All Creatures of Our God and King – 11/21

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All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing, Alleluia! Thou burning sun with golden beam, thou silver moon with softer gleam! O praise Him! Alluluia!

Francis of Assisi, 1226

THE HYMN WRITER

A portrait of Saint Francis 
by Philip Fruytiers, 17th century

Giovanni di Bernadone was born in 1181, one of seven children of a French woman named Pica de Bourlemont and an Italian man who was a prosperous silk merchant named Pietro di Bernardone dei Moriconi. He was nicknamed ‘Francesco’ (“the Frenchman”) by his father, and is commonly known today as “Francis of Assisi.” Francis enjoyed a wealthy home life, and as a child he took full advantage of the decadent life his family was able to afford by engaging in mischief with his friends. Over time, however, he grew in his dissatisfaction with worldly goods and the self-serving life he had been caught up in. He longed for greater intimacy with Christ. It is said that one day when he was approached by a beggar asking for alms, Francis was overwhelmed with a desire to give up his wealth and to follow Jesus fully. He emptied his pockets, gave all that he had to the beggar, and against his father’s wishes, took a vow before God to live in poverty. Francis’ exuberant joy for living for Jesus in such a simple way could not be undone, even as his father publicly disowned him. He left town and began a life of wandering through the valleys and hills of Italy, singing in gratitude and delight as he went. Barefoot and dressed in rough clothing, Francis made his home among the poor and lepers where he continually sang and preached about the love of Jesus. Gradually, young men were inspired by his way of life, and they too joined with him, sleeping in haylofts, church porches and makeshift shelters, ministering to the sick and poor and enjoying God’s creation around them. One writer describes Francis’ unique perspective that ungirded this lifestyle: “Working among the lepers as well as society’s rejected became a joy for Francis as he realized that tending to them was itself a kind of mirror of the ministry he had received from Christ through the gospel. For Francis, Christians do not attain heights of glory through seclusion or attending to our own needs; rather, we meet God in the fullness of his glory as we attend to others in their need.” (Hogg) He and his followers called themselves, “God’s jugglers,” saying, “Is it not in fact true that the servants of God are really like jugglers, intended to revive the hearts of men and lead them into spiritual joy?” (Bailey, 264)

Many stories are told about how Francis loved and cared for animals as well as people. Francis stood up for animals that were despised and considered all creatures as a valuable part of God’s good creation. Various artists including Giotto and Bonaventura Berlinghieri have painted him, referencing an event that was written in Francis’ book, The Little Flowers of St. Francis, when he and his followers noticed a great crowd of birds had gathered in a field near Spoleto Valley in Italy. The birds seemed to be watching him expectantly, so he decided to preach to them! Francis lovingly looked at the birds and said to them:

“My sweet little sisters, birds of the sky,” Francis said, “you are bound to heaven, to God, your Creator. In every beat of your wings and every note of your songs, praise him. He has given you the greatest of gifts, the freedom of the air. You neither sow, nor reap, yet God provides for you the most delicious food, rivers, and lakes to quench your thirst, mountains, and valleys for your home, tall trees to build your nests, and the most beautiful clothing: a change of feathers with every season. You and your kind were preserved in Noah’s Ark. Clearly, our Creator loves you dearly, since he gives you gifts so abundantly. So please beware, my little sisters, of the sin of ingratitude, and always sing praise to God.”

St. Francis Preaching to the Birds, By Giotto  13th Century
Original Title: San Francesco predica agli uccelli

Francis of Asissi is revered for many reasons, for his joy and love for people, for being the founder of the Catholic order called the Franciscans, and also for being one of the first known Italian poets. Francis felt that people should be able to communicate with God in their native tongue, as opposed to the Latin that was used in the Church. When he wrote the poem that we now know as All Creatures of Our God and King, it was written in neither Latin nor Italian, but a transitional speech that helped pave the way for future literary works by Dante and Guido Cavalcanti. On the day Francis wrote the poem, he was struggling with horrible pain and blindness, and he knew his life would soon be spent. While resting in a hut, the words of “The Canticle of the Sun” unexpectedly came to Francis in a vision. It has been said that though Francis was blind, this last song given to him helped him to clearly see all of creation and his own place in the midst of God’s creatures. (Read his original poem here.)

