Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart

My three pleasant years as organist of First United Methodist Church in Saint Clair introduced me to robust congregational singing and impassioned hymnody. They didn't get more than 30 or 40 at a Sunday service, but you wouldn't have known it with your eyes closed.

Down the block at Bethlehem Baptist's annual St. David's Day Welsh Hymn Sing (Gymanfu Ganu), congregants and guests even harmonized! There I learned my preferred tune for "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name," ("Diadem," not "Coronation"), which I have never heard a Catholic parish use.

I am grateful without measure for the gift of Christ's Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, of course, and it was during a Monday morning Holy Hour where one of my favorites from that era returned to me, as periodically it does.

The tune "Morecambe" is the standard setting for "Spirit of God, Descend Upon my Heart" (tune ascribed to Frederick Cook Atkinson, words to George Croly). No hymn has better expressed my heart's desire in prayer, and it (rather, He, the Spirit) sparked this article.

"Spirit of God, descend upon my heart; wean it from earth, through all its pulses move; / Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art, and make me love Thee as I ought to love."

It is unrealistic to think we will "become fire" all at once, as if one prayer session rewards the secret elevator inside the interior castle. The image of weaning illustrates God's sense of when and how to diversify each child's divine diet.

"I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies, no sudden rending of the veil of clay, / No angel visitant, no opening skies; but take the dimness of my soul away."

With the "veil of clay," I think of how Saint Paul encouraged the Romans to "present [their] bodies as...spiritual worship" (12:1). Flesh has the honor of conveying spirit, as spirit is worthy of expression in flesh.

Yet the transmission suffers some static. Very few receive unmistakable messages for ourselves or others, and it is unrealistic to expect any. Whatever delight the sluggish soul takes in the earliest offerings of solid food, we get too soon used to it. My kingdom for a crumb of clarity!

"Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King? All, all Thine own--soul, heart, and strength, and mind. / I see Thy cross--there teach my heart to cling: / O let me seek Thee, and O let me find!"

This hymn gets down pat the first half of the Greatest Commandment (cf. Matthew 22:35-40 and parallels). We must look to the crucified Christ for the clearest demonstration of the love than which there is no whicher (cf. John 15:13).

I am glad that my Church and others "lift high the [occupied] cross" to display the Lord's dual legacy of love and suffering, both on His part and ours. Let no inconvenience, hardship, or malady go unmined for grace; when a good deed is on my block, let me run as to Mister Softee.

"Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh; teach me the struggles of the soul to bear, / To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh; teach me the patience of unanswered prayer."

Here is the proverbial rub: God isn't always nigh. Ask the aforementioned Crucified One. We will wonder when results are all-too-typical, and the sigh is especially audible when the consequences of our own actions are at the door.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch called "consolation" and "desolation" the alternating experiences of God in the house or out to lunch. Why didn't I get the schedule? Only Jesus knew when "the hour has come" (John 12:23), and marched toward it with understandable dread.

"Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love, one holy passion filling all my frame; / The kindling of the heaven-descended Dove, my heart an altar, and Thy love the flame."

Non sumus angeli, one priestly commentator pointed out on an old series that would have been great for YouTube. Curiosity customarily gets the better of me, and beneficially for once: Father Leo Clifford's succinct "Reflections" have been uploaded. The low quality is refreshing.

No, we are not angels. But the Holy Spirit, Who came once as flames, once as fowl, and once as flow, is stoked to settle within us. Not that He intends for us a sedentary satisfaction: flames spread, and this Consuming Fire takes no prisoners as He breaks all chains.


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