One of my Methodist mentors is Jane Manton Marshall (b. 1924). She is a composer and force of nature. I never studied with her but sang beneath her conducting baton and got to know her during my Texas Methodist days on television in the 1990s.
Those fortunate enough to study sacred music and theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and the Perkins School of Theology, located on the SMU campus, sat at Jane’s feet both musically and theologically.
In The Hymnal 1982 we have three of Jane’s hymn tunes, namely Hymns 242 (Jacob), Hymn 466 (also Jacob but with a different text), and Hymn 589 (Walden). Hymn 466 is one of my all-time favorite hymns, “Eternal light, shine in my heart,” of which we also have Jane’s anthem setting in our parish choral library.
Look at Jane’s word painting in the actual construction of Hymn 589, “Almighty God, your word is cast like seed upon the ground.” The melody actual drops downward in thirds, just like walking along and planting seeds. The note heads themselves even look like little seeds!
Years ago at a choral anthem reading session, Jane said to me, “Whenever you see a Jaroslav Vajda text, you need to sit down immediately and read it.”
Hence this Sunday’s anthem and the “turn” in this blog.
Jaroslav Jan Vajda (1919-2008) was an American hymnist and Lutheran pastor. His parents, John and Maria, were of Slovak descent. Dr. Vajda served Lutheran parishes in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Missouri and worked as an editor and book developer for Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis. He received eight honorary doctorates and was named a Fellow of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.
He received musical training as a child and began translating Slovak poetry at age 18. Alhough he is the author of more than 225 hymn texts and translations, he did not write his first hymn text until he was 49. From then until his death at 89, he wrote original texts that now appear in more than 65 hymnals in this country.
Our 5:30 Sunday evening worshippers will immediately recognize his text, “Go, my children, with my blessing,” as it is a favorite and staple. This hymn is also sung regularly in St. Mary’s Episcopal School's Eucharistic celebrations, held in our Nave as its daily school chapel.
Sunday morning’s 10:30 anthem, “Remember, Lord, the times you called me,” is one of the anthems to which Jane Marshall introduced me (commanded that I read). The musical setting by James Engel (1925-1989) is not a complicated one but a worthy one, as it allows this text to speak to us in an unencumbered manner.
Whenever the Gospel reading calls us “to get up and follow Jesus,” I think of this text. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus calls Philip to follow him. Philip tells Nathanael, who is skeptical but finally comes around to acknowledge who Jesus is.
Some will feel that this text is too casual in the way it addresses the Lord, but I find it inspirational, challenging, fresh and personal:
Remember, Lord, the times you called me to be your follower and friend?
Your words, your cause, your self enthralled me; you gave my life a source and end.
My first communion and my vow! How is our friendship now?
I dare not claim a special favor for deeds heroic, much less due.
I need an understanding Savior, I need a patient friend like you.
I need someone to take me back, restore the joy I lack.
There still are souls and bodies crying for help and healing, life and peace.
You saved the fruitless tree from dying, you promised prisoners release.
Like Peter, Saul, and Magdalen, make me all new again.
Forgiving Father, giving Savior, renewing Spirit, keep your word:
give me a foretaste of forever, where love and joy are never blurred.
With pride and weakness gone for good, I’ll thank you as I should.
Written in 1988, Vajda entitled this text, A Hymn for Lay Renewal. In addition to being called by Jesus, this text would most certainly work for Confirmation or any other occasion that celebrates the laity.
Jane was correct and still is. Whenever you encounter a Jaroslav Vajda text, sit down immediately and read it. I did and was inspired. Thanks, Jane.