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Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but thou art mighty.
Hold me with thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me till I want no more; feed me till I want no more.
William Williams “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
I cannot read the words of this wonderful hymn without the sound of the music playing in my head. I also cannot read the words without thinking of pivotal moments in my life when this particular hymn moved me to tears. I remember singing it with a sense of confidence during my first few months of seminary. I felt clear that God had guided me to that time and that place and was deeply grateful for the myriad of ways God’s powerful hand was a constant presence in my life. So at that time, the hymn became a prayer of thanksgiving and praise.
But I also remember singing it a few months before seminary graduation when I was starting to get jittery about what was next. I hoped with every cell of my being that my eyes would be open for God’s guidance and hold on my life. During those moments, this hymn became my prayer of longing. My anxiety was getting in the way of tasting God’s nourishment for my journey. I was stuffing myself full of uncertainty rather than letting the bread of heaven sustain me.
Yet the most powerful memories I have of this hymn center around singing it at memorial services. One of the great privileges a pastor has is to walk through this sacred, thin space with families. So I have clear memories of standing in the front of the chancel and watching a newly widowed parishioner stand with her sons on each side of her, singing this hymn with everything she had. It was clearly both an affirmation of God’s guiding, nourishing presence in her life, as well as a plea for that comfort and strength of love to continue. It was hard for me to keep my emotions in check, because the moment was so transcendent, so full of the presence of the holy.
Hymns do that to me. Perhaps they do that for you, too. They become prayers of confession, praise, longing, affirmation, lament. They become our voices and articulations of our faith. Thank God.
Music-making God, we are grateful for the ways in which you do guide us and hold us by the constant presence of your Spirit. And we pray you will continue to nourish us with that promised power, even in our times of weakness as anxiety tries to fill the space for faith. Keep us open for your guidance, both as disciples and as a church community. Amen.
Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor
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