Article

History of Hymns: “Early in the Morning”

by Cynthia Wilson

“Early in the Morning” by Johnetta Johnson Page 

Zion Still Sings, 150

In this brief, yet stunning text and tune, Johnetta Johnson Page extracts one phrase from Psalm 63 that takes me to mornings spent in the home of my maternal grandmother. Every morning at 5:00 am, she would rebuke the silence with a fervent prayer.  One could always find her knee-bent, body-bowed, as she cried out to God! It was difficult to resist the temptation of eavesdropping on this divine dialogue. I imagine David experienced the presence of an all-knowing, all-powerful God in much the same way during his time in the Judean desert. 

 

You, God are my God, earnestly I seek you;

I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you  (Psalm 63:1, NIV*)

 

In the tiny bedroom of my grandmother’s home, my siblings and I learned the importance of prayer. In that sacred, soul-filled space, we were nurtured in the Africana ethos that declared God as “an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1, NIV*), and we believed God’s presence was to be insinuated in all of life.

Johnetta Johnson Page shares a similar testimony, which inspired this beautiful setting from Psalm 63:1a.  

 

I have been guilty so many times of jumping headlong into my days. Preoccupied with the affairs,

duties and responsibilities of the day, I would open my planner and off I would go!

This song serves as my daily reminder to first acknowledge God and ask [God] to order my steps.

I am confessing my need to be guided and directed by my Lord. My total dependence on [God] is ever before me.

Of course I know that [God’s] grace is sufficient, but it is incumbent on my part to make my request known unto God.

 

Johnson Page highly recommends this song for times of gathering, prelude, or call to worship in corporate worship. She also suggests that it can function to undergird personal devotion and/or meditation. 

 

It helps me to prioritize what is truly important. There is no doubt that the rest of the day will bring a plethora of "clutter." Yet I can rest in knowing that God is with me.... from the rising of the sun until the going down of the same.

 

Worship planners might also consider using Early In the Morning” for sunrise services and retreats. It can easily serve as an introduction to the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Nicaea). 

 

                                                            Early in the morning I will seek Your face,

                                                           Longing for Your favor, thirsting for Your grace;

                                                           Clearing all the clutter before the day begins,

                                                           I invite You in, my God, my King.

                                                           [opt: I invite you in, my God, my everything].

 

A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Johnetta Johnson Page is a highly acclaimed musician with a rich, diversified range of musical experience. Born with the heart of an accompanist, she has trained choirs and accompanied various artists since she was ten years old. Classically trained, she is equally at ease with both operatic scores and improvisational gospel. A graduate of Southwestern at Memphis and Vanderbilt University, she is known for her sensitivity and virtuosity. She has served as an educator, lecturer, clinician, conductor, and adjudicator. She has ministered throughout the continental United States, Canada, Europe, Jamaica, and South America. Committed to modeling excellence, she has shared her anointed ministry and years of expertise in Levitical ministry in countless arenas. An accomplished composer, she has been commissioned to write for a number of religious events and organizations.

Currently residing in San Antonio, Texas, Johnetta serves as minister of music at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. She is the wife of Chaplain Calvin L. Page and the proud mother of two adult children, Marcus and Velma. Her granddaughter is Madisen. Her motto is, “An excellent God deserves excellent ministry.”

 

This article was done in conversation with the Johnetta Johnson Page, one of our newest 21st century contributors to United Methodist Worship Resources.

* Verses marked NIV are from the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica.

 


 

Cynthia Wilson is associate general secretary for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

Categories: History of Hymns, Hymnals By Name, Zion Still Sings!