Saturday, January 30, 2016

Father, Hear Thy Children's Call

Praise for the Lord #147

Words: Thomas B. Pollock, 1870
Music: GOWER'S LITANY, John H. Gower, 1890

Thomas Benson Pollock (1839-1896) and his brother James Samuel Pollock (1834-1895) were well known in the Church of England of their day for their work at St. Alban the Martyr, Birmingham, ministering to the poor of this large industrial city. James was also a prolific writer on the doctrinal issues of the day (see a list of his works). Thomas, however, has had a more lasting popularity as an author through his contributions to the Anglican liturgy in the form of litanies.

The Pollock brothers grew up in the Isle of Man, sons of a prominent army officer from the Napoleonic wars (Anonymous 3). Both studied at Trinity College of Dublin, where Thomas received his B.A. degree in 1859 and his M.A. in 1863. He was also awarded with the Vice-Chancellor's Prize for English verse. Though Thomas had trained to become a doctor, eventually both brothers took Anglican orders (Anonymous 7-8). Within a few years the elder brother James was taken with the idea of a mission chapel for a largely unchurched area of sprawling Birmingham. Thomas came to join him "for a fortnight," as James once described it, "that has extended to twenty-five years" (Anonymous 11-12). Their anonymous biographer described them as follows:
Men of high intellect, culture, and refinement, more fitted, seemingly for the quiet of a cathedral close or a university quadrangle than for Mission Priests, must have found much that was uncongenial in the grimy slums of Vaughton's Hole. But none could have guessed it, for the heart of each was in S. Alban's (48).
The beginning of their work was not easy, for the Pollock brothers were very much part of the Oxford Movement, which aimed to reinvigorate the Church of England by reconnecting it to its pre-Reformation roots. Some in the community viewed this as returning to Roman Catholicism (which in the famous case of John Henry Newman actually happened). The Pollocks at first faced violent opposition to their more "high church" services in Birmingham, sometimes even to the point of riots, though the fervor eventually died down (Wakeling 261).

With his background in medicine, Thomas was kept busy tending to the sick, and championed sanitation and public health reform (Anonymous 50ff.). But writing seems to have been a compulsion for him, and his witty rhymed "prologues" reviewing the past year's doings in the parish were a highlight of the Christmas season (Anonymous 55). His brother James described Thomas as often walking around the house humming tunes, working out lyrics, to the point that the older brother teasingly warned the younger about the dangers of insanity brought on by compulsive rhyming (Anonymous 80). And if Thomas Pollock was not actually "the inventor of the metrical litany," as his anonymous biographer credited him (72), he was certainly a prominent modern exponent of the form; John Julian called him "a most successful writer," whose works "have greatly enriched modern hymn-books" (2:900). For Julian, this is high praise, and the hymnologist listed no fewer than eleven of Pollock's litanies in his article on the subject (1:677ff.). But Pollock described himself thus: "I am only a rhymer, and I do not profess to be more than a mechanical builder up of lines" (Anonymous 72). The present hymn and other selections provided by his biographer certainly call this humble assessment into question!

The word "litany" may be better known to the general public today through its appropriation as a term for a lengthy list of troubles or complaints, but the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek lexicon shows that λιτανεία (litaneíaLSJ) derives from the verb λιτανεύω (litaneúō), to make an entreaty (LSJ). Its ancient roots are in the very serious business of begging the favor of a ruler (Odyssey 7:145) or a god (Iliad 2:23:196). In the Koine Greek era, the term was used by the author of 2 Maccabees to describe the Jewish nation's prayers to God for deliverance from enemies (3:20, 10:16). The litany as a lengthy listing of supplications, however, is a Christian invention; it emerged in the first few centuries of the church in the form of a prayer in which the leader would make a number of requests of God, each of which was followed by a repeated phrase from the congregation affirming their agreement with what was said (Alexopoulos). (Mershman points to the 135th Psalm as a possible inspiration for this practice, with its retelling of God's deeds punctuated by the phrase "For His mercy endures forever.") An early example of the Christian litany is found in the "Clementine Liturgy" of the 4th-century Apostolic Constitutions, in which each line of a prayer by the deacon is followed by the congregational response, "Lord, have mercy" (Alexopoulos). Litanies came to be used in both the Orthodox and Roman liturgies for special feast days, and in this function became associated with processionals (Mershman).

