As so often happens in the presentation of music, new words are added to existing music. In this case, the Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (1824) with Henry van Dyke’s abovementioned titled hymn. The meaning in Beethoven’s (with Schiller) version is mystifying, much as his mind was.
Traditional Christian hymns take us into a realm of theology accorded the Psalms and other biblical poetry.
Back to the vocal part of Beethoven’s Ninth; a portion of his uplifting hymn, translated from German to English:
“Do you bow down, millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek him beyond the starry canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.”
Above and beyond the starry canopy does God dwell, beyond and into all our hearts if we receive him. Yet, what if we cannot see him simply in a sunset or the birthing of a baby?
There is, further, a fullness of life difficult for the maestro to accordingly express. A conflagration of thought, profuse with myriad suffuse layers of depth. How can we pretend to know God, for he avails himself a trillion times over? How can Someone or Something be known when he or it is seen so wonderfully everywhere? That is the gorgeous paradox. Beyond the stars and into our hearts, indeed.
God we will never know and not the least through wanting. Still, he is near. He is here. He is within us and all else. And, he wants to be known. Do we buck the trend?
Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee was written in an age where there was some real fear that the age of science might readily enwrap the realm of “religion” making it null and void. We stand here some one hundred years hence and a simple “religion” that the hymn espouses has never been more necessary for living. We need uplifting music set to words inspiring trust, hope and joy. We must have hope for a bleakish future set to the scantly vague vision of impending cataclysm.
Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee is for the soul, a whistling in tune with the harmony of created life on earth. With poise and wonderful sincerity the angels above sing, we imagine. They know God as we can’t (yet). We imagine them singing chorally, this wonderful piece; a heavenly hymn.
A harmony of life so perfect; not a dreamy and unrealistic reality—a genuine thing if only we’ll want it.
God gives us what we want. Know him.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.