“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.
Hymns are religious songs of prayer, adoration, and praise. The Greek word “hymnos” means “a song of praise.” Hymns have been used for centuries and long before the Christian era. Egyptians sang their “Great Hymn to the Aten,” the Veda (book of hymns) has been sung in Hinduism, and the Book of Psalms (a collection of songs) has been a part of Judaism, for thousands of years.
This morning I read the hymn “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,” which is one of my favorites. The words are taken from a poem, “The Brewing of Soma,” by Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier. Do you know about Soma? It is a sacred ritual drink in the Vedic religion (2000 BC) and like similar drinks used in religious rituals, Soma probably had hallucinogenic properties. Whittier’s poem tells of the Vedic priests brewing and drinking Soma in their attempt to experience the divine. Everybody drinks the Soma and everybody gets drunk, but nobody seems to connect with the divine. Whittier compares this experience to some Christians’ use of “music, incense, vigils drear, and trance, to bring the skies more near, or lift men up to heaven!” But, Whittier, as a faithful Quaker, says such “music, incense, vigils drear, and trance” are all in vain—a mere intoxication.
Whittier goes on, then, to describe the way in which we can best connect with the divine (God)—and, of course, that is the way practiced by the Quakers. This Quaker way is a simple life, Whittier says, of seeking silence and selflessness in order to hear the “still, small voice” described in I Kings 19:11-13, the authentic voice of God. God’s voice is heard in the silence rather than in the earthquake, wind or fire. There is no need for Soma (“music, incense, vigils drear, and trance”) to “bring the skies more near, or lift men up to heaven!”
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 desires 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.