With the separation of the Church of England during the reign of Henry VIII came an official English language liturgy, developed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1544. This included a litany drawn partly from existing English Catholic traditions, the Orthodox litanies, and from Martin Luther's modifications of Roman Catholic litany tradition. This litany was incorporated into the Book of Common Prayer (Wohlers). During the ebb and flow of "high church" and "low church" squabbles in the Church of England, the lengthy and elaborate litany was often omitted from services, but the Oxford Movement of the 19th century reinstated it a central feature, and in time even more litanies were added. Julian states:
The Metrical Litanies of the modern hymn-books began in 1854 with one or two in rhythmical prose on the Childhood and Passion of Jesus . . . By slow degrees these have been increased . . . until provision has been made for most of the Fasts and Festivals of the Church. . . . 
Amongst the the earliest writers of Metrical Litanies were Dr. F. G. Lee, Dr. Littledale, and G. Moultrie; and amongst the later Bp. H. E. Bickersteth, Sir H. W. Baker, and T. B. Pollock (1:677ff.) 
Pollock's litanies were published in two volumes: Metrical Litanies for Special Services and General Use (1870), and the Litany Appendix (1871). Five of these (and parts of another) were included in the 1875 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, making up fully half of the "Litanies" section at the back of the hymnal. "Father, hear Thy children's call" appears as Hymn 465, the first of two Litanies of Penitence, and appears in three sections: 9 stanzas followed by an Amen, 6 stanzas followed by an Amen, and 9 more stanzas followed by an Amen. Though some of the more liturgical traditions have kept the entire litany in its three sections, over the years most hymnal editors have adapted it into a single hymn by selecting a group of stanzas. Looking over the instances available for view at, it is actually fairly difficult to find two hymnals that have the same set of stanzas.

Though it is often intriguing to examine omitted stanzas, in this case I will just cover those five stanzas that are used in Praise for the Lord (in the original litany: part 1, stanzas 2, 3, 7, and 8, and part 2, stanza 6). This reduced version was introduced to the churches of Christ, so far as I can discover, with Jorgenson's 1921 Great Songs of the Church, and remained in this form in the hymnals that adopted it next, such as Majestic Hymnal (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation, 1959) and Songs of the Church (West Monroe, Louisiana: Howard Publishing, 1971). From the latter, and through the various incarnations of Great Songs, it came down to Praise for the Lord in the 1990s, though it was omitted from Howard Publishing's Songs of Faith and Praise.

Stanza 1:
Father, hear Thy children’s call;
Humbly at Thy feet we fall,
Prodigals, confessing all:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

Pollock's litany begins with an appeal to the Heavenly Father from His children. It is well worth considering: we address the God who created the cosmos, who has existed from all eternity, as our Father. To address Him by this name is so frequently done, in fact, that there is a risk of forgetting the startling claim made by this simple word. It takes no thought at all to use this word of my earthly father; it is a simple statement of biology and relationship. Yet even on this human level we know it really is more complicated. I can also call Patrick Hamrick (1684-1784) my "father" in the sense of the origin of my family line in this hemisphere, but I have no personal relationship with that individual. His day-to-day impact on my life is limited to an often misspelled surname. The contrast with my actual father could not be greater, for (as we jokingly say) I have known him all my life. Though I do not resemble him much physically, I bear the stamp of his influence throughout my life, in my beliefs, character, attitudes, and interests. Being a father in that sense is much more than a biological or a legal relationship.

It was this human relationship that Jesus chose to describe our relationship to God. The Hebrew Testament does not often speak in this way, though the occasional passage does appear, as in Deuteronomy 32:6b, "Is not He your father, who created you, who made you and established you?" But in most of these instances, the Fatherhood of God is mentioned only briefly, and often in connection with other metaphors that portray the relationship in different lights (for example, the "Father" metaphor in Jeremiah 3:19 is followed immediately by a comparison to the husband/wife relationship in the following verse). By contrast, Jesus referred to God as "Father" in some 165 instances in the gospel accounts. Not only was this markedly different from the practice of the ancient Scriptures, it was out of the ordinary for the religious thought of the 1st century (Stein).

