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Rejoicing ‘all the rugged way’!

A Christian Science perspective: In celebration of hymns that heal.

I would love to see a Bible with the songs within it musically notated. From Genesis to Revelation there are songs for all occasions: songs of triumph, praise, prophecy; songs of love, gratitude, and healing; songs that tell a story; songs cried out in the middle of trouble. Singing songs to God to lift the spirit was as prevalent back then as it is now.

When my daughter, Laurie, was a child, we picked up the same habit. She was in the Christian Science Sunday School, where I also taught, so we had a full repertoire of hymns in common. We knew that the idea of harmony, which music expresses, can have a healing effect, like in the Bible story when Saul wasn’t well and he had David play the harp for him. As David played his beautiful music, Saul was refreshed – healed – because “the evil spirit departed from him” (I Samuel 16:23). So Laurie and I also turned to hymns – their music and comforting words – for healing inspiration whenever we felt the need.

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Laurie particularly liked the hymn “ ‘Feed My Sheep,’ ” a poem written by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, which is set to music in the “Christian Science Hymnal.” The song begins, “Shepherd, show me how to go/ O’er the hillside steep” (No. 304). The hymn’s lyrics and cadence were a perfect complement while hiking on mountain trails. On one of our outings, Laurie had just scrawled in the register at the top of a 12,900-foot peak, “Laurie only 6 years old,” when a Sierra storm suddenly appeared. Normally we would relax at a summit and take in the view, but we had to get out of there fast. Taking the same trail back would take too long and put us directly in the middle of the storm, so we chose the quickest way straight down a steep glacial moraine – a path made up of small loose rocks and soil from glacial activity thousands of years ago. Every step dislodged a flow of rocks tumbling down the mountainside. It was a scary and dicey descent, but the safest option under the circumstances.

One of the lines of “ ‘Feed My Sheep’ ” goes like this:

“I will listen for Thy voice,
Lest my footsteps stray;
I will follow and rejoice
All the rugged way.”

With Laurie riding piggyback we sang this together. We were counting on the knowledge that God’s presence is always with us. After singing a few stanzas, we felt an uplifted sense of joy and confidence that God was with us.

In Sunday school, we had learned that we could trust our Father-Mother God’s care for us as loved children that He-She always delights in. Our eternal spiritual identity as God’s offspring, as His spiritual ideas, is a truth we can affirm daily. Mrs. Eddy wrote a short prayer called the “Daily Prayer.” It starts, “ ‘Thy kingdom come;’ let the reign of divine Truth, Life, and Love be established in me...” (“Manual of The Mother Church,” p. 41). In Christian Science, Truth, Life, and Love are synonymous terms for God, all-harmonious infinite good. Reaffirming this governance by God in prayer instills a strong trust in ever-present divine intelligence and protection. My daughter and I knew that God – the very Mind “which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5) – was guarding, guiding, and governing us. As we moved down the mountain, divine Mind inspired me to keep up with the tempo of the music and trust God’s care to show me a safe place to plant my feet.

We descended for more than an hour as the mountain got colder and colder, the sky darker, and snow whipped our faces and bare legs. But the song kept up our joy. All fear was dispelled, endurance enhanced, and we felt the love of God with us the whole time. We found our way to the warmth of our sleeping bags just before nightfall, and we felt loved and protected, just like those people in the Bible.

Mrs. Eddy included hymns as a central pillar of the church services she established, and wrote, “Whatever inspires with wisdom, Truth, or Love – be it song, sermon, or Science – blesses the human family with crumbs of comfort from Christ’s table, feeding the hungry and giving living waters to the thirsty” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 234).

Everyone can feel the harmonious care and comfort of God in the midst of challenges by singing songs of praise that lift thought to perceive God’s ever-presence.