John HuldenBy Rev. John Hulden, Assistant to the Bishop

I took piano lessons from my dear, dear Mother. Besides being the church organist/soloist/choir director in many of my dad’s parishes, my Mom also had many piano students. I’m sure I was her worst student. I never practiced. Ever.

My guess … by the time she got me to take out the garbage, clean my room, and put away the clean dishes, I totally ignored her calls for me to practice piano. But my Mom is brilliant. She bought me easy-to-play pop music. So yes, I mastered — all on my own, I thought — the “easy” arrangement of “Classical Gas”. (Here’s the original)

On our piano, besides sheet music, a copy of the red hymnal (the ol’ SBH) always sat opened. Evidently bored with “easy” pop music, I paged through the hymns. I got to #129. There it was, a short and easy-to-play hymn: “Spirit of God, descend upon my heart.” (It was in the key of “C” … with really simple chords!)

I mastered SBH #129.

And my young self, became intrigued with the words……..enchanted even.hymnal-2

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.

This was not how I talked as a ten-year-old. This was, well, poetry…

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.


IN THESE LAST FEW YEARS of going to worship more than leading worship, I’ve grown to appreciate two things. (And I really enjoy visiting congregations for worship in our Minneapolis Area Synod!) I crave passion and mystery in worship.

Worship is central. As worship leaders, we need to care deeply about what we are doing “up there” — and it is a beautiful thing when that passion shows. And of course, we don’t have all the answers. There is no perfect worship service. God is there. We, the people, doing the work of the people, that is, liturgy, are there. And it is a beautiful thing when there is space and time for mystery.

On our piano, besides sheet music, a copy of the red hymnal (the ol’ SBH) always sat opened.

I invite you to pay attention to the words that go along with our music. I’m hoping that, even as the dark days of winter get even darker in the weeks ahead, maybe a little poetry will … take the dimness of my soul away.


P.S. Thanks Mom!