Check our pew racks and you’ll find not only a Bible and a Book of Common Prayer but another blue-covered book, The Hymnal 1982. It is one amazing and important book. Our hymnal draws all of us, all Episcopalians, together musically in the same way that the Book of Common Prayer draws us together in prayer and liturgy.
Hymns are powerful expressions of our faith, powerful reminders that our Lord is with us in struggle and sorrow, powerful exaltations of joy, powerful and loving reminders of God’s grace. Singing our praise through hymns is another form of communing with Christ and each other.
I had many plans for this newsletter article this month, but because of visits from my family, work, practice, and most recently, the death of a dear friend, I put off writing the article until the day after our editor wanted it. Well, now I know why. It is so I can share a story with you about the power of hymns – the power of a hymn we sang several weeks ago, “The Lord My God My Shepherd Is.”
Two weeks ago, I learned one of my students (and a very dear friend) was diagnosed with colon cancer, a mass on the liver, and pulmonary embolisms. A shock but I was sure with prayer and the miracles of medicine this wonderfully caring, generous, woman of God would go through and survive treatment for all the above and life would go on. I was wrong. She declined dramatically and quickly.
One week ago, I was teaching Paul, one of my many incredible organ students – a 54-year-old man who is a savant in some very particular ways, and also has cerebral palsy. His lessons have been such an amazing journey for me. He grew up in the Lutheran church the son of a pastor. He has heard hymns all his life and amazingly can play by-ear, even with his physical limitations, almost any hymn his sister, Ruth and I can name or hum. Not only does he know the tunes, but he knows how many verses each has. Woe is me when I choose a Lutheran hymn that happens to have 11 verses as he will play every verse for me as he is singing that text in his mind. His lessons are often jaw-dropping for me. And…if I give him a word, like “shepherd,” he will create a medley of hymns that contain the word “shepherd” in some verse or other of the hymn. Truly it is astounding seeing/hearing this man/ child share God’s glory through hymns.
And, so back to the story. A week ago, I knew their friend and fellow-student, Karen who attends and plays the organ at Paul and Ruth’s church, was in the hospital and struggling mightily after colon surgery. So, I decided to record Paul playing “The Lord is My Shepherd” and send it to Karen. The response from Karen’s daughter who shared this recording with her Mom, was that Karen was at peace and smiled throughout the recording.
Today I sent word of Karen’s death to my student group. Several expressed their sadness at losing a friend and colleague but the following response from Ruth, my student Paul’s sister, truly shows the power and glory of the many hymns, but in particular #663 from our amazing blue book, The Hymnal 1982.
“I am so grateful for you and your moment of genius last week during Paul’s lesson. Recording him playing The Lord is My Shepherd was clearly a God-inspired moment. I know that song brought joy and comfort to Karen and her family. It has brought comfort to me at hearing this news. It amazes me how you and Paul were used in this special way. I am grateful.”
And this is the power of the great hymns of our faith.
Dr. Jeannine Jordan, organist, has a large organ studio with students of all ages and skill levels. She is also the Minister of Music and Organist at St. Bede Episcopal Church in Forest Grove, Oregon. She and her husband, David Jordan, media artist of Pro-Motion Music , are the creators and presenters of the dramatic story-driven organ and multimedia concert experiences, From Sea to Shining Sea, Bach and Sons, and Around the World in 80 Minutes. Subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter for more intriguing and engaging articles – click here #DrJeannineJordan #OrganAndMultimediaConcert