its roots began during slavery.

All too often, it is considered a “children’s” song, but over the years it has become a staple unifying people around many causes.It invokes powerful feelings about one’s worth, suggesting that each of us and all of us has within ourselves a beautiful God-given light and it is our duty and responsibility to let it shine. Our light may seem small and insignificant but it has the potential to make the world better.

This Little Light of Mine was sung during the 1950’s and 60’s civil rights movement and is considered a “freedom” song, as well as an African American spiritual. It was sung by the Kingdom Choir a year ago today at the wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, during the race riots in Charlottesville, VA in 2017, and has been integral to the #MeToo movement and others where people sing to feel a little less alone and little more free.

Rev. Cathy S. Gilliard


Precious Lord, Take My Hand
Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand;
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.
#474 in The United Methodist Hymnal; Words and Music by Thomas A. Dorsey

“Precious Lord, Take My Hand” was written by Thomas A. Dorsey when he was 32 years old. He had been a jazz musician in Chicago. But one day, the worst happened.Here is an account he would later report:

…My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s Southside.  One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis, where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting.  I didn’t want to go.  Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child.  But a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis….

 

…In the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again.  When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram.  I ripped open the envelope.  Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words:  YOUR WIFE JUST DIED….

 

…When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy.  I swung between grief and joy.  Yet that night, the baby died.  I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket.  Then I fell apart.  For days I closeted myself.  I felt that God had done me an injustice.  I didn’t want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs.  I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well…

 

…But still I was lost in grief.  Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend…who seemed to know what I needed.  On the following Saturday evening he took me up to Malone’s Poro College, a neighborhood music school.  It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows.  I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys….

 

Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand;
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

 – Rev. Cathy S. Gilliard


Amazing Grace
Amazing grace!
How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
#378 in The United Methodist Hymnal’ Words by John Newton; Music a 19th Century American Melody

This great hymn written was by a slave trader named John Newton. He had been captain of a ship that transported West Africans slaves to North and South America and around the world.

One night while he was aboard his slave ship, a great storm arose and the ship was tossed to and fro.  It appeared that death was imminent.  Newton cried out and somehow the ship was saved.

Not long after, he wrote: “Amazing Grace!  How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!  I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”

Many believe that Newton set the melody to a West African sorrow chant that he had heard the slaves singing in the belly of the ship. I imagine he could not get the sound of it out of his mind.  He could no longer see slaves as mere chattel.  He went on to become an ordained minister in the Anglican church and joined the likes of John and Charles Wesley and other abolitionists, realizing that once he had sniffed the sweet aroma of God’s grace, he could no longer go on with business as usual; selling slaves was no longer the better option.

– Rev. Cathy S. Gilliard


Hope of the World
Hope of the world, thou Christ of great compassion,
Speak to our fearful hearts by conflict rent.
Save us, thy people, from consuming passion,
Who by our own false hopes and aims are spent.
#178 in The United Methodist Hymnal; Words by Georgia Harkness; Music by V. Earle Copes

Georgia Harkness was a Methodist theologian in the early and mid-1900s, becoming one of the very first female theology professors in a seminary, a staunch defender of women’s equality and ordination, and, later in her life, full civil rights for gay and lesbian people. In the midst of that work and ministry, however, she was tormented by what she called “the Dark Night of the Soul,” which she explained as “the more subtle and terrible torment of sheer inability to find power in God to bear the pain or meet the situation” and a sense of despairing Godforsakenness. Yet, for Harkness, the light within this dark night was found going deeper within her own faith, seeing the Crucified and Risen Christ not in academic abstraction but rather in the hope that was appearing around her in her life. And in this Christ, she was able to see herself—not only in his life and morals but in his confrontation of despair and of that same dark night, even to death, and in his resurrection to new life.

In Hope of the World, Harkness invites us into her own spirituality and journey within and through the dark night to a faith that lives the resurrection and life of the person of Jesus Christ for the sake of this world — the Christ of great compassion, coming to us who are rent of fear and conflict, walking beside us at all times, and offering peace.

– Isaiah Fish