History of Hymns: “God Is Here Today” (“Dios Está Aquí”)
By C. Michael Hawn
God Is Here Today (Dios está aquí)
by Javier Gacías Mateo, trans. C. Michael Hawn;
The Faith We Sing, No. 2049
Dios está aquí,
tan cierto como el aire que respiro,
tan cierto como la mañana se levanta,
tan ciero como que le canto y puedo oir.*
God is here today,
as certain as the air I breathe,
as certain as the morning sun that rises,
as certain when I sing you’ll hear my song.**
I first heard this song at a conference on the western coast of Nicaragua in 1991. Those attending came from around the world, but the majority of the people were from various parts of Latin America. As we gathered each morning, we watched the sun come up as we gazed out over the Pacific Ocean and saw the gently swaying boats of the fishermen, who had already been at work for hours. Each morning, this song broke out among those gathered to soak up the fresh morning air and feel the warmth of the rising sun. It captured the spirit of the moment beautifully.
The Spanish was easy enough that I was able not only to understand it, but also to join in. Being a hymnologist, I wondered where the song was from and who composed it. After inquiring among several folks from various parts of Latin America, I realized that perhaps this wasn’t the most important question. Each person I asked thought the song was from his or her own country – ranging from Nicaragua and Argentina to Cuba and Mexico. No one could ascribe a composer to the song. The one thing that was certain was that it was a heart song of Spanish-speaking Christians throughout Central and South America. Regardless of the faith community, everyone seemed to know and love it.
I forgot about the song until the Spanish version appeared in the United Methodist hymnal Mil Voces para Celebrar (1996), edited by Raquel Martínez. It was there that I became reacquainted with the song I had learned in Nicaragua five years earlier. An event introducing this hymnal was held at Perkins School of Theology in 1996, led by Raquel Martínez and her husband Bishop Joel Martínez. Because the Spanish was so accessible, I quickly prepared a singable English translation for worship at this event so that all could participate. From these experiences and without knowing who the composer was, I adapted this singing translation suitable in 1999 for a small collection of global songs entitled Halle, Halle: We Sing the World Round. A year later my translation was included in The Faith We Sing.
The song has been published in numerous places anonymously. Sometimes there are variations in the text and melody, a common practice in songs transmitted primarily through oral tradition. Some versions appear with stanzas. It was not until the recent publication of the Presbyterian (PCUSA) hymnal Glory to God (2013) that I started down a road with other hymnologists, David Eicher, editor of Glory to God, and Carl P. Daw, Jr., author of the Glory to God: A Companion (2016) that the rightful composer of this song was confirmed.
Javier Gacías Mateo (b. 1956), a native of Albacete, Spain, now resides in Zaragoza. In 1979, the year of the song’s composition, Gacías, also known as Toti, was a member of a young Christian group named “Media Vida” (Half Life) with the ambitious goal to improve the world. The song was composed for the First Festival of Contemporary Religious Music held in Zaragoza. While the song was well liked at the festival, no one thought that it would become famous throughout the world. The group recorded a cassette to preserve the memory of the festival, and 300 copies were distributed among friends and relatives.
In 1990, Father Carmelo Erdozáin, a leading composer of church music in Spain, included it in a compilation of sacred music from his country. It became an instant hit. Since the song had spread throughout the Spanish-speaking world without designated authorship, he encouraged Gacías to register it with the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores. Since then, the song has been translated into English, Portuguese, German, and Chinese; and versions of the Spanish text appear throughout the Spanish-speaking world. The song was so popular that others even claimed authorship until Gacías was finally confirmed as the rightful composer. He did not realize how far the song had spread until he was informed by a friend that it had been sung by a group of Cubans when Pope John Paul II made his historic visit to that country early in 1998.
Ecumenical in spirit, Gacías notes that, “my greatest happiness is to bless Christians of any confession.” He is pleased that his song is sung not only in Catholic parishes, but also in the homes of Evangelicals as they gather for Bible study.
Usually, the song is published with the refrain only as it appears here. The deceptively simple phrases of the refrain contain a profound message. The composer seems to be responding to a question: "How do we know that God is with us?" The answers are universal to human experience: (1) God is as certain as the air that we breathe; (2) God is as certain as the rising of the sun in the morning; (3) I know that God hears me when I sing (or pray). Gacías counts among his friends evangelical artists such as Marcos Witt, Marcos Vidal, and Jesús Adrián Romero.
The original version also contains stanzas. While these differ in various versions, the following literal translation provides an example.
God is here
As surely as the air I breathe.
As surely as the morning and evening,
As certain that if I will speak,
God can hear me.
We can feel the One who is on our side,
I listen to Him; He is life in my heart.
It is unconditional love, love beyond all suffering and understanding;
It is God who gives us all things.
God is here;
He is all the hope that is in you,
He is peace, joy in all things every day,
He is the noble sentiment in your heart.
We can feel God by avoiding bad thoughts;
God is the time when you feel happiness,
God is the one who takes you in his arms of hope, peace, and faith
when on the road you feel faint.
While numerous YouTube versions are accessible on the Internet in a variety of styles, I enjoyed the song as sung by an unassuming youth group somewhere in the Spanish-speaking world:
*Spanish © Javier Gacías Mateo. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
**English © 1999 Choristers Guild. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.