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Book review | Sing to the Lord an Old Song: Meditations on Classic Hymns

Sing to the Lord an Old Song: Meditations on Classic Hymns is a soul-stirring book. The author is Dick Schmidt, former rector of St. Paul’s, Daphne, retired editor of Forward Day by Day, and now chaplain to the retired clergy of the Diocese. As I read each of Dick’s meditations on these hymns, I found myself praying with mind and heart. My way of thinking about God was probed, my holy imagination inspired, and my passion for the Living Flame of Love rekindled.

In this unique contribution to devotional literature, Dick takes forty “old” hymn texts and passes them through the prism of his soul and prayer life, refracting for the reader new images of the one Light otherwise unseen. This book is well-researched, deepening each hymn’s capacity to draw us into prayer and move us into Love’s way of being and acting.

Like a hymn in four-part harmony, each of Dick’s forty meditations consists of four components that complement each other. First is a note on the life and times of the hymn’s author. Next comes an expository section with insights into the theological grounding of the hymn, including its biblical background and spiritual concerns. The third component is a prayer covering the hymn’s pertinence to modern concerns and revealing how the hymn affects Dick personally. These prayers are personal, relational, and intimate, including in some cases imaginings of words spoken by God or Christ to the author (and reader). Finally, an appendix includes a tune for most hymns, noting that a compelling tune brings out nuances of meaning in the text and helps cement the hymn in the memory of the singer.

Reading St. Augustine’s Confessions, Teresa of Avila put the book down and said, “I see myself herein.” The hymns and meditations in this book cover a broad spectrum of spiritual themes—atonement, grace, forgiveness, death, resurrection, mysticism, community, skepticism, doubt, faith, Satan, mission and ministry—engaging the reader in such a deep and personal way that surely anyone reading Sing to the Lord an Old Song will say, “I see myself herein.” Which means this book can be read and appreciated by many people.

Any God-seeker could pray with this book, reading it in a lectio divina way, to grow into deeper intimacy with God. A preacher could draw personal inspiration, theological insights, and historical facts from these meditations to enrich his or her sermons. And a teacher or group facilitator could assign one or two hymns and their companion meditations to be read and inwardly digested, leading to reflections and discussions by group members regarding their spiritual life.

Like Dick, I love the “old” hymns in this book, and I love his meditations as well. But I love even more the Spirit from whom these hymns and meditations come and to whom they lead the reader. Thanks be to God for these ancient words made ever new in this soul-stirring book and their power to transform those who sing and pray with them.

Marshall Craver retired from parish ministry in 2017. He is currently Diocesan Clergy Spiritual Director and lives in Gulf Shores. Copies of Sing to the Lord an Old Song may be purchased from Forward Movement or from the author.


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