Posted by: rcottrill | March 19, 2018

How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place

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Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.

Words: from the Scottish Psalter of 1650
Music: McKee, by Harry Thacker Burleigh (b. Dec. 2, 1866; d. Sept. 12, 1949)

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (history of hymn tune McKee)

Note: The text of this hymn is from Scripture, but let’s focus on the music for a few moments. One of the tunes used for this hymn is McKee (which is also used with the hymn In Christ There Is No East or West). The melody was taken from an African American slave song, and the arranger was Henry (“Harry”) Burleigh.

Harry Burleigh was an African American classical composer, and a fine baritone singer. His grandfather, Hamilton Waters, had been a slave. Waters, who also had a wonderful voice, worked in Erie, Pennsylvania as a lamplighter of the gas street lights. As his grandson assisted him, walking from street to street, he would teach the boy all the Spirituals by which the slaves had expressed their faith in God.

Later, Harry attended the National Conservatory of Music, in York City. The director, in those days was Czech composer Antonín Dvořák. The two men became friends, and Dvořák asked Burleigh to teach him the old songs. He said, “In the negro melodies of America I discovered all that is needed for a great and noble school of music,” and he wove the musical style into some of his compositions.

Eventually, Harry Burleigh became a noted composer in his own right. He served on the faculty of the Conservatory, and became a founding member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), where he sat on its board of directors. The American Episcopal Church even has a feast day in his honour (Sept. 11).

Part of his enduring legacy is the Spirituals he rescued from obscurity, and the many African American singers he promoted (such as Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson) and some of whom coached over the years. Though hardly known today, he had a tremendous influence on the music of his people in the early part of the twentieth century. Nobody Knows, by Craig Busek, is a book about his life (subtitled: “the forgotten story of one of the most influential figures in American music”).

Sparrows are likely the commonest of our wild birds. They’re a familiar sight over the greater part of the world. North and South America, Europe and Asia, Africa and Australia, all have them. They’re small creatures, and most species wear a rather plain dun coat, and lack the colourful plumage of some that visit our neighbourhood bird feeders.

Sparrows have become a symbol of what is small, and weak, and relatively insignificant. In Bible times, they were sold as the food of the very poor. This makes the words of the Lord Jesus especially meaningful: “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will [i.e. without His knowledge and consent]” (Matt. 10:29).

Small, weak, and relatively unworthy of notice, but always under the gaze of a loving heavenly Father. After the words quoted, the Lord moves His argument from the lesser to the greater. If God cares about each tiny sparrow, think of this: “The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (vs. 30-31).

The Old Testament psalmist also draws comfort from these little birds.

“How lovely is Your tabernacle [Your dwelling place], O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young–even Your altars, O Lord of hosts, My King and my God” (Ps. 84:1-4).

In the most sacred place in all of Israel, where the altar of sacrifice was, and the altar of incense, the birds found a place to nest. It’s a sign of the kindness of God that they were there, and it should be a great encouragement to each of us in our spiritual journey.

The Scottish Psalter of 1650 renders the verses of Psalm 84:1-4 beautifully as a hymn.

CH-1) How lovely is Thy dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts to me!
The tabernacles of Thy grace
How pleasant, Lord, they be!

CH-2) My thirsty soul longs ardently,
Yes, faints Thy courts to see;
My very heart and flesh cry out,
O living God, for Thee.

CH-3) Behold the sparrow findeth out
A house wherein to rest;
The swallow also, for herself,
Provided, hath a nest.

1) What lessons can you draw from God’s care of little sparrows?

2) Is there someone you know who is weak and vulnerable, whom you could encourage?

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (history of hymn tune McKee)


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