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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Something about a hymn

Having had no experience with church until my mid forties, the idea of singing hymns together in community was foreign to me.   But I loved arranged music in general and joined the church choir just to experience the feeling again of being in a group making music. Shortly after joining choir, we began a “blended service”and, assigned responsibility of leading a team, I set about trying to find hymns that could be adapted to guitar and drums to add to newer worship music which I had grown to love.

To help you visualize how long ago this was, there were no hanging screens on which to project the words..   In fact, our first screen was cobbled together with Home Depot insulation boards and a few coat hangers, barely one step above a sheet hanging from a wire. There was also no way to connect the song lyrics on the computer to enable projection on our “screen.” Without the electronics of today, a person was assigned the “job” of flipping the overheads as the song progressed, a job which was much harder to do correctly than it sounds.

The production of those overheads was my job. All of the words had to be typed by hand and printed on overhead transparencies for one person to switch out as they sat at an overhead projector in front of the room.  Because I loved “technology” and chose the music each week, it was my job to type the lyric sheets.

The church hymnal was thick with choices, so I would look for themes and then pluck out the notes of hymns, and finally, after choosing one, I would type the words. Almost none were familiar to me, so I became a student of the words.  But here’s the thing. I am a two finger typist.  So in order to type the hymns, I had to semi-memorize each line and understand it before I could type it.

From the first hymn I started typing, an unexpected thing would happen.  I would get a few lines in and begin to weep.  It was like I was typing the words on to my very heart and their imprint was deep and became almost immediately permanent. The words would invade my spirit, and I would sing them as I typed, feeling this sweet release and comfort as I did. I would even find myself bursting into song in everyday situations, treasuring each word, each turn of phrase, each truth revealed.

Those words would become real to me in the midst of a spiritual crisis only a few years later.

Our church entered into a time of deep turmoil.  Decent leaders were being sabotaged and reputations were being destroyed.  At a small retreat center on an island off the coast of Washington, a small group met with someone skilled in trauma in churches to help work our way through.  One of the difficult conversations sent me over the edge, and I fled alone to weep for the unnecessary destruction of people dear to me.

I sat alone on a rocky beach in the thick mist of morning, the waves lapping quietly at the shore.  In utter despair, thoughts of ending my life gnawed at the edges of my soul. This was my first faith community. I loved them. But darkness had overcome good, and my world was shaken. With no journal to write in to try and find clarity, I opened to the empty pages in the back of my Bible and wept so deeply I thought my heart would burst.  I simply could not handle this life anymore. I truly felt like I wanted to die.

A loud explosion of sound from the gulls overhead drew my gaze abruptly up and towards the sea. I stared at the seemingly infinite, measureless expanse of water shrouded in fog and imagined how many drops it contained.   As I sat being drenched in the soft mist, I thought about the droplets that were falling to the earth in the light fog.  I wondered how many drops there were and imagined counting them as a way to still my reckless thoughts and calm my spirit. While contemplating the number, a new thought suddenly entered in, crowding out the voices of destruction and despair in my head.

Even should I be able to count them all, the number would pale by comparison to God’s love for me.  

As the mist soaked my skin, that promise seeped into my soul, and the words of a hymn flooded over me as though the sea itself sang.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,

and were the skies of parchment made;

were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill,

and ev’ryone a scribe by trade;

to write the love of God above

would drain the ocean dry;

nor could the scroll contain the whole,

though stretched from sky to sky.

Tears of consolation flooded over me and washed away my tears of despair.  That ragged day, when my woundedness seemed beyond healing, the True Balm of Gilead came to sing words of boundless love and of abundant life over me in the midst of turmoil. I glanced at the pages of my Bible, now wrinkling under the mist’s moisture and wrote these words that remain to this day.

I know longer know where I end and You begin.

I have known many a dark dawn in the decades since Love sang over me with words from the sea.  But the memory of the gift of consolation from the inspired words of a hymn that day has remained, sustaining and strengthening me daily.

O love of God, how rich and pure!

How measureless and strong!

It shall forevermore endure—

the saints’ and angels’ song.

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