Friday, February 22, 2013

Faith and Experience

“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears…”

Our life experiences will shape how we understand our faith. Back in 2008 when the Rev. Joseph Lowery began the benediction at the first presidential inauguration of Barack Obama he opened with the words, “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears…” he was quoting from a hymn. The hymn was “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by James Weldon Johnson. That hymn, first performed in 1900 during a ceremony commemorating Lincoln’s birthday, became known as “The Negro National Anthem.” It was moving to see the white-haired gentleman pray those words which seemed to reflect his experience and that of so many others. Here is the hymn in its entirety. The third verse is the one used in Rev. Lowery’s prayer.  

Lift Every Voice and Sing
By James Weldon Johnson

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

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