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Asking the Clergy: What's your favorite hymn or religious music (and why)?

From left, the Rev. Marjorie Nunes, Rabbi Leibel

From left, the Rev. Marjorie Nunes, Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten, and The Rev. Dr. Henrietta Scott Fullard Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp; Chabad Lubavitch of the Hamptons; African Methodist Episcopal Church

Songs can sometimes move us when words alone cannot. This week’s clergy discuss lyrics and music that have the power to comfort in a time of sorrow, to express joy and praise and inspire us to come closer to God.   

The Rev. Henrietta Scott Fullard

Presiding elder (retired), Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches

My favorite hymn is “It is well with my soul,” which was composed in the 1870s. The lyrics go as follows: “When peace like a river attendeth my way/When sorrows like sea billows roll/Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say/It Is well, It is well, with my soul.” This life’s journey has many joys and gladness as well as sorrows and woes. Our humanness can cheerfully adapt and receive the greatness of life that allows us to be happy and satisfied. However, it’s when the pain and heartaches, disappointments, sorrows and troubles of every kind come that we find the distress and agonies of life hard to handle and manage. Friends and family could be there for you. But they cannot take away the inner sufferings that you may be experiencing. It is during those times that you need an anchor for your soul. You need something to give you comfort while you are going through the heartaches and pains. You need assurance that Jesus will be with you and will bring you out of your sorrows. This hymn suggests that even when trials and sorrows come, you can be strong enough to rely on the keeper of you soul to give you sustaining power even though there may not be a solution. For instance, there is no solution to the loss of a loved one, but this hymn can be a solemn promise that God will make it well with your soul. 

The Rev. Marjorie Nunes

Hicksville United Methodist Church

A hymn is a song of praise, which, in Christianity, is directed to the one true God. Hymns are a very valuable aid to worship because they help to focus our attention on the goodness and glory of the Lord. For example, the hymn, “How great thou art,” reminds us of God’s majesty revealed in creation; God’s perfect sacrifice on the cross; and Christ’s coming return for those who believe in him — all matters of praise. Through the centuries, the classic hymns of Martin Luther, Isaac Watts, Fanny Crosby, Charles Wesley and many others have blessed millions of Christians. One of my favorite hymns is, “In the garden (I come to the garden alone).”  This loving, tender text and tune, written in 1913 by C. Austin Miles, is consistently among the top 10 favorite hymns of United Methodists. The text is based on John 20:1-18, and tells of Mary Magdalene’s recognition of the risen Christ on Easter morning. When I sing this hymn, I enter into the personal joy of Mary as she enters the garden tomb and is the first to know of Jesus’ resurrection — a joy “none other has ever known.”

Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten 

Chabad Lubavitch of the Hamptons

The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught us a beautiful song in 1954 based on several verses in Psalms chapter 63, verses 2 and 3: “My soul thirsts for you/ My flesh longs for you/In a dry and weary land without water/Thus in the sanctuary I have perceived you/To see your might and your glory.” These words were written by King David thousands of years ago. It is as if King David is in a spiritual desert and his soul yearns to connect with God. “You” in these verses refers to God. The Rebbe composed this tune to share these powerful words with us and inspire us to come closer to God. This time of the year is perfect to remember these words. In this Jewish month of Menachem Av we remember the destruction of our Holy Temples in Jerusalem and we yearn to see the rebuilding of the final and third Temple, which will mark the ultimate redemption for planet earth. We soon enter the month of Elul and prepare for the Jewish New Year. The essence of this preparation is Teshuvah — returning to God!

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com. Find more LI Life stories at newsday.com/LILife.

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