Hump Day Hymns: Abide with Me


Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see.
O Thou, who changes not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless:
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting?  Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies:
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
-Henry F. Lyte (1793-1847)

One of my favorite categories of hymns are the evening hymns.  There is something very spiritual about the evening as the daylight wanes and the darkness creeps in.  Many ancient cultures and civilizations have placed a special emphasis on the cycle of day/night, often seeing it as a battle between the powers of light and the powers of darkness.

In my own Christian tradition, however, there is no battle in heaven as God reigns over not only the day but the night; God appointed not only the greater light to rule over the day but also the lesser light to rule over the night. Therefore, the spiritual nature of night has to do with the great cycles of the Christian faith: death and rebirth.

Sleep can be a fear-filled time, particularly for young children.  It is a time in which the world disappears, in which we almost cease to exist.  Sleep is a time in which the world continues around us but we are not a part of that world. Despite the fact that we often explain death to young children as “going to sleep,” this is a terrible explanation, because it will increase the already existent anxiety regarding sleep.

Evening is a time which we can reflect on death.  The day is ending, but we have faith that a new day will begin. It is a time in which we typically rest from our labors and prepare for the next day. It is a time in which we offer to God all that which we have done and all that which we have left undone.  Furthermore, it is a time in which we prepare to commend our future into the hands of God.

Night is a time which is often understood to be less safe.  There are certain neighborhoods where one does not want to be alone at night, because crime greatly increases after nightfall.  Night is a time in which we have limited vision, limited view, a time in which we have limited contact with the world. It is, therefore, a time in which we hold our lives before God and ask for protection and security.

I confess that I often have a rather mechanistic view of the world.  I know that the sun will come up tomorrow because of the way that the earth tilts and rotates around the sun.  I know that my alarm clock will wake me at precisely six o’clock in the morning, and I will be able to start my next day. However, when one thinks about it, a new day is never a guarantee, it is always based on hope and trust.  I trust that God will continue to rotate the earth in such a way that the sun will rise the next morning, and I have hope that God will raise me in the morning to a new day.

This hymn ranks among my favorites because it expresses a ubiquitous human experience: fear.  I sometimes hear from other Christians and even other pastors that fear is the antithesis of faith, which makes me think that if I fear, I lack faith.  However, this hymn expresses just the opposite.  Perhaps fear and faith are not contradictory, but rather, can compliment one another.

Several times in scripture people are told some variant of, “Do not be afraid.” We read, “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice…” (2 Timothy 1:7a, NRSV).  It is true that fear is not what God desires for us and fear need not be our end.  However, as this hymn illustrates, fear is able to be the catalyst for expressions of faith and trust.  The first two stanzas express this wonderfully:

Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see.
O Thou, who changes not, abide with me.

I fear many things: I fear death, I fear the future, I fear what is going to become of me and my family, and I fear that my community will not become a community of peace and wholeness.  It is what comes after this fear that makes the difference.  Does this fear drive me toward despair as the end?  Or does this fear drive me toward trust in God’s promises and earnest pleas, “Abide with me!”?

It is for these reasons that I find evening to be a very sacred time, as I reflect upon death and new life. I often fear what might happen when I sleep. Perhaps I will not wake up; perhaps the seeming-mechanism of the universe will stop; perhaps there will be an unknown threat to my safety.  However, I can ultimately not care for myself, I must trust that God will care for me. I must trust that when I cannot keep watch, God will keep watch for me and with me. I must trust that God will create and prepare a new day for me and that just as the light waned and the darkness crept in, so also will the light chase away the darkness. I must trust that God will raise me to this new day.

In the same way, I must trust that although things may seem dark, the light of God will chase away the darkness, and just as the night time cannot overcome the piercing light of the morning sun, neither can the darkness that we experience overcome the light of God.

2 thoughts on “Hump Day Hymns: Abide with Me

  1. Jeannie Prinsen

    One evening many years ago when I was a university student, a friend and I went for a walk near her residence. It was my birthday. And there on the hillside near the dorm was a small group of people and they were singing this hymn:
    1. Day is dying in the west;
    heaven is touching earth with rest;
    wait and worship while the night
    sets the evening lamps alight
    through all the sky.
    Refrain:
    Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts!
    Heaven and earth are full of thee!
    Heaven and earth are praising thee,
    O Lord most high!

    2. Lord of life, beneath the dome
    of the universe, thy home,
    gather us who seek thy face
    to the fold of thy embrace,
    for thou art nigh.
    (Refrain)

    3. While the deepening shadows fall,
    heart of love enfolding all,
    through the glory and the grace
    of the stars that veil thy face,
    our hearts ascend.
    (Refrain)

    4. When forever from our sight
    pass the stars, the day, the night,
    Lord of angels, on our eyes
    let eternal morning rise
    and shadows end.
    (Refrain)

    I’ve never forgotten that sacred moment. We never asked the singers who they were or why they were singing on the hill. Sometimes now when I think of it I wonder was it a dream? Were they angels?

    Unlike “Abide With Me,” there is no fear in this song — just some poignancy in the last line as we imagine the stars and day & night themselves passing away. Yet the theme you discuss seems to be the same here: God’s light chases away the darkness, and we tust Him for hope in each new day. Thank you for sharing and (tangentially) reminding me of a precious moment in life.

    Reply

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