Francis died on October 3rd 1226, while listening to a friend read Psalm 142. On July 16, 1228, Francis was pronounced a saint by Pope Gregory IX. He is known as the patron saint of animals, the environment, and is one of the patron saints of Italy.

THOUGHTS AS YOU SING 

This text, combined with its beautiful melody, is one of the oldest and most cherished hymns ever written. When we sing this beautiful song, let us remember that all of creation was made for the purpose of worship. The whirling planets, the sun’s golden beams, the leaves of trees shaking in the breeze, clouds rolling by in beautiful formations, babbling brooks, grassy meadows, intricately designed flowers and the sweetest taste of delicate fruit… It all shouts, “Look at how WONDERFUL our Creator God is!” 

Unfortunately, it can be tempting for some to use this song to engage in worship of the creation rather than the Creator. That is surely not what the author of the original poem would have us do. Francis of Assisi and the translator/paraphraser, William Henry Draper, meant for the words of this hymn to call us, along with all creation, to praise the Maker. Some may not like the phrase, “mother Earth” in stanza four for this very reason–because of its use among new-age/pantheistic religions that deify the earth and other parts of creation. This verse is often omitted by most hymnals, yet we have chosen to leave this stanza and particular phrase in, recognizing that the original poem gave familial/gender-specific vocabulary to each of the parts of creation he was calling on to worship God (i.e. brother sun, sister moon, brother wind, sister water, mother earth, etc). We feel that the distinction between Creator and creation is still firm and that poetically identifying the earth as feminine doesn’t take away from that distinction. As we sing, let us remember that God is God and we and everything else in existence was spoken into being by Him. We are called to worship God alone and not what He has made. Rather, let us be moved to worship our creative God as we see the amazing things he has done in this beautiful world!

Stanza six is also often omitted. It may seem strange to call “death” kind and gentle, especially when the language of the New Testament refers to death as the last enemy and calls us to praise Jesus who has conquered it! Yet we know that the sting of death has been taken away and that it now serves us and our sovereign God by bringing believers to Him and to our glorious eternal home. Paul’s words are also a good reminder here: “To die is GAIN… My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. ” (Phil 1:21, 23)  Having conversations with our children about death is difficult, but worth the challenge because it can be so beneficial. John Bunyan painted a beautiful image in Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian is experiencing death by crossing a full and scary river. As challenging as the crossing is, it is worth it for Christian because on the other side of the river, he reaches the Celestial City. Here we receive similar comfort, “Thou leadest home the child of God, and Christ our Lord the way hath trod.” There is nothing about death in the original poem by Francis of Assisi, (who was very close to death when he wrote the words), yet neither did he mention the Trinity in such a full and wonderful way as Draper did in his paraphrase of the concluding stanza (which we should be thankful for!). Feel free to choose which verses you want to focus on as a family, or to sing the shorter, more Gospel-centered version from Sovereign Grace.

HOW WE DO HYMN OF THE MONTH

If you are new to this community, welcome! It is a great time to join in and make family worship a priority if you haven’t already. You may or may not be familiar with this hymn. Either way, we invite you to spend this month meditating on its truths. 

To get you started, we’ve provided free printable lyrics, music and copywork — all found here! 

Also, you can find fresh versions of the hymn on our YouTube channel that you and your family can sing along with. There are loads of fresh versions of our favorite hymns on our hymn of the month playlist

If you are interested in fleshing out this month’s hymn with activities, coloring sheets, devotional thoughts, journaling prompts, etc. our Fall Hymn Guide, is available for a small fee on Etsy. Thank you so much for your support of Happy Hymnody’s ministry!

When we began singing hymns with our littles about 11 years ago, we kept it simple… We prayed and sang one hymn together every night at bedtime for a whole month. Everyone’s family rhythm is different, so we welcome you to gather up your families, for just a few minutes each day, to sing, discuss and memorize this hymn (following your daily time in the Scriptures and in prayer) whether it is first thing in the morning, or around the dinner table or before bedtime – whatever works best for your family. You can let us know how it’s going by posting either a video or a photo on Instagram. Just tag it with #happyhymnody! As always, if you have any questions or if you’d like to share your heart with us, please don’t hesitate to reach out! God bless you all this month as you worship and follow Jesus together as a family!

With so much love,

April

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