Hymn of the Week: April 3, 2022
by the Rev. Brooke Myers,
Now Quit Your Care, #145
What is your idea of a hymn for Lent? One that refers to Jesus’ suffering? One that is about our need to repent? A plea to fast and pray? Is your Lenten hymn sad, slow and kind of depressing? It’s true that some Lenten hymns are like that (The Glory of These Forty Days and Forty Days and Forty Nights come to mind). Often in a minor key and sung at a slow pace, these hymns focus either on Jesus’ trials and suffering or on the believer’s sinfulness and need for repentance through fasting and prayer. But this week’s hymn, Now Quit Your Care, is a song of a different stripe, a chorus of a different color! The key is major, the tempo brisk, and the positive text is more about peace and social justice than sin, suffering and personal piety. Hymn 145 is the upbeat fruit of the collaboration between two early 20th c. English crusading reformers, Percy Dearmer and Martin Shaw. The tune, which Shaw arranged, is that of a cheerful traditional French Christmas carol; the text, which Dearmer wrote with the original carol in mind, is a Socialist call to action.
Dearmer was born into a family of artists in Middlesex in 1867, and lived to became an influential Anglican priest, writer, liturgist, poet, editor and Socialist. Among his many accomplishments as an editor were two English hymnals and the widely used Oxford Book of Carols, all co-edited with Ralph Vaughan Williams; and he is responsible for six texts in our Hymnal 1982. His best known book is The Parson’s Handbook, a liturgical manual for Church of England clergy. The book describes and encourages the use of pre-Reformation English Catholic (Anglo-catholic) traditions of worship. Dearmer felt the Church was being ill-served by Protestant Anglicans (low church Evangelicals) who thought rituals and liturgical practices like processions, liturgical colors, chants, bells, litanies and incense, amounted to sacerdotalism and smacked of ”popery”. Dearmer and his wife served in the British ambulance service in Serbia during the First World War, where she died of typhus in 1915; one of their two sons died that same year in battle in northwest Turkey. He remarried and had two daughters, and a son who would be killed while serving in the Royal Air Force in 1943. Percy Dearmer died while serving as an assisting priest at Westminster Abbey where he ran a canteen for the unemployed, and where his ashes were interred.
The words he wrote for this week’s hymn take their departure from, among other biblical passages, Isaiah 58:1-12. The prophet dismisses fasts, sackcloth and ashes as ways to please God in favor of breaking the chains of injustice, liberating the oppressed, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Dearmer wrote that pietistic schemes are in vain, that God’s glory flashes in acts of social justice and peace. The first word or phrase of the last two lines (reply, make clear, to fight, divine & arise) gets sung three times twice, making a lasting impact.
Martin Shaw was born in 1875 into a bohemian family in Hampstead, England. His brother was an accomplished composer, his sister an actress and his father a church organist. He studied music with the likes of Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and John Ireland — a generation of composers who brought about a renaissance of English classical music. Shaw began his career as a church organist in the town of his birth but soon moved on to try his hand as a theatrical producer, conductor and composer. He described his life at that time as “a long period of starving.” Just as Percy Dearmer devoted his life to reforming Anglican worship, Shaw devoted his to promoting English classical music by producing performances of the music of Henry Purcell, George Frederick Handel and others. He sought to marry Edith Craig, the daughter of a theater director, but the director opposed the marriage, as did the man with whom Edith had been living for a few years. During a long and productive career Shaw composed over 300 musical works: songs, hymns, carols, oratorios, instrumental works, a congregational folk-mass and four operas. He is perhaps best known for Morning has broken, a song later made popular by Cat Stevens in 1972; Shaw rediscovered the old Gaelic tune and commissioned a friend to write the words.
The tune of Now Quit Your Care is easy to imagine as a Christmas carol. In the comfortable key of Eb major, with a steady 4/4 beat and a lively tempo, the music does for Lenten tunes what Dearmer’s text does for Lenten texts — it refreshes and energizes. The first and second musical lines are alike, they begin going down and end going up; the third starts low and slow, and ends in a playful ascending run; and the final line, which includes an echo and is repeated, starts high and gently resolves.
Here's a performance of the hymn:
Now quit your care and anxious fear and worry;
for schemes are vain and fretting brings no gain.
Lent calls to prayer, to trust and dedication;
God brings new beauty nigh;
reply, reply, reply with love to love most high;
reply, reply, reply with love to love most high.
To bow the head in sackcloth and in ashes,
or rend the soul, such grief is not Lent’s goal;
but to be led to where God’s glory flashes,
his beauty to come near.
Make clear, make clear, make clear where truth and light appear;
make clear, make clear, make clear where truth and light appear.
For is not this the fast that I have chosen?
(the prophet spoke). To shatter every yoke
of wickedness, the grievous bands to loosen,
oppression put to flight,
to fight, to fight, to fight till every wrong’s set right.
To fight, to fight, to fight till every wrong’s set right.
For righteousness and peace will show their faces
to those who feed the hungry in their need,
and wrongs redress, who build the old waste places
and in the darkness shine,
Divine, divine, divine it is when all combine!
Divine, divine, divine it is when all combine!
Then shall your light break forth as doth the morning;
your health shall spring, the friends you make shall bring
God’s glory bright, your way through life adorning;
and love shall be the prize.
Arise, arise, arise! and make a paradise!
Arise, arise, arise and make a paradise!