Hymn of the Week: May 23
by the Rev. Brooke Myers
Day of Pentecost B, May, 23, 2021
#513: Like the murmur of the dove’s song
Like other religious traditions, Christianity abounds in symbols and images which illustrate beliefs and instruct the faithful. The principal symbol in Christianity is the cross, but there are many others. Perhaps the best known image for the Holy Spirit is a dove. Almost all icons, stained glass windows and paintings of baptism include a dove; the same applies to depictions of the Annunciation, when the Spirit conceives Jesus in Mary’s womb. Some images are concrete like wind and flame, and some are abstract like Advocate and Spirit of Truth. In addition to images like Body of Christ and Royal Priesthood, a common symbol for the Church is the branches of a vine, the vine being Christ.
As we observe the Feast of Pentecost this Sunday our attention turns from the resurrection and ascension to the Church (the branches of the vine) and the Holy Spirit (the one who gives life to those branches). Hymn 513, “Like the murmur of the dove’s song,” reinforces the Spirit-centered readings: the first reading from Acts records the descent of the Spirit (as fire) on the Church, and in the Gospel Jesus promises his disciples to send them an Advocate, a Spirit of Truth.
The text of this hymn addresses three concerns: how the Holy Spirit comes in verse one, where it is headed in verse two, and why it comes in verse three; and each verse concludes with a refrain calling for the Spirit’s presence. Dove, wind, flame, and vine are woven into verses one and two. The author begins each line in each verse with the same word: Like, To and With. This poetic structure and imagery give strength and depth to a concise and deceptively simple text.
The hymn text was written by Carl P. Daws, an Episcopal priest, poet, musician and scholar, who served on the committee which assembled the hymnal we now use. The committee wanted to use the tune, Bridegroom, but couldn’t find a suitable text among those that had been submitted. So Daws’ colleagues asked him to write something. He agreed, and wrote “Like the murmur of the dove’s song,” which fits the tune like a hand fits a glove.
Peter Cutts’ music, written almost twenty years before Daws’ text, was composed for an English hymn collection which never saw publication.The tune is called Bridegroom because its original text began with “As the bridegroom to his chosen.” It contains two phrases and a refrain: the second phrase mimics the first, but one step higher, and it ends on a high note leading into the refrain. The first note of the refrain is syncopated, giving urgency to the plea for the Spirit’s presence. Like Daws’ text, the music is notable for its structure and clarity.
You can find several renditions of this hymn on YouTube (like the one here) under “Like the murmur of the dove’s song.” The text is available online at Hymnlyrics.org.