A Clearer Vision

O God of Earth and Altar 

O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter.
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide;
Take not Thy thunder from us;
But take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men;
From sale and profanation
Of honor and the sword;
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord.

Tie in a living tether,
The prince and priest and thrall;
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to Thee.

Powerful, unabashed words, aren’t they? This is actually a hymn (For music, click here) out of Cantus Christi, the hymnal my church uses. One of the things I appreciate about Cantus Christi is the range of the hymnody. From the Psalms through the latin 3rd century chants and confessions, and up to 2000 AD, the collection is meaty in conception and musically challenging at times. Most Sunday mornings I must wipe tears from my face and assure my fellow worshippers that I’m fine, only that I cannot stop tears that rise from the many hymns of bold truth and the beauty of fitly strung words. They sing faith and conviction into my heart. “O God of Earth and Altar” is one of those hymns.

When would you think it was written? In some ways it seems ancient and in other ways like this morning’s news. The immediacy of the issues for our day is undeniable.

-1906-   The music is  from a tune called Kings Lynn described as “traditional English melody. ” The words were penned by G.K. Chesterton, a prolific writer whose work is cataloged by Wikipedia as “…around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and several plays. He was a literary and social critic, historian, playwright, novelist, Catholic theologian and apologist, debater, and mystery writer. He was a columnist for the Daily News, the Illustrated London News, and his own paper, G. K.’s Weekly; he also wrote articles for the Encyclopædia Britannica, including the entry on Charles Dickens and part of the entry on Humour in the 14th edition (1929). His best-known character is the priest-detective Father Brown, who appeared only in short stories, while The Man Who Was Thursday is arguably his best-known novel. He was a convinced Christian long before he was received into the Church, and Christian themes and symbolism appear in much of his writing.”

Chesterton is someone that, as a Christian and a writer, I’d like to know more about.


4 thoughts on “A Clearer Vision

  1. Susan Kaye

    I’ve always loved the fact Chesterton pointed out how popular fiction–penny dreadfuls is the term he used–were probably more influential than anything coming from the accepted intellectual writers of his time. Along with T. S. Eliot, he knew when you relax and enjoy, you are susceptible to the lessons, intended or not, of a piece of fiction.

    Also, that’s a beautiful hymn. Thanks, Pamela.


  2. Laura Hile

    Oh, I collect Chesterton quotations. Few have his ability to say what needs to be said with such wit and clarity.

    And … I have a volume with all of the Father Brown novels. I’ll bring it the next time we get together. 🙂


  3. Gayle Mills

    Absolutely lovely.

    Three different arrangements of a hymn whose words could be ripped from the pages of today’s newspapers.

    Thanks, Pamela, for a beautiful reminder that our hope for change lies in Him who created the universe.


  4. Robin Helm

    Wonderful post, Pamela. I have always admired Chesterton. Like Laura, I am quite familiar with the Father Brown novels. I also know his work as an apologist. Thank you for sharing the wonderful music. I was not aware of that side of his creativity.



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