Shelter Lyrics and Reflections

#1 Wonderful Grace

I thought it might be fun to introduce each of the songs on SHELTER here on the blog, one a week. First song up is Wonderful Grace!

Before I start though, let me say here as I have elsewhere that rewriting hymns does not mean I dislike the original melody or find it invaluable. I have varying levels of love for the old melodies, some more, some less, and I respect both that they communicated powerfully when they were written, and still can communicate today. However, we humans have a tendency to let our minds run on auto-pilot and stop paying attention to the familiar; in so doing we can lose our first love. Rewriting hymns is one way to renew our thoughts, to listen again to what we are singing, to love God anew.

Generally the full title of this hymn has been Wonderful Grace of Jesus. I grew up singing this almost frolicking song (with its original melody) often, especially at more casual gatherings, outside church services and such. It is one of those songs that people just had to sing parts on, often a capella. It calls to mind an older sense of community worship with back and forth singing between men and women on the chorus.

This is one of the more recent re-writes I’ve done, and I admit an ulterior motive- my sister often says “Do you sing any upbeat songs?” I wrote this partially to prove that I do. (Although this song probably still sounds restrained to many.) 

As I wrote the music for this, I wanted to retain a sense of abandon, of the broadness, highness, deepness to the grace of Jesus, while moving away from the jolly side of the old towards a more thoughtful joy. Instead of bouncing on a repeated note, I chose a more linear melodic line. I put it in 6/8 meter to give it a lilting feeling yet one that pulls you forward. At different times though, the various instruments (first guitar, then piano, then cello) still maintain a rhythmic stability that says this grace is not just high and broad, but strong and sure.

I also modified the words slightly, mostly removing a few words from the chorus that made the lines a bit unwieldy, while hopefully retaining the descriptiveness of the text.

Overall these lyrics are ones that are willing to dwell on one word, grace, and celebrate it with joy, a humble joy that knows its own need and debt to that same grace. As I sing this song it reminds me that this is indeed cause for celebration.

__________________________________________________________________________________________Lyrics

Wonderful grace of Jesus,

deeper than all my sin,

How shall my tongue describe it,

Where shall its praise begin?

Taking away my burden,

Setting my spirit free!

For the wonderful grace of Jesus

Reaches even me.

 

Chorus:

Wonderful the grace of Jesus,

Deeper than the sea!

Higher than the mountain peaks,

Reaching down to me.

Broader than all my transgressions,

Greater than all my sin and shame.

O magnify the precious name of Jesus!

Praise His name.

 

Wonderful grace of Jesus,

Reaching to all the lost,

By it I have been pardoned,

Saved to the uttermost!

Chains have been torn asunder,

Giving me liberty!

For the wonderful grace of Jesus

Reaches even me.

 

(Chorus)

 

Wonderful grace of Jesus,

Reaching the most defiled,

By its transforming power

Making me God’s dear child.

Purchasing peace and heaven

For all eternity!

For the wonderful grace of Jesus

Reaches even me.

 

(Chorus)

 

Magnify him, praise his name!

Wonderful grace of Jesus.

 

Text by Haldor Lillenas, modified by Ami Andersen

Shelter

Some songs that I write I have to go back to, over and over, trying different melodic ideas until something clicks. And then some songs just come, first try. Shelter was one of the latter types. It has been one of my favorites, one of those songs (maybe other songwriters have them too?) that makes me think there’s a chance I can write something worthwhile and beautiful.

I suppose that was partially the reason I made it the title track (got to put your best foot forward right?) Another partial reason was to evoke the idea of the hymns themselves being a source of shelter and strengthening.

Near the end of the recording process though, Bruce, the wonderful sound guy/producer who worked on the album with me commented that the whole album was one of comfort. I hadn’t thought of it in quite that way- but now it has struck me that I approach music from that direction quite a bit: what is beautiful, and what is of comfort, that is, of comfort in the face of difficulty, apathy, or mundanity.  Shelter, then, was a fitting title for an album of these types of songs.

