“This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,This is My Song
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.”
Lyrics by Lloyd Stone (with a third stanza by Georgia Harkness)
Sung to the tune Finlandia from a tone poem by Jean Sibelius
For the past three-plus weeks of our stay-at-home order, I have continued to work as an artist, like always. But to say that I felt the same creatively, would be incorrect. Instead of pursuing new techniques or structures, I have craved a project that would allow me to immerse myself in a meditative process.
A quick survey of my flat files found eight twelve-inch monoprints, all in shades of blue, that used my favorite Voronoi diagram. Could I create different collages that were all connected in some way? The mathematical construct itself gave me a clue, as it is all about how close things are to other things. At a time when were were challenged to be separate, but yet are still so intricately connected, musing on this theme seemed appropriate.
And so I just began, choosing a palette of monoprints, maps and cyanotypes. As maps of different countries started to touch those of others, I mused on how this worldwide crisis challenges us to take actions that care for those close to us. Wearing masks, flattening the curve by staying at home, and supporting local stores and restaurants began to fill my consciousness. We are all connected.
I limited my consumption of news to the New York Times in the morning, plus a few chosen podcasts. Here I was aware that other people around the world had already been suffering, and many more would suffer in the future. A global pandemic encompasses worldwide hardship in a way that I have not seen in my fifty-two years. Now my heart turned to considering people I would never meet and countries I have never visited. The words to This is My Song, one of my favorite hymns, kept coming to me as I slowly chose paper and cut out tiny shapes.
Even the history of this beloved peace hymn is connected and complex. The first two stanzas of the hymn are from a poem by public school teacher Lloyd Stone for a song collection. Written in 1934, the words echo the desire for peace, and an understanding that it is possible to love your own country, but also value the countries of others.
The tune for This is My Song comes from a portion of a longer work by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Known as a tone poem, Finlandia was debuted in 1900 and was intended a highly patriotic piece, protesting the poor treatment of the Finnish people at the hands of Russia and Tsar Nicholas II. Intense Russian censorship meant that Finlandia was performed under other titles like “Happy Feelings at the Awakening of Finnish Spring.”
This is My Song becomes a hymn when a third stanza was added by Methodist theologian Georgia Harkness and the hymn is included in the Methodist Church hymnal. While I celebrate that Harkness was one of the first ordained women in the Methodist Church, her stanza takes the poem away from an ecumencial world view and place it solidly in the Christian sphere of understanding. I have never memorized the third stanza that is often printed and did not consider it in my collage meditations. You can read more about Harkness and her third stanza here.
After hours and hours of immersing myself in the construction of these collages, I looked up to find I had finished all eight. Outside, the outrageous yellow-greens of a midwestern spring are exploding. We are still at home. The future is not certain.
I’m reminded of the canon of creative works from other difficult times in the world’s history and find comfort. I hope you can find solace in something tuneful, something moving, something beautiful.