This article is part of a series from our monthly newsletter written by Pastor Steve. Read more from the series by clicking the button below:
Throughout this year, I will be spending time reflecting upon various hymns. We may not think about hymns as a way that we teach and pass on the faith, but the reality is that many of us can remember hymns a lot easier than memorizing scripture.
The song ‘Here I Am, Lord’ or ‘I, the Lord of Sea and Sky’ was written by Dan Schutte in 1979. This song is one of the more popular modern hymns. The hymn is composed of verses that are written from the point of view of God and each verse ends with the questions of ‘Whom shall I send?’ The refrain is written from the point of view of humanity that answers God’s call by stating that I am here and will go if God will lead me. Sometimes the hymn is sung with a choir singing the verses and the congregation singing the refrain as a way of deepening that understanding of the two points of view within the hymn.
The story of this hymn begins with one of Dan Schutte’s friends coming to him on a Wednesday and asking him to write a song for his upcoming ordination Mass which was to take place on Saturday. Dan at the time was a 31-year-old Jesuit (a Catholic order) studying theology in Berkeley, California. When this friend knocked on Dan’s door, Dan was suffering from the flu. The request was for a hymn that incorporated the images of the Word of God, the Light of Christ, and the bread and wine. These images end up at the end of the verses with the questions: ‘who will bear my light to them?’ and ‘who will speak my word to them?’
Dan said in an interview about this hymn that he sat with his guitar and a blank sheet of paper and prayed ‘God, if I’m going to do this for my friend, you’re going to have to help me.’
His inspiration for many of the songs that he has written is Scripture. His mind went to the idea of vocation and the call of the prophets (Jeremiah and Isaiah). Because of many of the prophet’s self-doubt about what they were called to do, he changed the refrain to reflect this. One of the first drafts, the refrain had the line ‘Here I am, Lord; Here I stand, Lord.’ He ultimately changed this to a more self-doubting version of ‘Here I am Lord; is it I Lord?’
When he finished he wasn’t sure if the song would be any good or not, and has said in interviews that he doesn’t remember much from the ordination service in which it was premiered, but he did get some positive feedback and some said that they could relate to the song.
Over the years, Dan Schutte has received many letters and communications about this hymn and how it spoke to people through hardships and helped them see that God accompanies them on their journey. He wrote about these letter by saying, ‘There’s a whole constellation of feeling that surround it for me. I feel so grateful that God seems to have chosen that song to accompany people through so many moments of their life. I didn’t plan that. I didn’t know that the song was going to be special. I’m very aware that God is doing something beyond me when I get those letters from people. It’s also very humbling because it’s something way, way far beyond what I can do.’
The hymn reminds us of the mighty acts of God and then asked about who will go and announce these mighty acts of God to the world. It is a hymn of witness and commissioning. A call that we need to hear again and again. And how do we answer?
Will we answer, ‘Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.’