I remember the excitement when the blue (Mennonite) Hymnal: A Worship Book became available for use in churches in 1993.
Our congregation, which I thought of as a “hymnal church,” loved learning My life flows on. It had a familiar feel as a 19th century hymn, yet it was new, because it came to Mennonites via our sister denomination the Church of the Brethren. My life flows on quickly became one of our favorites, as it did in quite a swath of Mennonite churches.
A mentor from that era recalls how that hymn also gave voice to the aspirations of women who were coming into congregational ministry during that time…it was in a way “our hymn,” for we ourselves were a “new creation.”
I titled my 2013 ministry memoir Flowing with the River: Soundings from my Life and Ministry. At that time I was a recently retired pastor and a spiritual director, so I wrote:
“As for me, I’m no longer…offering God’s refreshment to a particular community of faith. I do have an inkling of where some of the deeper channels of the river lie, and I want to keep inviting others in.
“Most importantly, I want to keep moving with the current of God’s grace and intent for the world, wherever it flows. I want the river to carry me. I want to be curious and unafraid, open to surprise about the river up ahead and the landscape to be explored around the next bend.
“A hymn I’ve loved since I first sang it 21 years ago keeps luring me down the river. animating my journey. It begins like this:
My life flows on in endless song,
above earth’s lamentation.
I catch the sweet though far-off hymn,
that hails a new creation.”
“As is usually the case with me and 19th century hymn texts, sometimes I’m content to sing it as is, but at other times I want to nuance it. Some days I’m fine with imagining the song of new creation “far off,” located “above” earth’s lamentation. Other days, I’d prefer to sing it like this:
My life flows on in endless song.
amidst earth’s lamentation
I catch those clear, surprising tones
that hail a new creation.”
This raises for me an interesting question. Where – in relation to earth’s lamentation – is the song of new creation? Is it above earth’s lamentation, soaring, as in “the lilts and peals of children’s song and laughter…above the wind, the warplanes and the highway traffic,” as Syrian refugee children go to school in Jordan? Is it beneath earth’s lamentation, under girding, as in Peace Beneath the Clamour (Blog # 37)? Or does it simply appear from time to time, amidst earth’s lamentation?
And is it a sweet melody, though somewhat faint because it’s far off…something we have to listen hard to catch? Or are the tones clear and surprising, like When peace like a river in the MRI room (Blog #37)?
Or is it some of both? Or sometimes this and sometimes that? And does it really matter, in any case?
For me, it matters. New creation tones clear and surprising , right in the MRI room, are different than ones far off, barely audible, and out of this world. New creation tones intermingling with lamentation are more hopeful for my world and my experience now than faint tones far off. Clear and surprising tones right here now mean that genetic mutation researchers and creators of new radiation technologies are cooperators with God in bringing about new life. This pleases me more than I can say….
Questions for Reflection:
- For you, are the tones of new creation above earth’s lamentation, beneath earth’s lamentation, or intermingled with earth’s lamentation? Or some of all three?
- If you know the hymn “My Life Flows On,” when were you introduced to it? Is it one of your favorites, so-so, or not pleasing to you at all?
Next Week: The Comfort of Reading