Lenten Hymn of the Week: Hear my Prayer, Oh Lord

March 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

As a long-time chorister, you tend to sing the same repertoire over and over again, year after year after YEAR. Some of it tends to get old and repetitive, but there are some pieces that you never tire of and can’t wait to reconnect with. Just as singing Christmas carols can put me in the holiday spirit, Lenten hymns and anthems can bring me to a place of deep humility, penitence and connectedness with God. One of my absolute favorite Lenten pieces is by Henry Purcell (10 September 1659 – 21 November 1695): Hear my Prayer, Oh Lord. Purcell, a Baroque organist and composer of both secular and sacred music, is considered to be one of England’s greatest native composers. This heart-wrenching anthem was written for eight voices and continuo (organ) around 1682. The text is taken from Psalm 102, verse one, and is the opening fragment of a work that was never completed. It is one of nearly 70 anthems and services that Purcell composed from 1679 until his early death in 1695. Purcell, together with Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederic Handel, is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church on July 28.

Take a moment to listen to this piece in its entirety. REALLY listen to it. Close the door to your room, turn up the speakers, hit “play” and close your eyes. If you’re at the office, take three minutes out of your day and put your headphones on. Wherever you are, put yourself in the presence of God and listen to it with Him in your heart.

Hear my Prayer, Oh Lord as performed by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge

“Hear my prayer, oh Lord, and let me my crying come unto thee…”

Even after many years of having performed and heard this piece, I’m still amazed at how it has the power to connect me with God. It’s so mournful and dissonant and stinging—just as is the time we spend in our collective season of grief, waiting with Christ before He sacrifices Himself for us. This time is supposed to sting, isn’t it? We lose things during Lent. For forty days, we experience a period of extreme loss. We verbally, physically and visually “lose” ourselves from the words and prayers and icons that bring us into relationship with God. But throughout our loss and separation, we continue to cry unto God for his mercy and kindness and salvation. Hear my prayer, oh Lord, and let me my crying come unto thee… What are you “crying” to God for in your life?

– T.J. Houlihan

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