Come Sing and Dance to Jesus’ Lead

by Scott King

After having worked to learn the art and craft of writing hymns, I see that I start with the experience I want singers to have.

I wrote my first hymn because I had to. An old friend had moved back to the Bay Area and wanted to rejoin St. Gregory’s. She said, “Make a fuss over me…I want it to be a party!” At the time we merely announced that someone had joined the church, they stood and were introduced, and then the Presider read a beautiful prayer written by Rick Fabian. I wanted to add a musical element, like the Russian “As Many” we sing at baptisms. In a rush (we needed it the next Sunday!) I set out to write a brief hymn to celebrate joining St. Gregory’s.

At the time I was studying American church music around the time of the Revolutionary War. By far the most published tune was “Old Hundredth,” familiar to us as Thomas Ken’s hymn beginning “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Connoisseurs consider the tune perfect. I thought we should find a use for it at St. Gregory’s. It was a familiar tune good enough to stand up to monthly use. So for my members’ welcome piece I had a tune with its associated “long meter” (four lines of eight beats per line, with the accent falling on each even-numbered syllable).

What text could I use? The baptismal hymn “As Many” is based on Corinthians, but St. Paul is silent on the theology of joining St. Gregory’s. Then I realized that we already had in effect distilled a mission statement: St. Gregory’s Church invites people to see God’s image in all humankind, to sing and dance to Jesus’ lead, and to become God’s friends. I made it my purpose to turn this sentence into rhymed long meter to be sung to “Old Hundredth.”

If you can’t talk to your attractive and foxy friend God, to whom can you talk?

Now, after having worked to learn the art and craft of writing hymns, I see that I start with the experience I want singers to have. Even in this first hymn I declare our collective belief about membership, so “St. Gregory’s Church invites people to” becomes “we.” The mission statement suggests I start, “We see God’s image in all humankind.” Ugh. I need duh-DAH-duh-DAH-duh-DAH-duh-DAH, and I have duh-DAH-DAH-DAH-duh-duh-DAH-DAH-duh-DAH—too many syllables by two, and bad rhythm. The word “humankind” should only be found in unread anthropology texts; in a hymn it just draws attention to a decision to avoid “mankind.”

And what does “image” really mean? From the parable of Caesar’s coin we discover that the image of God stamped on us (as a coin is stamped) is a face, God’s face, the face of Jesus. Taking all this into account, I write, “We see your likeness in each face.” Seeing an attractive image (God is surely beautiful!) leads to desire: “Your friendship, God, is our desire.” I like that because direct address to God reinforces the theme of friendship: if you can’t talk to your attractive and foxy friend God, to whom can you talk?

With two good lines, I need the paired rhyming lines. After some experimentation I have: “We see your likeness in each face. / You freely give all holy grace. / Your friendship, God, is our desire: / Inflame our hearts with holy fire.” “You give grace” does not add much, but “all” emphasizes God’s indiscriminate love, and “grace” is the best rhyme I can find. “Inflame our hearts” is good, I think, because the sequence suggests passionate love growing from friendship with God, a spiritual path available to everyone. (Just try telling God you want to be his friend and wait to see how she responds.) I am not sure about using “holy” twice: reinforcing repetition or flagging inspiration? I opt for the former and move to the second verse.

St. Gregory’s member Christopher St. John, a copywriter, once commented on the power of the image of being called to “sing and dance to Jesus’ lead.” Yes, and it’s what we do every Sunday. For the phrase to be a line of long meter it lacks only an opening beat; this is how “invites” becomes “come.” The final task is to turn the invitation to become God’s friend into a hymn. “Our precious church invites you to become God’s friend” seems mawkish. The invitation is not St. Gregory’s, I realize, but God’s! “My joy in you will have no end / because I call you each my friend” comes suddenly to mind, and I have a beautiful couplet in the voice of Jesus. So all I need to finish the second verse is a rhyme with “lead,” and since lines 3 and 4 are in Jesus’ voice, why not the second line too? Jesus’ usual entrance line is “Don’t be afraid.” In the context of Gregory of Nyssa’s amazement at the endless generosity of God, the reassuring greeting becomes “The Lord provides for every need.”

I showed the result to Rick Fabian to get his reaction. “I like it, but I would reverse the two verses so you see Jesus’ likeness after he speaks.” And this is how my hymn for a returning member became “Come Sing and Dance to Jesus’ Lead,” which now welcomes all new members.

Come sing and dance to Jesus’ lead!
“The Lord provides for every need.
My joy in you will have no end
because I call you each my friend.”

We see your likeness in each face.
You freely give all holy grace.
Your friendship, God, is our desire:
Inflame our hearts with holy fire!

Scott King has written hymns and tunes to sing with them for 20 years. He is a medical entrepreneur, descendent of Sir Francis Drake, gardener, and editor of St. Gregory’s music book Music for Liturgy, 2nd edition.


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