Valentine’s Day – for romantic love only? Not an attempt at humor

I'll seek the seas. . .

I’ll seek the seas. . .

Let me say up front this is not a Valentine’s Day paean to my father. That may be part of it, but it sets the stage for what I want to say.

My father was a man of surprises. Examples. A Baptist minister, he once, in about 1958, gave a friend of mine what I consider to be the most faithful answer a person of faith can give to the question, “Do you believe in evolution?” His answer—“I believe God created the heavens and the earth, and I don’t need to know how.” He also, for the record, never once in my life judged me for being gay—and he knew before Stonewall that I was. A man of surprises.

"I don't need to know how"

“I don’t need to know how”

That I, having rejected almost totally the religious language and observance of the church, can write without embarrassment about his faith, and even use his words, is testament to his love.

As I was in the childhood process of learning to play the piano and organ, my father would give me hymn tunes to play, tunes he loved but that our congregation did not know. His way to hear them was to have me learn them and then sneak them into the Sunday evening services. The most surprising of those for a Baptist minister, I think, was “O Sacred Head, now Wounded.”

My father had a favorite tune. The words he sang to the tune are at the end of this post. The tune is Kingsfold arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams. I have often wondered how my father learned such tunes—most likely when he was in college. Certainly not in any Baptist church I was acquainted with in childhood.

The tune first appeared as a hymn tune in The English Hymnal of 1906. The source of the tune is the English folk song, “Star of the County Down” which tells a quaint story of unrequited love. Vaughan Williams’ arrangement of the tune is used for several texts in modern hymnals. Even in Roman Catholic hymnals.

That brings me to Valentine’s Day.

The tune has come back into my life in a most surprising way. Allow me to be mysterious and private about that. I will say only that it is once again for me an expression of love.

Mysterious and personal

Mysterious and personal

Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote in his book National Music and other Essays from 1934 (I paraphrase—I’m not at home where I have it on the shelf) that the chief glory of music is that it is absolutely useless. You’ll just have to take my word for it that he’s right—I’ll write about it someday. But I will say that Kingsfold has been used for so many texts that it has taken on an expressive life of its own. Sharing such a tune—with anyone, with one’s father or a friend or a church choir or one’s lover—is absolutely useless except that the tune itself has become an expression of love.

I feel the winds of God today; today my sail I lift,
Though heavy, oft with drenching spray, and torn with many a rift;
If hope but light the water’s crest, and Christ my bark will use,
I’ll seek the seas at His behest, and brave another cruise.

It is the wind of God that dries my vain regretful tears,
Until with braver thoughts shall rise the purer, brighter years;
If cast on shores of selfish ease or pleasure I should be;
Lord, let me feel Thy freshening breeze, and I’ll put back to sea.

If ever I forget Thy love and how that love was shown,
Lift high the blood red flag above; it bears Thy name alone.
Great pilot of my onward way, Thou wilt not let me drift;
I feel the winds of God today, today my sail I lift.

2 Responses to Valentine’s Day – for romantic love only? Not an attempt at humor

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