With Joy Our Spirits Sing:
The Hymns of Rae E. Whitney
Hymn text collection
Author Rae E. Whitney
Released September 1995
Catalog no. 125-401 (Soft-cover, 128 pp.)
Price $15.00 (U.S.)
Over two-hundred hymn texts of Rae Whitney, a poet whose work has much to say to contemporary Christians. Her retelling of Bible stories, her hymns on living the Christian life, and the texts that gently prod us into action will challenge and sinpire you. All are written with her honest and straightforward style that is fresh, insightful, and imbued with a grace that is finding its way into the hearts of many. 128 pages, soft-cover.
"The author of this collection of more than two hundred contemporary hymns is a member of our Society and the wife of an American Episcopal priest. In the Foreword there is an apt comment that 'Whitney's "bite-sized sermons," enticing the reader with rhyme, deliver the gospel in a unique and effective fashion,' and pointing to 'That King, before whose majesty' as a clear example of her vocational and communicative skill. In this hymn, like others of her works, we are led from the words of a Christian classic (in this case, St. Ephraim the Syrian) to muse on sound Christian doctrine:
The Lord of Lordsa little child
explores his world on hands and knees.
How new the helplessness of God!
the action, terrifying, bold!
Thoughts from Simeon the Potter, Ignatius Loyola, Thomas á Kempis, Julian of Norwich, Hilaire Belloc, William Temple, Thomas More, Mother Teresa, Augustine of Hippo, William Penn, John Clifford, Dag Hammarskjöld and the Glastonbury legend all form springboards for the athletic prowess of her poetic powers. Good examples of this type are 'A Small thing like a hazelnut' (Julian), 'Be a pencil in God's hand' (Teresa), and 'Open your soul to worship God' (Temple).
However, the main source of inspiration is the Scriptures which form the basic canvas on which the author's challenging and thoughtful pictures are embroidered. Sometimes she versifies straightforward biblical narrative as in 'Young Mary lived in nazareth' and sometimes she takes us on a thematic tour as in 'If I take the wings of the morning' where searching Love is present at Eden's tree, Mount Ararat, the Tower of Babel, the courtyard of denial and the potter's field. Verses from Psalm 139 are used as a chorus and Romans 8 as a climax. One hymn about the mountains of transfiguration, crucifixion and ascension expresses thoughts that are spiritually moving but the suggested tune BRINGING IN THE SHEAVES is surely utterly inappropriate for words that stir adoration, wonder and Christian commitment.
There are some commendable sacramental hymns including 'Outward and visible signs of salvation' which expresses lively thoughts about both Baptism and the Eucharist, and 'The fruits of pen and grain and vine' which embraces Word and Sacrament. Cana's sign is plaited with the feeding of the five thousand and the Lord's Supper in 'They have no wine,' while 'Seed-time and harvest meet in Christ' weaves Andrew's ministry of introducing to Christ his brother Simon, the lad with the loaves and fishes, and the Greeks, into a present-day celebration of the Eucharist. Incidentally, Andrew gets several mentions and so it would appear that he is a favourite saint of the author. Mary of Magdala likewise appears on numerous occasions.
Hymnal compilers should take note of this book as some material from the author's pen ought to find its way into present-day church song, although some-such as 'I tried to pick a fig from a thorn tree' and 'O God, to see the world in pain'-would be better in a devotional booklet or a religious magazine. There will be times, too, when an editor will have to choose between works where virtually the same thing is said in both short and long versions, for example, in the five brief verses of 'Village of Joy' and the eight stanzas of 'How far is it to Bethlehem?' However, the longer version gives a better climax:"
And so we come each Christmas Eve [etc.]
Although the hymns are arranged alphabetically by their first lines there are splendid indexes of topics, scripture references and metres to help in the arduos of worship preparation. The publisher, in commending the volume, says 'It is her sensitivity to the human condition and the spiritual needs of people in the late-twentieth century that have made her hymns find their way into more and more hymnals, and into the hearts of those that read and sing them.' Undoubtedly, some of these hymns will find their way into our books and hearts.' HSGBI Bulletin, January 1996
"Nebraska is the home of Cather, Carson, and Cornhuskers and Rae E. Whitney. Whitney's new hymn collection, With Joy Our Spirits Sing, is a gift to the church. She has a way with words and is a good listener as well. many of her texts are based on Scripture, sermons, and her devotional reading.
Many worshipers were introduced to Whitney's work by her paraphrase of the 'Nunc Dimittis,' found in The Hymnal 1982. There are many texts of equal quality in this collection, such as 'That King, Before Whose Majesty,' based on St. Ephraim the Syrian's 'The Harp of the Spirit.' And I cannot think of another hymn that paints so vivid a picture of the closeness between Jesus and Mary as 'Who Better than Mary, His Mother.' 'Be a Pencil in God's Hand' is a series of fresh images of who we can be as servants of God.
There are a total of 235 texts, but my very favorite piece is not a hymn at all, but a poetic tribute to her husband, entitled 'I met My Love in Summer.' It is a gem that makes me want to see more non-hymn poetry she has written.
That there was no biographical information included was an obvious omission for those who may not know her well. The indexing is very thorough and will be very helpful for those who want to make the best use of this book. It is regrettable that new tunes written specifically for these texts were not published, especially the 30 tunes she wrote herself. Aren't tunes part of a hymn or are only texts worthy to be seen! A third complaint is the typesetting. I could hardly get through a line without my eyes blurring. It's hard to give even a great text like 'Grant Us Wisdom to Perceive You' a fair reading when it is one of three texts on a page.
Having said that, I must reinforce that this book should not be missed. Terry York called Whitney's hymns 'bite-sized sermons.' I agree and encourage you to get your own copy of this 'banquet.' " The Hymn, April, 1996
"...devotees of biblical narrative in hymnody will be glad to have Rae Whitney's With Joy Our Spirits Sing." Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians, September 1998
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