Though the Greek of the New Testament uses the generic term Pater for all but three of these instances, the Aramaic term Abba is retained in Jesus' impassioned prayer in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36), so we need not step into the academic mire of second-guessing Jesus' "original words" to say that this was the term He used in everyday speech. The equivalence of Abba and Pater is cemented in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6, where the Greek word is given as a gloss for the less familiar Aramaic. The implication of the term Abba has been discussed for years, of course, and doubtless most of us have heard it equated to the English "Daddy" or "Papa." Glenn Stanton's "Factchecker" article provides a good summary of the history of this line of thought, which was pretty thoroughly debunked among scholars of Biblical languages by the 1980s, though it has continued in popularity down to the present. The New Testament use of the Greek Pater instead of the informal Pappas also weighs heavily against this idea.

But if God is not described in Scripture as "Daddy," even by Jesus himself, "Father" carries more than enough weight! He is the Creator, of whom all people can say, "we are His offspring" (Acts 17:28), but He wants to be a Father to us in the fullest sense of that word. We cannot have the same relationship to Him that His Son Jesus has, because of the uniqueness of the "only begotten Son" (John 3:16, KJV), but "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Galatians 4:6). The word the Holy Spirit chose to explain this relationship to us was "adoption."
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. (Rom 8:15-17)
The Christians in Rome to whom Paul wrote would have understood this metaphor immediately. Among the noble and wealthy classes in Roman society, adoption was a means not only of providing a male heir if none were present, but also of building advantageous bonds between families. The most famous example, even today, is the great Augustus Caesar, who was adopted as a young man by Julius Caesar. Though born into a less prominent family, young Octavian was immediately recognized as the right-hand man of his adoptive father, and the intended heir of both his name and his empire. The right to call Caesar "father" was incredibly significant, and though the Caesar eventually came to be viewed as the "father to his people" in a national sense, no one could mistake the significance of the unique relationship this term denoted within the imperial family.

Consider then, by comparison, the honor and privilege that Christians enjoy to call the Creator of heaven and earth our Father! We can "with confidence draw near to the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16), because He is not only our Lord, He is our Father. We are assured that He will hear us, because we are not only His subjects and servants (also Scriptural metaphors!), we are His children. But will the Father hear when His children call? If you are a parent, you know the answer. The voice of your child, especially if raised in alarm, will cut through a noisy crowd in an instant. If my phone shows an incoming call from one of my children, it will be answered, even if I have to interrupt a conversation or leave in the middle of a meeting.

Our confidence in this relationship with God, however, should not lead us to carelessness, but to consideration. Even in my relationship with my earthly father, there are boundaries of respect. In my family we refer to him as "Dad," denoting a relationship that I have with no other person on earth. I did not call him by his first name when I was a child, or even to this day. (Actually I did once, in a moment of childish rebellion and curiosity, but I immediately regretted it.) Should we not show far greater respect in how we speak to the Creator who privileges us to call Him Father? Even Jesus, whose relationship to the Father is far beyond ours, sometimes addressed Him with additional honorifics: "O Father, Lord of heaven and earth" (Luke 10:21, Matthew 11:25), "Holy Father" (John 17:11), and "Righteous Father" (John 17:25). He thanked the Father for hearing Him (John 11:41), and praised His glory (John 12:28, 17:1-5). The early Christians continued this attitude of reverence in prayer, calling on God as the "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them" (Acts 4:24).

