I recently woke up with a couple of lines from a hymn going through my head.
Now, this isn't an experience that is uncommon to me: I often wake up with all sorts of things in my head: lines from
poems, fragments of conversations, song tunes, bits of novels or the Bible... I don't think my brain ever switches off
The lines that I found myself humming away were these
from the old I travel to the new
Keep me travelling along with you.
recognise them as the refrain from the hymn One more step along the world I go - one of the ‘newer' hymns
in our hymn books (but it's scary to realise that it was produced by Sydney Carter (1915-2004) nearly fifty years ago).
Written for a service at the end of the summer term at Southwark Cathedral School, London, in 1971, and published in Carter's
Riding a Tune (1971), it has appeared in over 30 hymn and worship song collections. It has been the most used hymn
reported in copyright returns from schools for a number of years.
It has been criticized by some people
as being almost devoid of content, and I have heard it said that it doesn't mention God - which it doesn't in as many
words. However, the context is everything. Like a prayer addressed to God, but not starting the prayer with the word ‘God',
this hymn is sung as part of a conversation with God. And whilst the word ‘God' doesn't appear, there is a fairly
good theological description of God in the final verse in accessible language:
You are older than
the world can be,
you are younger than the life in me.
Ever old and ever new....
If that's not describing God, then I don't know who or what else it could be referring to!
It's a hymn that I'm fairly ambivalent about. I don't actively dislike it but neither would
it make a place in my top 100 hymns. It has a tune that, for someone who's always sung in church choirs, presents little
real merit or enjoyment, other than that it's easy to sing for anyone, choir training or not. So why the refrain popped
into my head on awaking I know not.
However, as I lay thinking about the hymn another couple of lines
floated through my brain.
And it's from the old I travel to the new
travelling along with you.
I pondered these for a while. Undoubtedly I've got my face set
for a journey which is from the old to the new; from the known to the (partly) unknown. One of the constants in this journey,
as he has been through my life, is God. He has given me courage when the world is rough, and kept me loving when the world
is tough. When I've seen no way to go, he has often revealed a new direction for me, or confirmed me in one I have been
unsure about. The hymn might not be highfalutin theology but is described a lived experience that I - and many other Christians
But the thing that really caused me to think was that last line: Keep me travelling
along with you. For it is God's journey that I make , that we all make, if we are open to hearing and following his
call in our lives. We often mistakenly think that God come along with us but actually God calls us to come along with him
- and this is a significant difference. For it is about the humble faithfulness of Jesus - ‘Not my will, but thine be
done.' Often we fall short of it because we put our own needs and desires and comfort first. But God is faithful to us
if we seek to walk his path for us rather than one we create for ourselves.
At the time of writing
I still haven't got a definite date for the move to Prestwich, which makes for definite planning being a little complicated.
But in some ways this isn't an issue - I continue to do the work God is calling me to here in Ashton-upon-Mersey and in
Chester diocese until the time comes to move. I'm sure that, despite it being a wrench to leave so much that's good
and positive and happy here, God will lead me into a new part of life and ministry which is equally good and positive and
happy, maybe in similar ways, maybe different ones.
I pray that we can all listen to the call of God
in our hearts and find the truth in the words of Sydney Carter's hymn - whatever we might think of it as a piece of Christian
With my love and prayers for you all,