Every year I watch the world’s oldest football competition – The Football Association Cup. It marks the end of the English soccer season. For the past eighty-six years, the first and last verses of the popular Christian Hymn, ‘Abide with Me,’ are traditionally sung at the FA Cup Final before kick-off:
‘Abide with me: fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, O abide with me
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.’
This hymn was written by Scottish Anglican clergyman, Henry Francis Lyte, who suffered from tuberculosis – the disease that would eventually take his life. Death was on his mind when he wrote that song. But it seems odd, at least to me, that a hymn about death could become so popular. I observe that this hymn speaks to us, not only about God’s presence in death, but also about God’s help in life.
A Common Denominator.
The struggle of this hymnologist is not alien to many of us. Though we desire continuous daylight, yet in sluggish steps the eventide walks in. It gets thicker. The darkness deepens. We get overwhelmed. Our emotions overflow. Then we cry out for help.
Perhaps it’s a disappointing result of a medical examination. Perhaps it’s devastating news about a relative. Perhaps it’s the pressure of joblessness. Perhaps it’s the huge monthly bills that heavily weigh against a lean financial resource. Perhaps it’s an emotional low as a result of a broken congenial relationship. It could be uncertainty of the future. Whatever it may be, the sun sets on your horizon. Daylight fades away. The darkness deepens. All you need is help. Timely help.
Naturally, your survival instinct turns your focus to human help. Friends and loved ones understand your plight. They share in your pain. They express their love and care. They unfold you in their loving hands. But that’s not enough. Their capacity to ameliorate your dilemma is limited. They can’t fix everything. They have issues too and also need help. Then you realize that the help you need is beyond the best of mortals.
The Acapella Song.
Nobody wants to be helpless. We like to be in control. We like to handle our stuff. We pride in our capabilities, competences, and connections. But many times the ability to handle stuff by ourselves fizzles out when life overwhelms us. Our abilities crumble. We can’t cool it down. Not anymore. So when we have no one to turn to and nowhere to go, our true selves – our built-in configuration – begin to seek and search for help beyond the ‘humansphere.’ The limitation of our humanity syncs in choral steps with Henry Lyte’s acapella, “Help of the helpless, O abide with me.”
I hear this acapella in hospital emergency wards. I hear it in hospital surgical rooms. I ‘hear’ this acapella from people in vegetative state. I hear it from folks with life-threatening diseases. I hear this acapella from single mums. I hear it from single adults of marriageable age, from couples-in-waiting, from brilliant, indigent students, from children from broken homes. I hear it from marriages grinding towards the precipice, from start-ups that are shutting down. This acapella is sung by different people at different places. It’s a universal song. It’s not a Caucasian song. It’s not a BME song. It’s not a Latino song. It’s not a male song. It’s not a female song. It’s a universal song. I hear it in the cry of a baby. I ‘hear’ it in the tears of an old man. This acapella song transcends nationality and ethnicity. It cuts across social, gender and economic status. I hear this acapella song daily, 24/7.
The acapella song is the human cry for . . . Intervention.
“There are some things that people cannot do, but God can do anything” (Matthew 19:26).
“When life’s light is dim and hope seems slim,
When sickness rages and disease ravages,
When the ocean boils and the shore recoils,
When sharks circle and Death dangles its sickle;
When, on a bumpy road, knees buckle under a load,
When enemies assail and divine destinies derail,
When Sorrows shout and Joy can’t drown them out,
When Despair sings and Faith can’t find its wings;
When stains perch on pious garments and guilt laments,
And when painful sores bleed, God is just what we need.
He can order legions of peace to storm any raging seas,
He can cleanse the dirtiest robe and call off every probe.
He sent His Compass to lead Man out of his morass;
He is the smile of welcome at the Gates of the Kingdom.”
Yeah, God is just what the acapella singers need. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, God – Help of the helpless – is just a call away.
I am an acapella singer. I need an intervention. And I’m making that call now.
If you are an acapella singer. You need an intervention.
Help is just a call away. Make that call now!