Pollock's litany shows this reverence as well, with the addition of confession: "Humbly at Thy feet we fall / Prodigals confessing all." The attitude of humility comes not only from a recognition that God is the Creator and we are the creation, but also from acknowledging our moral bankruptcy before Him. We need the attitude of the prodigal son in Luke 15:21, who openly admitted that his sins had broken the relationship he once had with his father. He appealed not for recognition as a son, but simply for mercy; the father of course gave him both. David reminds us in Psalm 138:6, "For though the Lord is high, He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar." It is notable that this call to humility was spoken by a king! The truly great leaders of the Bible always showed this attitude in prayer. Nehemiah, in the prayer of supplication at the very beginning of the book bearing his name, began with fasting and prayer, confessing the sins of his nation in God's sight. King Hezekiah, when confronted with the army of Assyria at his gates, took their demand for surrender not to his generals, or to his political advisers, but to the house of the Lord, where he humbly appealed to the God "of all the kingdoms of the earth" (2 Kings 19:15-16). (Would that we had leaders in this nation, and all nations, who so humbled themselves before God!) It is the one who approaches God in humility--"God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13)--who can anticipate being heard.

The refrain of Pollock's litany, "We beseech Thee, hear us," has a Scriptural parallel in Solomon's dedicatory prayer for the temple (1 Kings 8, 2 Chronicles 6), which continually returns to the petition, "Hear in heaven Your dwelling place." 2 Chronicles 7 recounts the Lord's answer to Solomon's prayer during a vision:
Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: "I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. (2 Chronicles 7:12-15)
How comforting to know that we as Christians are the living temple of God, both as individuals (1 Corinthians 6:19) and collectively (Ephesians 2:19-22), and that His "eyes will be open" and His "ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place" (2 Chronicles 7:15)!

Stanza 2:
Christ, beneath Thy cross we blame
All our life of sin and shame,
Penitent, we breathe Thy name:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

For some reason the opening lines of this stanza have long confused me, and perhaps that has been the case for the reader; if not, I ask indulgence while I explain. When Pollock says that "we blame / All our life of sin and shame," my immediate thought is, "For what?" The ordinary use of the word "blame" implies that someone is being held responsible for a negative result of his or her actions. Is the consequence of our actions in view in this stanza? I believe so, though it was not immediately apparent to me. In the first line Pollock establishes a setting that may give our answer: "beneath Thy cross."
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8).
It was I, and it was you, who deserved to be there instead. When we think of the awful treatment of One who even in His death prayed for forgiveness of His tormentors (Luke 23:34), the blame lies squarely on me and you--"All our life of sin and shame."

Another older meaning of "blame" may be in play as well. In early Modern English, it could also mean generally "to reprove" or "to bring into disrepute" (Oxford Universal Dictionary). We see this a few times in the King James Version, such as 2 Corinthians 6:3, "Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed." Here Pollock may also be saying that we come to the cross reproving and renouncing our "lives of sin and shame," for as he says in the following line, "Penitent, we breath Thy name." "Penitent," of course, is a cousin of the word "repent," meaning to be in a state of repentance--making the mental determination to change direction from the wrong to the right. The cross of Christ has that effect on those who will allow themselves to see it for what it really means. Jesus said, "When I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32), and like magnetic north, the pull of the cross shows us when we have drifted off our course.

Stanza 3:
Sick, we come to Thee for cure,
Guilty, seek Thy mercy sure,
Evil, long to be made pure:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

Among the mighty works Jesus performed to confirm His words was the healing of the sick. "And wherever He came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored Him that they might touch even the fringe of His garment. And as many as touched it were made well" (Mark 6:56). This was motivated in great part, of course, by His character: "He had compassion on them and healed their sick" (Matthew 14:14b). But as is so often the case with Jesus' actions, there is a deeper meaning. It was not His plan to heal all the sick among His people; in fact He pointed out that such miracles had never been intended in that manner: "And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian" (Luke 4:27). The miracles of healing were acts of compassion and were immediate help to those who received them, but a greater lesson was to be learned. When the paralyzed man was lowered through the roof of a house before Jesus, His first action was not to heal the body, but the soul, saying "Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven" (Matthew 9:2). In a similar incident, Jesus told the man He healed by the pool of Siloam, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you" (John 5:14). To be lost spiritually is a far worse condition than any physical illness or injury, and Jesus came to heal something far more deadly and insidious than even the terrible contagion of leprosy. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17).

