Notes and commentary on the hymn
God eternal, timeless moment
One of the springboards of this hymn is the work of my aunt,
Shirley Lees, and her husband Bill, who spent much of their lives working
in Borneo, translating the Bible into local languages and cultures,
and in medical and educational work.
Tucked away within the hymn is a reference to one of their books.
While many hymns seek to direct a narrative sequence of statements along a particular track,
this one is intended to engage the imagination and open up questions for exploration and reflection.
- "Timeless moment": at the very outset, a both/and contrast is set up;
in this instance between the ageless eternity of time past, present and future, and the
present, fleeting moment in which we live.
- "unnamed Name": In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) the four-letter
name of God, YHWH, is so highly revered that it is never spoken.
- "Morning star": 2 Peter 1:16-21 is Trinitarian, and it describes
our encounter with God as "the morning star rises in your hearts".
Rev 22:16 refers to Christ as the "morning star";
Durham people will recognise Bede's use of this analogy.
- "...and evening glory": Having just said "morning star",
which can be also seen as a hint to our own birth,
it is immediately complemented by a reference to evening glory,
a hint of our own mortality, but seen in glory, as per Proverbs 20:29.
- "evening glory": Hints at the Emmaus Road encounter. See also verse 4.
- "source of life — its destiny": from start to end of our lives,
and each stage between.
- "name us": The God whose name is not to be spoken,
speaks, and gives us to speak, our own names. Also Genesis 2:19-20.
- Psalm 139:15-16.
The internal nature of the phrase "deepest earth" also sets up a contrast
with the implied external, astronomical viewpoint of the opening lines.
- "gave us worth": cf. Psalm 8:5; Matt 6:26.
- Moving to the second person of the Trinity, we encounter Jesus,
the Christ who humbled himself and became human (Philippians 2:6-8), even to the point of death.
The one whom we call our helper, himself chose the path of helplessness.
- "Is it sacrifice?" The title of a book about the cost and reward of discipleship, by Shirley and Bill Lees.
- Our calling is to take up our own cross and follow Jesus.
- "live your will": The will of God is made manifest in how we choose to live our lives.
- Moving to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit appears not just
in the New Testament at Pentecost, but in the Old Testament as the wisdom of God.
- "dove descending" borrows, of course, from T.S. Eliot's Pentecost poem "Little Gidding"
in which he, too, lets this image of gentleness sit alongside the fiercer image of fire.
- "wind and fire": The descent of the Spirit upon Jesus had been as a dove,
but upon the disciples at Pentecost was as wind and fire (Acts 2:2).
- "sighing deep...": Romans 8:26.
- Pentecost in Acts reverses the divisive effects of Babel in Genesis.
The English language allows the interplay of the word tongues for both fire
and language; both these were features of the Pentecost event (Acts 2:3-4).
So we can speak naturally about "blazing (propagating) the word".
- "abroad": For most of us, around and about; for others, literally abroad, overseas.
- "translate": We need to live the gospel, written in one set of cultures and ages,
in our own different cultures and age, as at Pentecost and as seen within scripture itself.
Also a homage to missionary work of Bible translation.
- One aim of the Spirit is to bring glory to Christ.
All three persons of the Trinity are involved in creation (Genesis 1-2; Colossians; etc),
so the world already belongs to God ("your world").
Just as the Spirit guides us (3:4)
so we here continue that process in guiding the world from its fallenness
back to Christ through whom we and it were created.
- A trinitarian summing up of the previous verses.
- "beyond...among": just as the opening had the timeless/moment simultaneity,
so this verse has God's relation to us; both beyond and with, transcendent and immanent.
revisits time and eternity theme of v1.
- "create/confirm/inspire": Father/Son/Spirit
- "go before/come beside/within": God is simultaneously outside us and within us.
Also hints of blessings envisaged by the Celtic cultural traditions of our Christian faith.
- "go before us": A back-reference to the opening verse (and Psalm 139)
where God ordained our days before us.
- "Christ companion, come beside": an intentional resonance with the Emmaus Road
encounter with Christ risen alongside us.
("Companion": literally, "with bread"; in the breaking of bread they recognised him.)
- The conclusion of all is the glory of God, first hinted at in the opening verse.