The other night, unable to sleep while lying in a constricting sleeping bag on an uncomfortable airbed on the floor of a church hall (doing a rare stint supporting the local night shelter) I put this song on repeat on my iPod, until the battery gave out and I still wasn’t asleep. But at least .. I remembered… and I remembered what this song meant to me. And –incidentally – the wakefulness allowed it to minister to me.
Winter 74, spring 75, my then girlfriend Tina passed me a cassette tape of worship music which had been passed on to her by her close college friend. Apparently, this friend had made an amateur recording of a service she had attended at a dynamic church in Houston, Texas, while she had been travelling in the States. Sadly, this friend was later discovered to be a spectacularly mendacious attention seeker. And sometime later, I realized that this recording was in fact a commercially available recording which the Church Of The Redeemer choir(and musicians?) had recorded and released under the title ‘God’s People Give Thanks’.
None of this minimizes the effect of this little cassette. In amongst stirring traditional hymns like ‘Crown Him With Many Crowns’ and ‘Glory be to Jesus’ there were unusual items – a boys’ choir singing an unusual setting of ‘Micah’s message’ to some subtle rhythmic percussion; a gorgeous acappella Jewish-type tune, ‘Glorious in Majesty’; some jaunty Alleluia songs with tambourines (which later I came to appreciate as joyous Mimi Armstrong–Farra praise expressions); a wonderful ‘8 fold alleluia’ of utter simplicity, but growing in worshipful intensity. And in a not too dissimilar vein, there was this.
Five chime bells signal the melody of the first line, and from there on the song is unaccompanied. What was thrillingly fresh about it, I think, was that on the one hand there were these exquisite choral harmonies, but on the other, the song itself could not have been simpler. And what simpler expression of adoration could there be than the entirely unadorned sentiment ‘Jesus, I love you’?
I was later to see that this is a mark of Kathleen Thomerson’s style, or perhaps rather, a mark of the way God had clearly taken hold of this talented composer-organist. All her songs are marked with that same freshness and simplicity of authentic expression. Take for example the other song of hers included in this recorded Eucharistic service – and now much more widely known and used – ‘I want to walk as a child of the light’. This has the same disarmingly direct kind of lyric. Later on, I was also to discover and appreciate other songs of hers – ‘I love the name of Jesus’ and ‘The Shepherd Of My Soul’.
Something else about the lyric of this song –one gets the sense that she didn’t necessarily go for neat poetical crafting – e.g. it didn’t always rhyme (‘now we have seen/the love of God/he has poured out/the spirit of truth…’) because it simply says what she wants it to say, and that seemed then – and seems to me even now –wholly part of its ‘anointed’ status.
Listening to it over and over in my unsleeping state that night, I realized that in my love and appreciation of this song I may well have mentally sidelined a major part of its lyrical thrust –the fourth line of the chorus: ‘Take my life.’ In the first verse too – ‘Life is your gift/I give my heart…’ and this beautiful song helps to lead us there –simple adoration, yes, but surrender and self-giving too.