Spiritual sickness is one thing, but Pollock goes further. Do we think of ourselves as "guilty?" Do we see "evil" in our lives? "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Romans 3:19). Lest we quibble with Paul about which "law" he means, verse 23 makes plain that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The corruption of evil has been with humanity since Genesis chapter 3, when the "knowledge of good and evil" became all too real through sin, and individually we have followed in the footsteps of our first ancestors. Even after forgiveness through Christ that takes away the guilt and sin, we still struggle to remain free it--at least Paul did, and I do not fancy we are any better.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing (Romans 7:18-19).
This is no excuse for remaining in sin, but a hard, painful look at the reality of our weakness. Yet as Pollock says, we "long to be made pure." We need to "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matthew 5:6), striving after it in spite of our weakness, and trusting in God to help us in our weakness to do His will. Pollock is not interested in beating us down, but rather in encouraging us to look realistically at our absolute dependence on Christ, rather than on our own strength.

Stanza 4:
Blind, we pray that we may see,
Bound, we pray to be made free,
Stained, we pray for sanctity:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

The first two lines of this stanza call to mind one of the most stunning events in the ministry of Jesus, when He was invited to give the Scripture reading at the synagogue in his home town, Nazareth:
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
because He has anointed Me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
And He rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:17-21, cf. Isaiah 61:1-2).
What miraculous work could have been more shocking than these words? This talk of liberty for the captive and oppressed was the language of revolution, as was prophesied by Simeon when Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus to the temple:
Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35).
Some, of course, looked for an outward and physical revolution in that generation, but as Jesus told the local representative of secular authority, Pontius Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have been fighting" (John 18:36). This was never meant as an excuse to ignore unjust behavior by worldly authorities, of course, and down through the centuries the spirit of Christ has worked to end such oppression. But the revolution Jesus led begins on the inside--and as Paul could well attest, especially given his extensive experience with incarceration, the prisons built in our minds and hearts are often the hardest to escape:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25).
Jesus came to loose us from bondage that no earthly liberator can relieve. An impressive instance is seen in the man possessed by the legion of demons; we are told that this tortured individual "had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him" (Mark 5:4). Though he was able to free himself from physical restraints, he was just as much a prisoner of his situation as if he had been in the most secure dungeon in the world. After Jesus freed him, however, he was "sitting there, clothed and in his right mind" (Mark 5:15). Jesus delivers us from spiritual bondage first, giving us the freedom to be the true selves that God meant us to be.

The restoration of sight to the blind is one of the marks of the authenticity of Jesus' ministry, as He remarked in response to the question of His cousin John: "The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them" (Matthew 11:5, cf. Isaiah 35:5-6). Several instances of this particular miracle are given in the gospel accounts, but the one that brings the matter into the sharpest focus is found in John chapter 9 with a man who had been blind from birth. As the narrative unfolds the question shifts from how a man was miraculously healed of physical blindness, to the much more difficult issue of the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees when the evidence of God's power was right in front of them. Showing once again that uncanny knack for asking rhetorical questions that pointed directly to their own problems, they asked, "Are we also blind?" To which Jesus replied, "If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, 'We see,' your guilt remains" (John 9:40-41). Problems of physical sight, of course, are always more obvious to us. I would never go out and drive my car without my glasses, because I know that I cannot navigate safely on the basis of large blurry shapes, which is how anything further than a block away appears. Sadly, it is all too easy to navigate spiritually with flawed vision, and the results are ultimately more disastrous.

Stanza 5:
By Thy love that bids Thee spare,
By the heav’n Thou dost prepare,
By Thy promises to prayer,
We beseech Thee, hear us.

After two stanzas in which he built up a series of adjectives describing our needy state--"Sick . . . Guilty . . . Evil" and "Blind . . . Bound . . . Stained"--Pollock turns in the closing stanza to three things that give us assurance that our prayers do not go unheeded. We are reminded first of the fact of God's love, demonstrated in His willingness to provide a means to spare us from our sins. A good definition of "spare" in this sense is "to abstain from visiting (a sin, etc.) with due punishment" (Oxford Universal Dictionary). Essential to the meaning is the concept of "due punishment;" if we say that we were "spared" from a destructive storm, of course we do not mean that we deserved to suffer from it, or that the storm took pity on us. Ironically, the "love that bade Him spare" sinful humanity, prevented Him from doing the same for His Son: "He ... did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all" (Romans 8:32a), though He alone among humanity did not deserve it.