The lyrics for Shelter have a fairly simple structure and theme. Their power comes from the mighty idea they are suggesting, and reminding us of: The great God who made everything is the place, the one, that we can take refuge in and in whom we need have no fear. In fact, he is not only a place to hide, but comes to our aid.

I need reminding of this. That we are not out here on our own, but indeed that “if God be for us, who can be against us?” And “your heavenly Father knows that you have need of these things.” I hope this song is a reminder for you as well.

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Lyrics

The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide,
A Shelter in the time of storm;
Secure whatever ill betide,
A Shelter in the time of storm

A shade by day, defense by night,
A Shelter in the time of storm;
No fears alarm, no fears affright,
A Shelter in the time of storm.

Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,
A weary land, a weary land;
Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,
A Shelter in the time of storm.

The raging storms may round us beat,
A Shelter in the time of storm
We’ll never leave our safe retreat,
A Shelter in the time of storm.

O Rock divine, O Refuge dear,
A Shelter in the time of storm;
Be Thou our Helper ever near,
A Shelter in the time of storm.

Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,
A weary land, a weary land;
Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,
A Shelter in the time of storm.

Who is This Enthroned

I read a short essay by C.S. Lewis a couple years ago called Must Our Image of God Go? in which Lewis is responding to an article by a Bishop of Woolwich claiming that it should. This description of his immediately struck me as capturing part of the majesty of God in a few short words: “We have always thought of God as being not only ‘in’ ‘above’, but also ‘below’ us: as the depth of ground. We can imaginatively speak of Father ‘in heaven’ yet also of the everlasting arms that are ‘beneath’.”

I have always loved the glorious description of Christ being in all, and all things held together in him, that we find in Colossians. Lewis’ comment reminded me of the “everywhere-ness” of God as well: above, below, in. At a similar time two other occurrences combined- listening to lectures on God’s revealing of himself and picking out hymns one Sunday with a theme of the same. However, there didn’t seem to be many hymns that spoke directly to the idea. I decided it would be a good project to write one.

I knew I wanted to explore the idea of above and yet below, and that ended up providing the central thoughts of this song. Each of the verses dwells on a different way God reveals himself, through nature, through the Incarnation, through Scripture, through the yet-to-come appearing of the Son.  In all of these, I hoped to convey not only God, the majestic one, but also God who has come near to us.

My main goal as I set it to music was to capture a combination of weightiness and spaciousness. A few ways I tried to accomplish this was through the repeated chords in 2/2 time, and a wide pitch range. Nathan Bird lent his rich voice next to my lighter one, as well as, with my husband, to the opening rumbling hum. The cellist, Dan Lawonn, played beautifully, coming in with a pedal note on the third verse that gave a stability and gravity to the description of Christ.

The song ends with “we shall know him as we are known”- a reference to I Cor. 13:12, long one of my favorite verses: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” We do not see him clearly yet, but we will.

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Lyrics

Who is this enthroned above the earth
His mighty word beneath all things
Glorious, immeasurable his worth
Ever life creating
Ever truth unfading
This our God, the last, the first
Making himself known 

Nowhere can we flee that you’re not there
In you alone is life and breath
Earth and sky your splendor loud declare!
The farthest star sustaining
The darkest depth reclaiming 
You are God of everywhere
Making Yourself known.

Who is this who suffered in our place
You have not left us on our own
Incarnate Word, God’s love to us displayed
Far above in righteousness, 
Come near to our weakness
Christ our God, what glorious grace
Making Yourself known.

This our very bread, our very life
Every word that comes from you
Filling all our darkened ways with light
Standing firm eternally, 
Speaking to the lowly,
In your Word, ‘til faith is sight,
Making yourself known

In our midst, alive, forevermore, 
Yet still we wait to see your face
Beauty blinding, burning like the sun
Holiness your covering
Adorned in long-suffering
This our God, we’ve waited for!
Making yourself known

We will know him as we’re known

Jesus, My Joy

I am grateful for those who have given me texts and asked me to re-write their melodies. Jesus, My Joy, is one of these songs and I think it is most likely my favorite on the album.

