Thursday, November 28, 2013

Mr Pipes and the German hymn, Now Thank We All Our God

The cheering gradually subsided; the musicians began playing another tune, and soon the entire village sang a lofty melody together.
“Now, I don’t understand much German,” said Drew. “But the tune—it has that sound, like a hymn—it sounds like praise to God; it just sounds like it’s got to be for praising God.”
Mr. Pipes dug in his knapsack and pulled out his hymnal. “‘Nun danket alle Gott.’ Martin Rinkart’s great text, ‘Now Thank We All Our God,’ set to Johann Crüger’s thanksgiving melody—an exquisite, near-perfect hymn.”
Drew pulled out his Hymns Ancient and Modern and turned to the index. “Hey, it’s in here!” he said, flipping pages until he found the text.
“This hymn is used at most German festivals and it appears in every single German hymnal and nearly all our English hymnals; it has definitely stood the test of time. Follow along as they sing.”

Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom his world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms,
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in his grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God,
The Father, now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns
With them in highest heaven,
The One Eternal God      
Whom earth and heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.
The music came to a close and Annie and Drew watched the crowds slowly drift away.
“Mr. Rinkart must have had lots to thank the Lord for,” said Annie at last. “His hymn is so full of joy, and with words like ‘bounteous’ it just sounds content and even cheerful. Please tell us more about him, Mr. Pipes.”
Mr. Pipes raised his eyebrows and looked thoughtfully at the departing villagers before replying. “How about a visit to that bakery before I begin?”
“Now you’re talking!” said Drew. “Lead the way.”