The second fact to which our attention is drawn is the promise of a heavenly realm in preparation for the redeemed. In one of the darkest hours of His time with the apostles, Jesus promised them,
In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:2-3).
In another passage Jesus explained that this kingdom was "prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). We are assured that it is God's desire for us to be with Him; it is not a concession granted grudgingly, but was His plan all along. When sin seemed to wreck His plan, He went to unimaginable lengths to shows us a way back to Him. Will not our God, who "is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9b), who longs to bring us into His eternal home, hear the prayers of those who seek Him according to His will?

Finally, Pollock brings before us the promises that God has made regarding prayer itself. In the kingdoms of this world, it is typically the person with influence and connections whose wishes are heard by those in power. The Lord, however, promises to hear the prayers of His people on the basis of sincere and repentant hearts: "If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). However lowly one may be in the eyes of the world, he or she can approach the King of Creation, for "He regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer" (Psalm 102:17).

When Jesus came into the world to show us the Father, He spoke more expansively on God's promises in prayer:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:7-11).
Not only do we have the ear of the Creator when we pray, but He is well disposed toward our requests and encourages us to ask Him for help. But what of the times when we have difficulty praying? I have known these times, and perhaps the reader has as well. Sometimes I am so shocked or bewildered by an event that I have no idea what to say. Sometimes I am struggling in my faith and do not "feel" as close to God as I would wish when I pray. The best advice I have heard on this is, pray anyway, the best you can. We can be greatly reassured by Paul's words in Romans 8:26, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." I do not understand exactly how this works, and I do not have to--I just gratefully accept it, because I know there have been many times when I needed this help.

The Lord promises in James 5:16 that "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." We typically think of this in terms changes in circumstances--a need fulfilled, a sickness relieved, a problem solved--but prayer also works powerfully on the heart of the one who prays. It humbles us and causes us to recognize God's mercy. It makes us think more clearly about what it is that we really need. It pokes and prods at our weaknesses and makes us realize how far we have to go. It encourages us by giving us a ready audience with a God who promises that things will get better if we will talk to Him. Pollock's litany, in bringing these things to mind, is an excellent preparation for corporate or individual prayer.

About the music:

John Henry Gower was born in Rugby, Warwickshire in 1855, and was assistant organist at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, from the tender age of 12. In 1874 he became organist and choirmaster of St. Paul's Church, Tunbridge Wells, Kent. In 1876 he completed the Bachelor of Music degree at Balliol College, Oxford, and served as the organist for Trent College in Derbyshire for the space of a little over 10 years (Humphreys & Evan 132). During this time he also served in the 12th Derbyshire Rifles, a volunteer regiment, where his status as a gentleman afforded him a commission as a 2nd lieutenant (United Service Magazine, March 1879, 404). He eventually rose to the rank of captain. In addition to his organ recitals, he was conductor of a local philharmonic society. He continued his studies at Oxford and received the Doctor of Music degree in 1883 (Humphreys & Evans 132). Porchea claims that Gower was the youngest ever to receive a doctorate in music at Oxford (124), but whether this is true or not, it was a remarkable achievement for such a young man.

