While researching spiritual care for older adults, I interviewed Lily Pinneo, a retired missionary nurse and the first confirmed survivor of Lassa fever. When asked to reflect on what had given her life meaning and purpose, she noted that hymns held memories of her family gathered around the piano; they were vivid reminders of God's faithfulness.
She immediately recalled the hymn Fairest Lord Jesus. This triggered a memory of a young man plowing adjacent to where her family had stopped for a picnic. Lily said, “As he was plowing, he was whistling that hymn.”
When the psalmist's heart overflowed with a goodly theme, he turned his overflowing into hymns. Many psalms, including Psalm 45, seem to be songs sung to a longed-for Messiah. “You are the fairest of the sons of men,” sang the psalmist. The writer of Lily's favorite hymn, penned in the late 1600s and whistled by the young farmer, was surely inspired by the psalmist's verse written a few thousand years earlier. It is, we note, a love song to a king.
Lily described her ICU experience and the serious illness that nearly took her life. She recalled this hymn, not whistled, but played on a tape recorder and placed on her bedside table by a nurse. “I don't remember anything else about my experience in intensive care,” Lily stated. “But I do remember that hymn and other hymns reminding me of the resurrection and Jesus' power over all things, including me.”
A hymn can be defined as a lyric poem with a metrical format. Some hymns were originally written as poems and then, later, set to music, sometimes by the poet. Many hymns we sing are translations, which generally require a creative use of rhyme to accompany the metrical structure of a hymn. Fairest Lord Jesus (also sung as Beautiful Savior) is an example. Originally written in German (source unknown, but often attributed to German Jesuits) and titled Schönster Herr Jesuit, the original text appeared in written form in 1677; it was translated into English in 1873, with varying words.
I encourage you to write a hymn. Consider different words to another hymn or perhaps write your own music. Try setting Scripture to music. This is a wonderful way to memorize God's Word. Send JCN your poems and hymns. Let your heart overflow with goodly themes, as you address your words to God in poetry and song. Share a hymn book with people in crisis, encouraging them to read the words and turn hymns into prayers for whatever they are facing.