Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: 'As the Wind Song Through the Trees'

History of Hymns: 'As the Wind Song Through the Trees'

By Symantha Leung, Guest Contributor

Shirley Erena Murray
Shirley Erena Murray

“As the Wind Song Through the Trees”
by Shirley Erena Murray
Glory to God, 292
Voices Together, 373

As the wind song through the trees,
as the stirring of the breeze,
so it is with the Spirit of God,
as the heart made strangely warm,
as the voice within the storm,
so it is with the Spirit of God.
Never seen, ever known
where this wind has blown
bringing life, bringing power to the world,
as the dancing tongues of fire,
as the soul’s most deep desire,
so it is with the Spirit of God.*

*©2005 Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

“As the Wind Song through the Trees” (2005) exemplifies a creative partnership between Shirley Erena Murray (1931–2020) and Lim Swee Hong (b. 1963). Shirley Erena Murray, a New Zealand hymn writer, initially studied music as an undergraduate before earning a master's degree with honors in classics and French from Otago University. With a Methodist background, she began her career as a language teacher but later became involved in Amnesty International, serving in the Labor Party Research Unit of Parliament for eight years. Her participation in these organizations greatly influenced her hymn writing, which addresses themes such as human rights, women’s issues, justice, peace, environmental stewardship, and church unity.

Lim Swee Hong, the Deer Park Associate Professor of Sacred Music at Emmanuel College, received his bachelor’s degree in music from the Asian Institute for Worship and Music (Manila), Master of Sacred Music degree from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, Texas), and holds a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies from Drew University. He has extensive publications in global music. He is also a prolific composer of hymns.

Inverting from the usual practice, “As the Wind Song Through the Trees” starts with the music, not the text. The composer, Lim Swee Hong, completed the tune shortly before the season of Pentecost in 2004, marking a departure from his usual practice of creating tunes for existing words. He then sent this tune to his long-time friend, Shirley Erena Murray, to inspire the corresponding text, and he explained his dilemma to her. Within two weeks, she provided him with a text on Pentecost, subtly referencing the Methodist heritage by emphasizing a moment when hearts are “strangely warmed.” She also proposed a Māori designation for the Holy Spirit, WAIRUA TAPU, for the tune name. This marked the first instance of their hymn-writing partnership beginning with a tune rather than text.

Murray crafted this text drawing from the imagery of the season of Pentecost, with the primary image of “wind.” The incipit (opening line) of the hymn indicates that something is afoot—“As the wind song through the trees, / as the stirring of the breeze”—introducing the overarching theme of the Holy Spirit’s interaction with humans and created nature. The text employs a rich array of similes, followed by the recurring phrase “so it is with the Spirit of God” in both stanzas.

These remind us of the Holy Spirit’s divine presence in our everyday experiences, as well as in our hearts. The line “as the heart made strangely warm” (stanza 1) resonates with Murray’s inspiration and recalls the Wesley brothers’ “heart-warming” Aldersgate encounter of renewed faith. Moreover, a new hope in God is illustrated in “the rainbow after rain, as the hope that’s born again” (stanza 2).

The biblical underpinnings for “Never seen, ever known / where this wind has blown” and “as the dancing tongues of fire” (stanza 1) stem from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:8) and the description of the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4). Furthermore, Murray conveys the mysterious nature of the Holy Spirit as invisible and non-material, while emphasizing the Spirit’s powerful influence in the world. This tremendous power is also revealed in Jesus’ incarnation. The text, “as the rising of the yeast, / as the wine at the feast” (stanza 2), recollects Jesus’ parable (Matt 13:33) and miracle (John 2:1–11) in the Gospels. It illuminates our lives with hope, power, peace, and love, fulfilling the “soul’s most deep desire” and warm weary hearts (2 Tim 1:7).

Lim composed a comforting, singable tune using a five-note pentatonic scale: D–E–G–A–B. The tune spans only a ninth and features primarily conjunct motion with an interval of thirds, beautifully framing the hymn’s simple triple meter (3/4) and melodic contour. The melodic motifs, generally two- or one-measure, are less frequently repeated, with exceptions in measures 4-6/8–10; 12–16/28–32. These repetitions portray the flexible and gentle nature of the breeze. The middle section, in minor key reaches a higher tessitura, highlighting the penetrating power of the Holy Spirit, which, though unseen, brings life and power to the world. An identifiable rhythmic pattern, with two eighth notes on the third beat of almost every measure enhances the fluidity of the flow. These elements work together, allowing singers to savor the sweet communion with God through the work of the Holy Spirit.

This hymn originally appeared in Murray’s collection, Touch the Earth Lightly: New Hymns Written Between 2003 and 2008 (2008) and has been featured in four hymnals: Community of Christ Sings (2013); Glory to God (2013); a New Zealand collection, Hope is our Song (2009); and Voices Together (2020). Given the significance of the Pentecost story and the need to incorporate hymns from diverse cultures, this hymn is fitting, especially with a stanza in Chinese, translated by Wong Ee Sun in 2005. In 2018, it was paired with a new Japanese text. This hymn could also be suitable for Epiphany 3C, aligning with the reading of Luke 4:14–21 in the Revised Common Lectionary.


  • Carl P. Daw Jr., Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016).
  • Shirley Erena Murray, Touch the Earth Lightly: New Hymns Written Between 2003 and 2008 (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing Company, 2008).

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Symantha Leung is a vocal teacher and a liturgical singer. She had been an adjunct lecturer in various theological seminaries in Hong Kong. She holds a BA (Hons) Degree in Music Education from Hong Kong Baptist University and a Master of Music Degree from the University of Sheffield, the UK, majoring in vocal performance. She was awarded a post-graduate Certificate in Vocal Performance at Trinity College of Music, London. For her theological background, she obtained a Master of Christian Studies Degree from the China Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong. Symantha is a candidate in the Doctor of Pastoral Music program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, where she studies hymnology with C. Michael Hawn.

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