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History of Hymns: "Faith, While Trees Are Still in Blossom"

"Faith, While Trees Are Still in Blossom"
Anders Frostenson; trans. by Fred Kaan
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 508

Anders Frostenson

Faith, while trees are still in blossom,
plans the picking of the fruit;
faith can feel the thrill of harvest
when the buds begin to sprout

Anders Frostenson, author of the hymn “Tron sig sträcker efter frukten när i bloming rädet gär” was born on April 23, 1906, in Skane, Sweden, and died on Feb. 4, 2006, in Örebro, Sweden. He graduated in 1947 with a bachelor’s degree in English, Slavic languages and philosophy from Lund University and served as a Lutheran Priest at the Lövö Assembly until his retirement in 1971.

Serving as Court Chaplain at Drottningholm Palace in Stockholm, the residence of the Swedish King, Frostenson was known not only as a theologian deeply dedicated to hymnody but also as a translator of poetry into Swedish.

Frostenson was highly involved in the development of various hymnals of the Swedish Lutheran Church, especially the Swenska Psalmboken of Konungen gillad och steadfast ar 1937, the children hymnbook Psalmer och Visor and the Den svenska psalmboken. Antagen av 1986 ars kyrkomöte, which is also known as the “Frostensonska” (Frostenson Songbook) because it contains 146 works in the form of original, derivative works and translations of Frostenson.

His hymnody is based on biblical texts that focus on the Old Testament, a rarity among contemporary hymn writers.

Fred Kaan translated this particular hymn in 1972 for the 4th edition of Cantate Domino, hymnal of the World Council of Churches, printed in 1974. Mr. Kaan was born on July 27, 1929, in the North Holland city of Haarlem, the oldest son of Herman Kaan and Branina Kaan-Prinsen.

Despite earlier tendencies toward science and art, Mr. Kaan felt called to ministry and received degrees from the theological faculty of the State University of Utrecht and Bristol University in England. Mr. Kaan served in various churches in England and was called in 1963 to Pilgrim Church in Plymouth.

Frostenson and Mr. Kaan collaborated on the book Songs and Hymns from Sweden in 1976. Mr. Kaan included and translated 13 of Frostenson’s hymn texts.

This hymn is based on Hebrews 11, beginning with verse 1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” In stanza three, he refers to Genesis 6:13 (also Hebrews 11:17) and Genesis 12:1 (also Hebrews 11:8). In stanza four, he refers to Exodus 14:15-16 (also Hebrews 11:29). In the final stanza, he paraphrases Exodus 3:14 and Isaiah 6:3.

The repetition of the first word “Faith” in stanzas one, four and five, as well as “Long before…” in stanzas two and three, subtly expose and emphasize the consistency of God’s faith.

All the hymn’s images set the imagination of the singer in motion, and one can almost hear the birds in the garden, the rain in Noah’s times and the wild waters of the Red Sea. In the final phrase in stanza five, Mr. Kaan concludes by proclaiming that we need to respond to God’s calling by serving in faith.

The final line of the last stanza ends with the singer responding, “I am willing, Lord, send me.” In comparison to another recent hymn based on Isaiah 6, “Here I am Lord,” this hymn enjoys surprisingly little popularity.

This may be attributed to the choice of less stirring tunes, like FOR THE BREAD and MERTON. Neither tune seems to work well with the text because they do not underline the beautiful language or its vibrant and colorful storytelling.

Mr. Kaan’s mission of spreading Christian unity is exemplified here by the way he contributed to the accessibility of international hymnody as well as the ecumenical and biblical character of this hymn.

©1960, 1972 trans. Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188; All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Ms. Byrd is a student of Dr. Michael Hawn in the master of sacred music program at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

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