02 October 2006
driving home deep in the night Bob listens to a hymn, and now filches it
I love listening to the radio on a long drive, particularly in the middle of the night. The band below 91.9 FM usually contains college radio, public radio and, more and more frequently, religious -- i.e. Christian -- i.e. mostly Protestant -- radio, although the Roman Catholic church has ambitious footholds in FM.
Here in this region of FM, missionaries and evangelists are still battling gently and politely for your mind and soul -- there's little hellfire and brimstone on these stations -- and their most powerful tool is a body of music of unimaginable sweetness and the simplest major-key harmony, with a promise, never violated, of absolutely no musical surprises or challenges.
A young soprano with a perfect voice -- perfect like alabaster -- backed by a string ensemble of perfect harmony and relentlessly perfect rhythm -- sang this hymn. In the deep of the night on a dark country road in upstate New York, with her voice my only contact with another human being, she had my complete attention. It was simultaneously antiseptic and mesmerizing.
Here, somewhat predictably, the MIDI is impersonating a church organ.
Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling
Words and Music by Will L. Thompson (1880)
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling
Calling for you and for me
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching
Watching for you and for me
Come home, come home
You who are weary, come home
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling
Calling, O sinner, come home!
Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies
Mercies for you and for me?
Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing
Passing from you and from me
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming
Coming for you and for me
O for the wonderful love He has promised
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon
Pardon for you and for me
"He's calling you!"
-- Mark 10:49
When the world-renowned lay preacher, Dwight Lyman Moody, lay on his death bed in his Northfield, Massachusetts [about 20 miles north of me; Moody invented a thin, cheap, durable rice paper for mass-printing inexpensive Bibles, made a fortune, and founded the private boys' school Northfield Academy, and its sister school for girls, Mount Hermon Academy] home, Will Thompson made a special visit to inquire as to his condition. The attending physician refused to admit him to the sickroom, and Moody heard them talking just outside the bedroom door. Recognizing Thompson’s voice, he called for him to come to his bedside. Taking the Ohio poet-composer by the hand, the dying evangelist said, "Will, I would rather have written 'Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling' than anything I have been able to do in my whole life."
(Emurian, p. 109)
This hymn was sung in the 1985 Academy Award winning movie, "The Trip to Bountiful," and at a memorial service for American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, 8 April 1968.