… is everywhere.”
Too often of a Sunday when we sing a well-known hymn it is marred by over-familiarity and we stop paying attention to the words. Or rather, stop paying attention to the meaning. Recently we sang this hymn by John Mason (“How shall I sing that majesty?”). I realise now that I have sung it a few times before but to another tune. This time it was not an easy sing, with an tune new to me, and I really had to concentrate. In order to do so I listened to the first verse before joining in. Although this hymn/poem is well over three hundred years old, it struck a chord.
A day later and I re-read the the hymn. The first reading is sounded pleasant to the ear. The second time round, as I work through the 17th century turns of phrase, I began to get the poets idea: singing praise to God here on earth, pales in comparison with the songs of heaven. That said, he still wants to join in. Like most poetry it works better when read out loud. It is reproduced below and I commend it to you.
How shall I sing that majesty
which angels do admire?
Let dust in dust and silence lie;
sing, sing, ye heavenly choir.
Thousands of thousands stand around
thy throne, O God most high;
ten thousand times ten thousand sound
thy praise; but who am I?
2 Thy brightness unto them appears,
whilst I thy footsteps trace;
a sound of God comes to my ears,
but they behold thy face.
They sing, because thou art their Sun;
Lord, send a beam on me;
for where heaven is but once begun
there alleluias be.
* 3 Enlighten with faith’s light my heart,
inflame it with love’s fire;
then shall I sing and bear a part
with that celestial choir.
I shall, I fear, be dark and cold,
with all my fire and light;
yet when thou dost accept their gold,
Lord, treasure up my mite.
4 How great a being, Lord, is thine,
which doth all beings keep!
Thy knowledge is the only line
to sound so vast a deep.
Thou art a sea without a shore,
a sun without a sphere;
thy time is now and evermore,
thy place is everywhere.
John Mason (c.1645–1694)