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Sundays during the coronavirus pandemic isolation often seemed little different than other days. I baked sourdough, cooked meals, cleaned up the kitchen, and read. But listening to Hymns Old and New on Spotify gave the day a bit more of a Sabbath feel.

Often, I stopped simply to listen. So many of the tunes brought me back to a sweet moment, a loved face, or a poignant memory. And as I reflected, other hymns floated to the surface and stirred memories.

When I was a child, we attended afternoon services at church much of the year. Our Sunday nights at home were more leisurely than other nights. One tradition we followed was singing around the table after eating. We each picked a song. Dad often chose “This is My Father’s World.” No one described him as a great singer, but when he sang “his hand the wonders wrought,” I imagined him early mornings sitting on the tractor looking over the fields and giving thanks to God.

Mom often chose “My God How Wonderful Thou Art” and she believed it. For years she led the Willing Workers, a women’s Bible study and service group. Her knowledge of scripture and deep faith gave no doubt that Mom feared her “Living God, with deepest tend’rest fears.” We sang this song at her funeral and I could sweetly recall her soprano voice around the table on Sunday nights.

I often chose the chorus “Safe Am I.” There are many days during COVID 19 when I’ve needed to feel “Sheltered o’er” where “no ill can harm me.” These days, I don’t actually agree with the theology of this song. As an older adult, I know ill can harm me, but I also know God will not desert me.

Some of the hymns I’ve heard reminded me of the Sunday School papers of my childhood that included a stanza from a hymn. On Sunday mornings, I had to recite my Bible memory work and that stanza before eating. Some stanzas were definitely easier than others. I am not surprised that I struggled with the one that started with “O Lord, How Manifold the works in wisdom wrought by Thee.” I still don’t use the words manifold or wrought much. And the sentence structure is just plain awkward.

One Sunday I listened to the whole song “Sweet Hour of Prayer” before I remembered why the tune felt so familiar. In my only moderately successful piano lesson days, I learned to play this hymn first. No sharps, no flats, no fancy stuff with the left hand. I played it many times. Now I am thankful that prayer does “call me from a world of care.”

When I graduated from a small Christian school, my eighth grade class chose “O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee” as the class song. We used chicken wire on a wood frame, stuffing lavender and white tissue paper in the holes, to form those words on a sign to hang in church for the ceremony. We believed all would be well if we promised to walk with our Master.

A few hymns reminded me of how Mom filtered the words of hymns through her theological screen. Anything suggesting we chose God before he chose us just did not make it past her biblical standards. Mom is gone now and I felt a bit of joy that I can now admit I kind of like “In the Garden” and like to imagine coming to the “garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses” and talking and walking with God.

Not all the hymns stir gentle memories. My uncle liked “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace” and my Aunt Hattie chose it for his funeral. He made choices in our family that hurt others. I could understand why he might sing, “Nor why, unworthy as I am, he claimed me for his own.” Time, perspective, and grace have helped me forgive, but I also remember my bitter tears falling while singing that song at his funeral.

The Good Friday songs made me weep. In a high school chapel, my English teacher — who knew how to sing as well as teach — sang “Were You There?” I cried and felt embarrassed, but that song still opens my heart. One of my daughter’s short-term boyfriends could sing and entice. He sang “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” at a chapel when I was teaching and I forgave all his other faults just like that. Anyone can sing “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” and I need tissues.

As a German immigrant who always preferred his native language, my father-in-law wasn’t much of a conversationalist or singer, but he liked to hum. When I hear “Rock of Ages,” I remember how that soft hum told me he was walking through the kitchen or waiting for tea at the table.

I like all the verses of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” After our second daughter chose it as a song for guests to sing at her wedding, the younger two chose it too. Now it feels like the Luhrs family wedding song. A wedding truly is an event where “streams of mercy sing God’s praise” and the whole day seems like a “melodious sonnet.”

One Sunday, when I heard “Give Me Jesus,” I told my husband to come and listen. “Play that at my funeral,” he said. I will because I know he really does believe “you can have all this world, just give me Jesus.” For a moment, I grieved just knowing our funerals are closer than our births now.

Some hymns make a full circle. When our third daughter was born, a friend sang “Children of the Heavenly Father,” the same song my nephew sang at Mom’s funeral and a song I have requested for mine. I want all those I love to “safely in his bosom gather’ and I believe “Neither life nor death shall ever, from the Lord his children sever.”

I feel as if I have only just begun. Every hymn stirred a memory in my heart and turned a page somewhere in my book of life experiences. Like old friends, these hymns reminded me of where I have been and who I have known. I will keep listening.

