Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Chidren of the Heavenly Father

I had never heard this hymns before my highschool choir director introduced it to us to prepare.  I recall that Professor Moldenhauer, the director of our choir, offered some sort of explanation that seemed almost more of an apology.  A parent or grandparent had requested it.  But it seemed as though there was something a bit, well, illicit about it all. 

I think I understand why now.  But at the time I didn't have the cultural understanding to put it all together. I just thought it was strange that Prof. Moldenhauer felt the need to explain why we were preparing a certain hymn.  He didn't offer explanation for any of the other songs we prepared, after all.

But this one, (imagine my hand cupped near my mouth to better project my whispered explanation), this one...is from the Swedish tradition.  More broadly it came into American Lutheranism with all the Scandinavian Lutherans.

From the point of view of my choir director it must have seemed almost foreign.  I attended a Lutheran highschool.  The particular strain of Lutheranism in which I was raised was from the German Lutheran tradition.  In fact, later on, during my college years at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, a classmate was perusing my highschool yearbook.  Suddenly she exclaimed almost accusatorily, as if I had lied to her, "I thought you said you went to a Lutheran high school!  Why are all these names Jewish?"  She was from Milwaukee, from an area with a high concentration of Polish Americans; and she had also been in the sorority system of the UW, which apparently took notice of such things as all the young Jewish women attending the UW, from New York.  All these names that were a normal part of my cultural heritage,... names like Stein, Bernthal, Lichtenberg, Mueller, Schultz...good German names, right?  To this friend from a different cultural background, they were all Jewish names.

In America, we are a melting pot.  We are all Americans.  But we are so diverse that even everyday regular things can seem quite strange to those who grew up among a different cultural background, or in a different part of the country. 

And the same too, in Lutheranism.  Officially, on paper, doctrinally, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of which I am now a part, and which grew out of the Norwegian Lutheran tradition, is in full agreement with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, in which I grew up, and which is out of the German Lutheran tradition.  But I have found throughout the years that there are many cultural differences between the two. 

And so Professor Moldenhauer's almost chagrin at us singing this song that was "from them, the Norwegians, those other  Lutherans."  I remember his explanation/apology went something like this, "This is an old hymn.  Some of you may have heard it before.  It's not really very common, but it's very well loved, especially by some older members."  It could be that at this point he even mentioned that it was from the Scandinavian tradition.  I was probably too clueless at that point to care about such details.  But as a teenaged girl who was understandably very sensitive to the whole "cool" thing, I do remember very well that his body language and demeanor projected an almost tail between the legs aspect.

The hymn is beautiful.  And now that I've been a part of the Norwegian American tradition for over 20 years, I appreciate how well loved it is by so many.  It's a very common funeral selection.  In fact, my kids have been asked to sing it at the funeral of more than one older friend.

It's one of the first hymns I teach to my children.  It's peaceful tune and timeless truths of God's providence and promises have lulled my babies and even older little ones to sleep throughout the years.  I suppose someone could make an argument that although there is no false doctrine in the hymn, it doesn't express fully and clearly the idea of Salvation from Sin through Jesus.  (You have to remember I am married to a pastor...I can  never fully escape the constant responsibility he feels to take every opportunity of sharing the whole truth of God's Plan of Salvation.)

I've only ever known the first four verses of this hymn, but I found two more today, when I was searching for the text to stick in my post.  I've included those last two here also, since they portray two of my favorite pictures of God our Heavenly Father.  He knows us so well that even something as trivial as the number of the hairs on our head is His concern (Matthew 10:30 and Luke 12:7).  And also that He never slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4). 

Children of the heav’nly Father
Children of the heav’nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given.

God His own doth tend and nourish;
In His holy courts they flourish;
From all evil things He spares them;
In His mighty arms He bears them.

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever;
Unto them His grace He showeth,
And their sorrows all He knoweth.

Though He giveth or He taketh,
God His children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy.

Lo, their very hairs He numbers,
And no daily care encumbers
Them that share His ev’ry blessing
And His help in woes distressing.

Praise the Lord in joyful numbers:
Your Protector never slumbers.
At the will of your Defender
Ev’ry foeman must surrender.

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