Visit our new site at

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Those Stanzas Nobody Knows

Today's post comes from ring member Not Fainthearted, who blogs at This Journey. Feel free to leave a comment here or back at her blog!
Most people know, I like to sing. Always have. Even when I thought I was more of an instrumentalist. I was always one of those kids who knew the words to stuff. All the words. Not just the first verse or stanza and refrain.
We have a strange relationship to singing in this country. Even in churches – where it’s often one of the few times the people get to genuinely participate – it is hijacked by someone with a microphone. Either “the band” or the preacher. Often the preacher does the worst part of it by allowing a sensibility to grow that says “We can’t sing all the stanzas. People don’t really like to sing, plus it will make the service go long.”  Never mind that the actual timing of the elements in a worship service don’t bear that out.
As a result, we’ve lost touch with a pretty impressive body of literature and poetry.
Take these two stanzas for instance. Most everyone could manage to limp their way through the first stanza without benefit of the hymnal (or projection screen. gag.) How many even know the hymn could speak so beautifully and directly into our present day?
And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow;
look now, for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing;
oh, rest beside the weary road
and hear the angels sing!
Comforting, poetic and inviting rest. Who doesn’t want a little invitation to rest this time of year? Rest and enjoy the beauty of a free concert. What’s not inviting about that?
I like the last stanza too as it speaks of hope and the idea of peace winning out and our getting to join the music of the spheres unreservedly. Some day, anyway.
For lo! The days are hastn’ing on,
by prophets seen of old,
when with the ever-circling years
shall come the time foretold,
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and all the world give back the song
which now the angels sing.
Do you know the Christmas carol? Did you remember those stanzas?


  1. I knew them--and surprisingly, my basically unwilling to sing congregation LOVES it came upon the midnight clear! I'm the child of a one preacher and another preacher/musical director, so I have an advantage, but still--why wouldn't you sing all the stanzas? We sing all of them!

  2. I'm serving a church where people frequently suggest singing fewer verses to keep the service shorter. I explain that the interior verses often carry the important meaning of the hymn. Now I've heard some of them answering each other with that piece of information, which pleases me. :-)

  3. Love this song! I always argue it's better to complete the theological thought of the song than to sing lots of songs, so we sing all the verses. Often, immediately after hymn, I point out something in it that we might wrestle with or by which we might be inspired. Thanks for this post.

  4. THose verses are why that carol is one of my faves.

    Generally I am against removing stanzas. But realy who wants to sing all 7 verses of O Come O COme Emmanuel? OR all the verses of the First Nowell {mind you I am happy just not to sing that one AT ALL]

    When a piece has more than 5 or 6 stanzas then one has to start to wonder why we need to sing them all. Not because of time but because often (imo) they start to drag by then.

  5. I have heard it argued that singing all the stanzas is a Protestant affectation. Argued by non-Protestant Christians, obviously. I thought it was funny! Much puzzled as a child to know what kind of entity a "midnight clear" might be...

  6. It Came Upon has never been one of my favorite carols -- but this year, I looked closely at the words and stanzas, and they are stunning! I haven't formed my Christmas Eve sermon yet, but I plan to use this hymn; I'm thinking of all the bending in it -- the angels bending low, the bending we do under our crushing load. Looking forward to it!

  7. I don't remember ever singing this carol. it is in the service of scripture and song from Brian Wren we are using on 1st January.

  8. Crimson Rambler, I used to wonder about "gates of pearl streams."

    Our congregation does generally sing all the verses that are in the hymnal, which of course isn't always all that exist. During Advent and Christmas, especially, we sing a lot because those songs have long connected people to their faith. This is the time of year when lyric revisions are most obvious, because on Christmas Eve I have people singing from memory three or four divergent versions.

    I have used the the first stanza referenced as an Advent benediction, just spoken with the music behind it. It's beautiful.

  9. Love that carol and those stanzas! As for me, I say Sing Them All!

  10. Posting late here...but thank you for the moment of stillness as I read the words. I was one of those kids too--one who knew all the words. Still do. And hymnbooks went away in my denom a long time ago, and I miss them. I cringe, more so this month than ever, as the words on the screen (I'm okay with that) are scrolling in front of something totally irrelevant, like leaves blowing or..whatever. Now that gags me. I say, sing them all. And I also say....but no one hears me...sing hymns. Sing the Christmas hymns. Not one, maybe, and then three choruses that we sing all year long. Make this season special and insighftful any way you can. Ah, SOngbird, you hit a nerve with me, I expect. I feel like a dinosaur. And it is sad that so much richness is lost.

  11. We sing hymns and we sing all the verses.

    Recently our interim rector (who has been ordained 58 years) told the congregation, "Even if you are not going to sing, the words of hymns are important. They are a prayer. I want everyone to get out a hymnal and open it to the right page and read along, if you aren't going to sing. If you just stand there, you are saying to the rest of the congregation, 'I won't pray with you.'".

    We are not much on whooping in church so I refrained, but I wanted to.

  12. MB, I LOVE what your interim rector said! My parish is not so much on singing, and when I Iook out and see people just standing there, looking around during hymns it is a real downer. I'm going to use this response somehow, some way!


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.