The original St. John's in the Wilderness, destroyed by fire
in 1903. Photo from Jerome C. Smiley's History of Denver.
In 1887 Gower emigrated to the U.S., and settled in Denver, Colorado (Humphreys & Evans 132), where he married Jean Milne Taylor (Who's Who in America 584). He was one of the earliest organists at St. John's in the Wilderness in its old building on Welton Street (Williams 81), but for reasons yet undiscovered was replaced a year or so later by Henry Houseley (Porchea 84). Porchea's account of the music at St. John's during those years suggests that the rough-and-tumble Western city was a difficult adjustment for the English musicians who were imported by the cathedral's Dean (89ff.). In the 1891 Denver City Directory Gower was listed in a real estate partnership (593, 1677), though he was still involved in the music scene as conductor of the new Denver Select Choir (Porchea 57). From time to time he was looking for a church position (The Churchman (New York City) 6 May 1893, 620), and his biography in Who's Who in America indicates that he served as organist at the Chapel of the Epiphany in Chicago, as well as the Central Presbyterian Church in Denver (584). By the turn of the century the Gowers were living part of the time in England, and part of the time in Denver, where Gower had turned his hand to the booming mining business as well (Who's Who in the World 528). Gower's bitterness at his perceived treatment in Denver is evident in a wittily acerbic letter to the editor of the Musical News of London, 26 May, 1900:
SIR.-- I guess I'll sell my Mus. Doc. racket. Can you do anything with it? In the Western States they don't understand it, and after the daily papers at Denver got it so mixed up, as to style me "J. H. Gower Musk Ox," and J. H. Gower assisted by Miss Doe, I calculated it about time to "chuck" the business. So I took to digging.
Whatever his feelings about Denver, he seems to have settled down there in his older years. He is listed in the 1910 and 1920 U.S. censuses as teaching music from his home. He passed from this life 30 July 1922 in Denver, and is buried in the Fairmount Cemetery (Find-a-grave).

Gower's range of compositions was fairly extensive, including oratorios, cantatas, and anthems, of course, but also secular works for chamber ensembles and even an opera, intriguingly titled The Man from Mars. Some of his contributions to the world of hymn tunes are found in The Evening Service Book (Denver: Denver Music Publishing Co., 1891), of which he was the music editor, including MEDITATION (one of the common tunes for "There is a green hill far away") and the setting of "Father, hear Thy children's call" that came to be known as GOWER'S LITANY.

The tune is very singable and relatively simple, building up in a rising sequence through the first three phrases, the last of which reaches the peak of the melody, then relaxing in the refrain. This is a typical form for hymn tunes, of course, but in this case has the added value of matching the rhetorical structure of Pollock's stanzas. The harmony is considerably more complex, and is an excellent example of Romantic-era harmony applied to the miniature scale of the hymn tune.

The first chromatic chords arrive in the 3rd beat of the 3rd measure, a D-sharp fully diminished 7th chord that serves merely as decoration (not as a leading-tone structure to the following chord), but also sets up the harmonically ambiguous slide into the 4th beat by the bass and alto. The arrival of the A7 chord on the 4th beat is then subverted from its likely goal in the 4th measure (the tonic, D major), by yet another chromatic slide in the bass and alto voices, now introducing an E-sharp fully diminished 7th. This diminished 7th chord, however, is functional, serving as leading tone to the F-sharp minor chord at the end of the phrase (measure 4, beat 3). The series of events manages to produce a cadence in F-sharp minor, a related but rather unexpected key, evidence of the strength of good part-writing.

The next patch of chromaticism begins on the 4th beat of the 5th measure, creating a series of secondary dominants (F#maj7 to Bmaj to Emaj) leading toward the final phrase. There is one standout moment, however, when the tenor voice hits a C-natural in beat 3, measure 6; it creates an F-sharp diminished triad for a moment, before the upper voices resolve down into the E major chord, and gives the harmony a touch of pathos by referring to the parallel key of D minor. This prominent feature in the tenor line seems to be an echo of the peak in the melody at the same spot in the preceding measure.

The part-writing is also worth noting, because the style varies so widely between the two halves of the tune. In the first half the alto, tenor, and bass are practically static, moving primarily by step and often in parallel with the melody. (This is especially noticeable in the original version of the tune, in which the bass stays on an E throughout the 2nd measure. Later versions would have the bass leap down to A, the root of the chord, perhaps in deference to the music theory maxim not to leave a second-inversion chord hanging as Gower does. In his defense, keeping the bass on E makes the bass part much more singable, and the uneasiness of the harmony is in keeping with the chromaticism of the later part of the phrase.) In the second half of the tune the harmony is more straightforward, with more root position chords (and thus more leaps in the bass). It is risky to make this kind of interpretation of the composer's intent, but: the general sense of the tune seems to be a pensive, hesitant beginning, building in tension and yet also in confidence toward the refrain: "We beseech Thee, hear us."


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