In the hymnbooks you will find this listed as Jesus, Priceless Treasure. However, it was written in German and the German title is Jesu, Meine Freude (Jesus, My Joy). The English translation had some problematic lines like “foes who would molest me” that needed updating, so it was fun to look at the non-poetic translations of the German to aid me in rewriting. In the end I stayed close to the English version, but I would encourage folks to read one or two translations of the German- there are great depths there.

In looking at the German text, I realized this was set as a motet by Bach. Given how much I love Bach, I was a little reticent to change his work- however, I consoled myself with the fact that he didn’t actually write the melody.

To our modern American sensibilities, the prior melody is rather dour and plodding. In many ways this may be our problem more than the melody’s- we don’t know how to sing the melody beautifully or how to enjoy it. It just isn’t what is familiar to us. Search for the motet on YouTube and you’ll find some lovely recordings. I was thinking this morning that it could also be lovely sung in the style of My Own Home from The Jungle Book.  But I digress.

After all that, I think it was helpful to write a new melody for this song, as it communicates (I hope!) treasuring Christ in a modern music vocabulary, in a way that speaks to our hearts. I could tell you about how I wrote the new melody, how I think it reflects the words, but I’d rather say that it has given me a new avenue to express delight in Christ. In the end, I think much of our lives is about finding new ways to realize, express and remember the beauty of God and his sufficiency for us. Sometimes this is through old things, and sometimes it is through new things.

In all things let us say “Yours I am, O perfect Lamb- I’ll let nothing hide you, ask for nothing beside you.”

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Lyrics

Jesus joy of my heart, source of true life you are,

Truest friend to me

Long I have been waiting, long my soul’s been seeking,

Thirsting after you

Yours I am, O perfect Lamb, I’ll let nothing hide you,

Ask for nothing beside you

 

In your strength I’m resting, enemies though pressing,

Cannot reach me here

Though the earth be shaking, every heart be breaking,

God is with us here

Though hell’s scare and sin’s despair, with their heaviest storms assail us,

Jesus will not fail us

Banished is our sadness, for the Lord of Gladness,

Jesus enters in!

Those who love the Father, though the storms may gather, 

Still have peace within

Yes, whatever we here must bear, still in you lies truest pleasure,

Jesus priceless treasure

 

Jesus joy of my heart, source of true life,

 

Source of true life, you are

King Of Heaven

As I thought about this song, Psalm 92 came to mind: “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.”

The text for King of Heaven (Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven in the hymnbooks) is in fact loosely based on Psalm 103 where David pleads with himself, his soul, to praise the LORD and all the reasons why. To me this is one of the main purposes of church music- reminding us of what God has done, who He is, and inviting us to praise Him. I love songs that describe human experience, our questions and struggling. In the middle of things it can be hard to remember the bigger truths, though, that in fact give meaning to our experience.

On the album (Shelter), King of Heaven is the most simply recorded (total honesty, we were running out of time and patience, hah). There are no additional instruments, and I literally played the piano straight through twice and chose the better of the two. I sometimes think of it subsequently as the least special. However, when I let myself listen to the words and music simply, it can be one of the most meaningful.

I hope that if and when you listen to King of Heaven, or even sing it maybe (!) it will be a reminder to you of all the reasons it is good to praise God, all the ways He is unique, and His grace infinitely valuable in the midst of mundane and difficult, as well as happy, circumstances.

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Lyrics

Praise my soul, the King of Heaven
To his feet your tribute bring,
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Evermore his praises sing:
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Praise the everlasting King.
 
Praise him for his grace and favor
To all people in distress,
Praise him still the same forever,
Slow to chide and swift to bless.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Glorious in his faithfulness.
 
Fatherlike, he tends and spares us,
Well our feeble frame he knows;
In his hands he gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes.
(Alleluia, Alleluia!
Widely as his mercy flows.)
 
Angels in the height, adore him!
You behold him face to face!
Sun and moon bow down before him,
All who dwell in time and space.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Praise with us the God of grace!
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Praise with us the God of grace.