"This is my Father's world,
And to my list'ning ears;
All nature sings and 'round me rings
The music of the spheres."
-- Maltbie Babcock
Maltbie Babcock loved the outdoors. He also loved music, sports and his calling as a pastor. Fortunately, he found a way to fit all his favorite things into his life.
While serving an upstate New York church, Babcock often "wrote" his sermons while hiking the countryside or holding a fishing rod in his hands. On any fair weather day, he was likely to close his books, strap on his running shoes and announce, "I'm going out to see my Father's world."
So it's not surprising that this God and nature-loving pastor would write the hymn, This Is My Father's World. With phrases like, "The birds their carols raise... the morning light, the lily white, declare their maker's praise," the athletic, singing preacher brought the out of doors into both the sanctuary and the hymnbook.
Although Babcock composed the music as well as the text for some of his hymns, he turned to a colleague for the tune to this hymn. Franklin Sheppard was a composer in his own right, too, but he remembered a spirited English folk melody he thought would be ideal for his friend's text. However, since the tune had an unimpressive title, Sheppard took the liberty of changing it to the Latin phrase, Terra Beata, which in English becomes, "Beautiful Earth," and a perfect companion to Babcock's text.
Ever since I heard this story I've been impressed again by the inspiration we can glean from even the minutia experienced by our forbears, especially in what they make and do, and bequeath to us. As a musician, I am always amazed at the lengths to which an author or composer will go to create a particular work. As author Elizabeth O'Connor addresses in her book, The Eighth Day of Creation, this is the day God's offspring begin to create. Still, she notes, no matter how creative any of us become, our efforts are but ornaments or window dressing to the creation God has already produced.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the accidental evidence of God we often find in the creations of men. But intentional or not, as momentous as those human creations are, it is the underlying "terra beata, music of the spheres" itself that most reveals to the open heart the existence of God.
Can we ever grasp the lengths to which our Creator went to establish the regularity of the sun and seasons? Man may plant and nourish his environment, but can he create even one azalea? Scientists, ever so seldom, may clone a mouse or a sheep, but each experiment to date has been slow, flawed and minus the ability to reproduce itself. Spacecrafts may reach the moon or Mars, but can they or their crews gather bits of dust and rock from a newly explored surface, fling them into space, and add one iota to the universe?
Those who need no convincing that a prime mover we call God is responsible for creating the "spheres" we live among, are quick to direct our thanks to him for our "terra beata." But at times, even for the faithful, the horrors of war and tragedy cloud that creation, causing us to wonder if our world will ever be beautiful again. Will problems in the Middle East ever be solved? Will gas prices drop before inflation creeps into the supermarket? Will sadistic individuals or disease ever stop robbing us of loved ones?
Maltbie Babcock's hymn tells us he had his share of doubts, too. But he also recognized even his beautiful world was still earth, and that those warless, tearless streets of gold we long for are reserved for eternity. Until then, as his final stanza proclaims, all is never lost in nature or human endeavor in his and our "Father's World":
"This is my Father's world, O let me ne'er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet."
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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