Helen Luhrs

An Iowa woman to the core, Helen Luhrs is a retired high school teacher who lives in the country near Knoxville, Iowa. Helen and Lee have four married daughters, eight grandchildren, a graceful prairie, and a square foot garden.


  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    Oh my goodness, you have opened up a fountain. I think I would have liked your mother. My God How Wonderful thou Art, in The New Christian Hymnal, to St. Ethelreda. We also sang every night at the table, after the Bible reading. It’s where we learned to read, and to read music (my parents kept a stack of hymnals), and to sing harmony ( first singing alto with my mother, then moving to tenor with my dad, in his beautiful voice, then in high school dropping under him as basses). It was an early delight to sing the high tenor notes with my dad on “but I know whom I have believed” and “to keep that which I’ve committed” although I had no idea what that last phrase meant. Thank you so much, Helen Luhrs.

  • James Schaap says:

    With a number of friends who grew up around the continent, but in Christian schools, one night, spontaneously, we started singing old Let Youth Praise Him songs and hymns. We had a great time. I was amazed–and still am–how many of those lyrics were and are permanently secure in memories I didn’t even know I had.

  • Rosalyn De Koster says:

    “Then sings my soul….”
    Helen, you have my heart filled with music this morning. Both my paternal grandparents had “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.” The rolling melodies and harmonies of that song…oh! That is always “all sufficient grace for even me.”
    My young kids had about 4 hymns they will sit down at the piano and “play”. Hearing them sing “Joy the the World” and “How Great Thou Art” always brings me joy.
    Thank you for stirring my memory today.

    • Dean Koopman says:

      I am looking forward to singing “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” with your grandparents in glory.
      It was the song on which I learned to sing bass harmony with that rolling base line.
      It was sung regularly at a summer camp where I worked and vacationed with my family.
      Standing near the trombones and singing right along with them drilled that harmony into my brain.
      Thank the Lord he also used it to drill His truth into my heart, also.

  • Helen P says:

    I remember my older sister and I regularly going into the living room which held our piano – sitting at the bench on Sunday evenings and singing through our church hymnal (called “The Hymnal”both the old and new versions); then we’d get into the old Methodist hymn book my mother had been raised with. On many pieces we would harmonize. It was always such fun.
    I can’t help but think that at times one or both parents must have snuck into the dining room to peek around the doorway to listen better.

  • Clyde Rinsema says:

    Well done, Helen. Your writing brought back many good memories, especially of my mother who would sing hymns with us in the car. Thanks.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    Even though it is no longer the way I believe heaven will find us occupied, I will always miss singing “prostrate before thy throne to lie, and gaze and gaze on Thee”, from My God How Wonderful Thou Art. There was something transcendent about the amazing thought of being before the King, Savior, Father, Son, Holy Spirit that would drop us to our faces in utter awe and silent worship.

  • Carla Dittmer says:

    Thank you, Helen for a trip back in time. “Old”hymns and especially their messages mean so much more to me now than they did when I sang them regularly. I am so grateful for the music of my youth.

  • Jill Fenske says:

    Thank you for opening this treasure store today.
    When my father died I was sent, as the seminary student, to plan the funeral service. When it came to hymns the Pastor asked what my favorite hymn was. Was and is “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna”. After much discussion of the “rightness” of the hymn for a funeral I relented. As a pastor of a local congregation, the gathered community can always count of that hymn on Palm Sunday these days. It is also on my personal “funeral” list.
    “Oh may we ever praise Him, with heart and mind and voice, and in His blissful presence eternally rejoice. ”
    Not bad for a funeral hymn after all.

  • Jeff Barker says:

    Beautiful! These memories are fields waiting for worship designers to harvest. By the way, “Safe Am I” has been one of my favorites since childhood, and I have been set free to embrace its hyperbolic “No ill can harm me” by such like-minded refrains as Psalm 62’s “I shall never be shaken.”

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Thank you so much, Helen. My family were not singers, and I know I missed something. I may have the worst voice ever created, and I can’t hold a tune, but I once sat next to my pastor for worship, and he was just as bad, maybe a bit worse, but he belted out the hymn with such gusto, it drew out my shame and sent it on its way. I sing with every ounce of joy I can, and pray both that others might not hear me, and that they will, for if I can set aside my shame, maybe they can too.
    As for funeral songs, we sang “His Eye is on the Sparrow” at my grandfather’s funeral. I think I made it through the first two verses before I could not keep the tears from silencing my singing. We sang “It is well with my soul” at my grandmother’s funeral. I don’t think I made it through the first verse before I broke down with a grief so overwhelming my entire body ached. To this day I can’t sing it without tears flowing down. It is amazing both the power of songs and their expression of a deep faith we may not even know we have. Thank you.

