Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Master Carpenter

If you are a regular reader of this blog you may have realised that I have some links to the Western Isles of Scotland. Genealogically this includes the islands of Coll, Mull and Iona. Iona also features in my personal history as I have worked for two short periods at Iona Abbey. The Iona Community, which occupies the Abbey, has borrowed a prayer which some think George Maclead its Founder discovered in, or adapted from the writings of Walter Rausenbusch the American 'Father of the Social Gospel' at the beginning of the 20th Century. It is used on Iona in the Daily Office, 'O Christ, the Master Carpenter, who at the last, through wood and nails, purchased our whole salvation, wield well your tools in the workshop of your world, so that we who come rough-hewn to your bench may be fashioned to a truer beauty of your hand'.

When I found myself on a Committee revising a Hymn Book one hymn was about to be rejected because its concluding verse used the line 'our boyhood guard and guide', which clearly couldn't be sung by girls or adults. However the earlier verses by Bishop W.W. How from the 19th Century provided one of the few hymns which focus on Jesus' childhood and upbringing which we know from Mark's Gospel was in a Carpenter's household. I though that a paraphrase of the 'Iona prayer' would make a good concluding verse which could lead us into a deeper understanding of God's purpose in the Incarnation. So here is the result:

Behold a little child
laid in a manger bed;
the wintry blasts blow wild
around his infant head.
But who is this, so lowly laid?
The Lord by whom the worlds were made.

The hands that all things made
an earthly craft pursue;
where Joseph plies his trade,
there Jesus labours too,
that weary ones in him may rest,
and faithful toil through him be blest.

Christ, Master Carpenter,
we come rough-hewn to thee;
at last, through wood and nails,
thou mads't us whole and free.
In this thy world remake us, planned
to truer beauty of thine hand.

It was subsequently published in the Methodist book called Hymns and Psalms, and in the United Reformed Church's book called Rejoice and Sing. It can be sung to various tunes (metre 66.66.88) but I do like St. Charles by Caryl Micklem, composed in memory of Erik Routley.

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