Mr. Pipes led the children along the pavement bordering the sandstone wall of the ancient Lutheran Church. The remaining merrymakers tidied the streets and one young girl offered her flower crown to Annie.
“Danke,” said Annie, beaming with pleasure as she bent over and the little girl placed it on her head. Lady Kitty batted playfully at the colorful wreath.
Moments later, pausing in front of a window filled to overflowing with pastries to stop the heart, Mr. Pipes said, “Ah, splendid, here is just the place.”
Inside the little bakery they ordered three golden, flaky, raspberry crisps smothered in whipped cream, and a mug of coffee each. Behind the bakery, they mounted the ancient battlements of the town wall and found a bench overlooking the rolling Bavarian countryside just outside the village. Near the bench stood a cannon poking ominously through the crenelated battlements.
Drew bit hungrily into his pastry and, closing his eyes, emitted little groans of ecstasy as he chewed. “Not quite—gulp—a Mrs. Beccles,” he said, pausing only briefly between bites, “but not bad—chomp, hmm—no, not bad.” Mr. Pipes and Annie laughed at him as they began eating theirs.
When the last crumb had disappeared, Annie asked Mr. Pipes if he would finish Martin Rinkart’s story.
“I love the sounds of his words,” she said. “‘Bounteous’ and ‘wondrous,’ he clearly had lots to thank the Lord for.”
“Yes, he did,” said Mr. Pipes slowly. “But you and I will marvel at the trials and devastations out of which he offered such thanksgiving. Martin was born in 1586 in the walled city of Eilenburg. As a young, musically gifted teenager, he went on to be a scholar and chorister at St. Thomas School a few miles away in the city of Leipzig, where years before Luther first debated his Ninety-five Theses. Nearly 125 years later, the great German composer and Christian, Johann Sebastian Bach, would become the Kapellmeister, or choir director, at St. Thomas. There, he wrote most of his immortal cantatas—nearly one per week,” he paused. “Drew will learn Bach’s cantatas soon.”
“I will?”
“Naturally, my boy.”
“Where did Martin go from St. Thomas School?” asked Annie.
“He secured a music teaching position at a school in Luther’s birthplace, the town of Eisleben. Poetry and music were his passion, and in 1614 he received public acclaim as a poet. In 1617, the year before the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, he was called as pastor to a pulpit in his hometown of Eilenburg. He died there in 1649, the year after the war ended.”
“So his whole ministry was during a war?” asked Annie soberly.
“And a most devastating war, indeed, my dear.”
Drew walked over to inspect the cannon. The gaping barrel projected through a notch in the wall over the moat far below.
“You must understand, my dears, that the Thirty Years’ War was, root and branch, a religious war waged for the survival of Protestant Christianity in Germany. Mr. Rinkart’s walled village became a place of refuge for Christians who survived the ruin of their homes in other towns destroyed by imperial Catholic troops like Tilly’s. But a great sickness spread throughout the overcrowded village and many died. Rinkart outlived all the other ministers and found himself conducting upwards of fifty funerals a day.”
Mr. Pipes set his hymnal on the bench and walked over to the edge of the wall. He thrust his hands into his pockets, and Annie watched a far away expression come over his face; his eyes looked sad as he continued.
“Martin’s own wife grew very ill,” he took a deep breath and expelled it slowly, “and one day in 1637—she too died.”
“Imagine it,” said Drew, “on the same day he buried his wife, he probably buried forty-nine other people.”
“That wouldn’t leave much time for mourning,” said Annie softly. “The poor man.”
“The pestilence raged on,” said Mr. Pipes, “finally taking the lives of some 8,000 people. Meanwhile, outside the walls the Thirty Years’ War waged on, food grew short, and—a year later—more of the remaining townsfolk died of starvation. Mr. Rinkart spent nearly all of his own money desperately trying to feed people. To make matters worse, Swedish soldiers sur-rounded the walls of the town and demanded payment for protection against the imperial forces.”
“How could they?” said Annie, her cheeks flushed in anger. Lady Kitty jumped off her shoulder as Annie rose and looked down the stone wall into the moat. Her head began spinning and she quickly backed away.
“To fight,” said Mr. Pipes simply, “soldiers must eat. It was expected in those days that villages would give food and housing to soldiers fighting for freedoms the town hoped to enjoy when peace returned.”
“But they didn’t have any food,” protested Annie.
“Yes, of course. So it fell to the minister, Mr. Rinkart, to negotiate with the troops. By his courage and good sense, he was able to bring their demands more within the feeble means of the remaining villagers.”
Drew leaned against the cannon, a troubled scowl on his face. “Doesn’t sound so—so noble,” he said.
“What’s that, my boy?” asked Mr. Pipes.
“Ah, the nobility does rather fade when children and wives and mothers die by the thousands. Little nobility in that.”
“Yes, but Dinkelsbühl children survived,” said Annie, hoping to dispel some of the gloom.
“Mr. Rinkart’s hymn,” she went on, “he must have written it after peace returned to Germany?”
“One might expect so,” replied Mr. Pipes. “Fact is, Mr. Rinkart found time to write a good deal of poetry, including sixty-six hymns, and a series of Reformation dramas celebrating the centenary of the Reformation; much of it produced while war and disease closed in on every side.”
Annie picked up the hymnal and looked again at Rinkart’s hymn. “It says next to his name, ‘1636.’ Was the war still going then?” Lady Kitty playfully followed a trail of ants working their way along the wall.
“Yes, war raged on for another twelve years,” replied Mr. Pipes.
“How could he write,” asked Annie, “‘Who wondrous things hath done,’ and talk about ‘blessed peace’ and ‘countless gifts of love,’ when little children, his own wife, and thousands of people were suffering and dying all around him? I don’t get it?”
Mr. Pipes ran his fingers through his white hair, then stroked his chin in thought before answering.
“Peace and joy mean very little, my dear,” replied Mr. Pipes, “unless they follow trouble. Mr. Rinkart had his share of trials, that is certain; but his prayer that God would ‘guide us when perplexed, and free us from all ills,’ is a prayer for faith to see beyond the troubles and trust in God when human understanding fails us. Make sense of a war that some historians say killed off half the population of Germany? You and I can never make sense of that; we must lean not on our own understanding, but trust in God who does all things well. Only then can we with Martin Rinkart offer ‘All praise and thanks to God’ in every trial—no matter how costly.”
Drew stared unblinking at Lady Kitty’s play. No one spoke for several minutes.
Finally Annie broke the silence.
“Who was Catherine Winkworth? I’ve seen her name with Johann Franck, and—oh, let me see—”
“Yeah, Neander, Nicolai and some others,” added Drew.
“Right,” said Annie. “Did she help write some of these hymns?”
“In a manner of speaking, my dear,” said Mr. Pipes, sitting back down on the bench and crossing his legs. “Catherine Winkworth, born in 1829, contributed to the great literary accomplishments of many other Christians living in Victorian England. It is said that she was a person of remarkable intellectual and social gifts, especially distinguished for her combination of rare ability and great knowledge, charmed with a certain tender and sympathetic refinement. Her spiritual piety, adorned by poetic and foreign language skills, enabled her to become the most well-loved and faithful English translator of German hymns.”
“It’s gotta be tough translating poetry,” said Drew. “The rhyme gets all messed up, doesn’t it? I mean, German uses different sounding words than English, so it wouldn’t rhyme when she’s done translating it, right?”
“I should say so,” said Mr. Pipes. “Great hymn translation requires poetic skill of the highest rank and, of course, mastery of foreign language. It takes near genius to convey all the original nuance of meaning while still keeping the poetry intact. I say, not at all an easy task.”
“So Catherine Winkworth really did help write Mr. Rinkart’s hymn—for English speakers, anyway,” said Annie.
“She deserves our admiration,” said Mr. Pipes. “We are deeply in her debt for giving us these wonderful hymns in English.” He paused, then added, “After a fruitful life, she died near Geneva in 1878.”
“Where’s Geneva?” asked Drew.
“Switzerland,” replied Mr. Pipes, rubbing his hands together and smiling. “Lovely place; I shall take you there soon.”
“Oh, look at Lady Kitty playing on the cannon,” said Drew with a laugh, pointing at the kitten crouching on the huge barrel. “Fire when ready, sergeant Kitty,” he said with a salute.
“Stop!” screamed Annie as the kitten crept gingerly along the shiny bronze barrel toward the notch in the wall. The sheer drop to the watery moat extended below her.


  1. Mr Bond, love your site but where is your post for the scavenger hunt that you are stop 9 for ?
    Linda Finn
    Faithful Acres Books

  2. Sorry about the broken link! The clue for this stop is: to pause
    Here is the next link address--Morgan Busse's blog.