  • David E Timmer says:

    Thanks, Helen, for unlocking a trove of memories. My family’s hymn repertoire was rooted in those CRC stalwarts, the Psalter Hymnal and Let Youth Praise Him. A particular favorite of mine, and a true CRC original, was By the Sea of Crystal, despite the whiff of dispensational eschatology in the second verse. One song that wasn’t on our playlist back then, but has now come to stand in my mind for all those that were, is How Can I Keep From Singing? It echoes Crystal’s “jubilant chorus” with “the sweet, though far off hymn that hails a new creation.”

    • Daniel J Meeter says:

      Yes, that is uniquely CRC, written by Dominee William Kuipers in the parsonage at the Summer Street Christian Reformed Church of Passaic, New Jersey.

  • Phil says:

    A couple of years ago I stumbled across a little girl named Ava Bright Lee. She was a pretty amazing person and her family too. During her fight against cancer her mom posted a duet of the two of them singing Give Me Jesus. I still weep when I watch it. And like your husband I’d like it to be played someday at my funeral. If you have a moment, it’s worth watching little Ava pour herself into its testimony. Read the words alongside the video too if you get a chance.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you for sharing this Phil. What a beautiful video of a very special child pouring her heart out on this beautiful rendition of a song that I’ve always loved.

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Helen, for the memories of our youth. We, too, had family devotions after our supper meal. My older brother (in his teens) was usually anxious to wrap it up so he could meet up with friends. At this point my parents would often choose as a closing hymn, “Yield Not to Temptation.” He, as well as the rest of us did our share of yielding, but not without forgiveness.

  • Jane says:

    Thanks, Helen, for sharing these memories.
    Jane K.

  • Jane says:

    Thanks, Helen, for sharing these memories.
    Jane K.

  • Linda Krol Brinks says:

    Thank you Helen for opening so many memories from my youth. I still remember singing in a program for Southwest Christian at Grandville Avenue CRC where I grew up in my early years.
    We sang This is My Father’s World and Ivory Palaces.

    My Lord has garments so wondrous fine,
    And myrrh their texture fills;
    Its fragrance reached to this heart of mine
    With joy my being thrills.

    Out of the ivory palaces,
    Into a world of woe,
    Only His great eternal love
    Made my Savior go.

    His life had also its sorrows sore,
    For aloes had a part;
    And when I think of the cross He bore,
    My eyes with teardrops start.

    In garments glorious He will come,
    To open wide the door;
    And I shall enter my heav’nly home,
    To dwell forevermore.

  • Jane Compton says:

    The Psalms and hymns of the church of my youth—what a fabulous legacy! Thank you for reminding me. We will always have them.

    There are some great “new” ones too—“In Christ Alone”—also unforgettable.

    We are blessed!

  • Barbara Liggett says:

    Wonderful compilation of hymns and memories. So similar to what I heard (given my mother was a church organist) and sang plus my opa’s (grandfather’s) request to sing (in Dutch) Psalm 42 after every Sunday evening meal. Those words and tunes still resound 70 plus years later. Praise God!


  • James Schippers says:

    THANK YOU, Helen for a wonderful refreshing walk down memory lane. Loved all those songs you and others recalled. What a great journal essay to read after a busy day & week. Blessings to you.

  • David Schelhaas says:

    Thank you so much, Helen. Last night my brother and one of my sisters got together and before long we, with our mates, were singing, old songs—“To God Be the Glory” and newer ones. It was a happy hour. By the way, I think I remember that Good Friday chapel.

  • Sue Lemkuil says:

    Thanks, Helen. I can really relate to this. Music has been an important element in my faith walk.

  • Debbie Draayer says:

    This was fun to find! Think I could sing every song in Let Youth Praise Him by memory. I grew up in a very musical family (Mom was a church organist for years) and looked forward to singing from the LYPH book at my Christian School every morning – so sad our children don’t get to do this today. Wish my grandchildren had this tradition so these songs would be in their hearts to recall those needed promises throughout life’s experiences. I often have “Give Said the Little Stream” or “Apples Mellow, Pumpkins Yellow” pop in my mind and, when alone or while rocking babies, will pop out the words and the tune with no hesitation. Such fond memories!

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