I’m very familiar with the first phrase of a song. You may be, too. “For the beauty of the earth,” is how it starts. It’s a hymn written in England and published in 1864.
It’s interesting. While the War between the States was raging here, F.S. Pierpoint wrote in the third stanza,
For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above;
For all gentle thoughts and mild:
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our Sacrifice of Praise.
It’s a reminder that life and gratitude are complicated.
My favorite setting of the song is not the tune I learned as a kid, singing this song during the Thanksgiving season. My favorite is the setting by John Rutter, a still-living composer. I said that I know the first phrase, but I never can remember the words immediately following. Every time I hear the song, I get caught up in emotions and I can’t remember the next words.
It started several years ago, when our daughter Hope was in fifth grade. She was nominated by her middle school choir director to go to a choral festival called “Circle the State.” I heard several hundred kids singing this piece. I was stunned by the beauty of the sound and the music. And soon after Hope joined the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir, and then a high school choir, and then the Bethel College Concert Choir.
Every time I hear this song, I remember that giving thanks can be beautiful, that giving thanks is an offering, that I do not treasure that beauty or make that offering enough.
Sunday, I got to sit next to Hope and listen to the FWCC sing. I discovered that I’m not the only one who gets caught in the emotions. But I will keep listening to it for as long as it takes for the words to work their way into my memory and then be offered as thanks.