The word hymn comes from the Greek “hymnos,” meaning song of praise. Augustine believed that the hymn should contain three elements: It should contain words of praise; it should be sung; and it should be addressed to God.
In that sense, a hymn could be called a poetic song of prayer, praise and worship to God.
In the New Testament, the noun hymnos occurs only twice, but appears much more often as the verb, “hymnein.” This may be because of the action implied in the dynamics of the hymn being sung.
Historically, hymns have been typically organized so that they could mirror who people are religiously and how they pray. Most of the lyrics are scripturally based and the sacred words enable the worshiper to express his or her faith in praise, adoration, and in petition-effectively, to pray in song.
Often, the language of the hymn is poetic and usually shows a rhyme scheme. As a general rule, the hymns selected for any particular day support and affirm the particular readings from scripture, which are selected for that given day. Morning and evening are the hinges of the day of worship. Lyrics of the hymn which is sung in the morning often praise God for one more fresh new day and in the evening to thank God for getting us through the day or in the darkness of night for being our light.
Many of the hymns are fashioned after simple and ordinary things which relate to worship, such as the cross of Jesus, the faith, hope, and love of God, nature, scripture, goodness, wisdom, justice, mercy, etc. Through the years, repetition causes the worshiper to remember the hymn and to make the hymn a song of the heart, which is voiced with the lips. In word and song, one gives prayer and praise to God along with all of creation.
With time, the hymns become a particular religious musical language as a form of communication. Nostalgia for the old often brings back many of the older hymns into the current generation. The meaning in the lyrics and the music of each collection of hymns is dependant upon that particular, organized, religious, historical and social context of the congregation, as the congregation consists of a people who are both singers of hymns and listeners to the hymns.
The “Bay Psalm Book” was the first American hymn book published by Puritans in Cambridge, Mass. in 1640.
Finally, Baptist Hymn number 510 is perhaps one of the most stirring of all American Hymns. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Julia Ward Howe’s beautiful and poetic folk song, tells us that wisdom, strength, honor and courage all belong together, and also that God and his glorious wisdom are, “on the march.” Our response can only be, “Glory, glory, Hallelujah!”
Michael Hickey is a local writer and poet who lives in Pelican Bay and Swampscott, Mass. His book, “Get Wisdom,” is published by Xlibris Div. Random House Publishing and is available at 1-888-795-4274 Ext. 822, at www.Xlibris.com, or your local bookstore. E-mail Mike Hickey at Mikehic@nii.net.
By Michael Hickey
This I ask-
This I pray-
As I pass you
Not hearing your cry
left to die
Not binding your wound
Forgive my not seeing
Me in the one
Who needs freeing
You in the one
Who needs healing