Evening Hymn – H. Balfour Gardiner
To Thee before the close of day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That, with Thy wonted favour, Thou
Wouldst be our guard and keeper now.
From all ill dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night;
Withhold from us our ghostly foe,
That spot of sin we may not know.
O Father, that we ask be done,
Through Jesus Christ, Thine only Son,
Who, with the Holy Ghost and Thee,
Doth live and reign eternally.
This week’s focus piece comes from the standard repertoire of the grand English Cathedral choir tradition. The work’s composer, Henry Balfour Gardiner (1877-1950), was an accomplished composer and producer of his day, though little of his music survives today. As a producer, he personally financed a series of concerts at Queen’s Hall London, promoting the works of such composers such as Gustav Holst, Percy Grainger, and Roger Quilter. As a composer, his orchestral works were darlings of the Proms music festival where his 2nd Symphony was premiered and his Shepherd Fennell’s Dance was performed 35 times in the first half of the 20th Century. He is now probably best known for this choral work, “Evening Hymn,” which has become a staple of Evensong services across the globe.
Despite this long list of successes, at the age of 48, Gardiner gave up composing altogether. He was too self-critical. So self-critical in fact, that it is assumed that many of his compositions were destroyed by him.
It’s strange the things we do to protect ourselves. We put cameras on our porches and locks on our doors. We tote guns, fortify walls, hide away our wealth. We keep our mouths shut and file in with the crowd. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.
Sometimes we are so afraid of the prospect of being hurt, that we even sabotage ourselves, like Gardiner did – destroying his own creations to avoid the possibility of criticism.
Even through this 7th Century text, we ask for God’s protection, with such militaristic language as “be our guard and keeper now” and “Withhold from us our ghostly foe.” It leans into the old trope of night and darkness being insecure. The prayer almost feels like saying, “God, it’s your watch now” before we head off to bed.
Security and generosity are a bit at odds, though, aren’t they?
In Matthew 5, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preaches to turn the other cheek to a person who slaps you, go 2 miles with someone who forces you to go one mile with them, and give to the one who asks to borrow something from you.
I have to admit, I read that and my gut reaction is to come up with situations that don’t fit – “Well, you see Jesus, my cousin NEVER pays me back so…” “If someone slaps me in front of my family, what kind of message does that give?” “If I went one mile, technically isn’t even THAT two miles since I have to walk back? That’s a lot of walking, and you know my knees…”
Later, in Matthew chapter 19 a rich man asks “What good things must I do to have eternal life?” and after some back and forth Jesus answers “If you want to be perfect, then go and sell all that you own.”
How do I know the difference between being generous and being taken advantage of?
When does an appetite for security become an obsession with control?
I think the key lies in whose choice it is.
If it is your active decision to be generous, then no matter how much you give, no one will be taking from you.
If your security sits in your own hands alone, then it is control. Faith is knowing that your ultimate security lies not in the walls you fortify, but in the God who guards and keeps you.
P.S. – Anyone recognize where the featured ensemble is performing?
Director of Music
First Presbyterian Church